The customer is always weird

Filed under: — Aprille @ 9:22 am

Ken shared this article with me, which challenges the service model that “the customer is always right.”  It’s very interesting and worth consideration.  I don’t work in the commercial sector, and I’m glad my workplace doesn’t ask me to subscribe to that notion.  We try to treat clients well, of course, and help them as much as we can, but when it comes down to it, I am a serving the University of Iowa, not the random person who wanders in with a project only tenuously linked to instructional technology.  That means that if somebody is hogging up our scanners with their vacation photos and robbing others of the opportunity to use them for instructional projects, I don’t feel any need to make Hoggy McHoggerson feel “right.”

I also get a little annoyed with the suck-uppiness of wait staff in restaurants.  Sure, it’s good for them to be attentive and pleasant, but I hate it when strangers act like they’re my friends.  I realize they’re working for tips, and I feel for them.  The ideal solution would be to pay wait staff a living wage so they didn’t have to whore themselves out for tips the way they do.  Olive Garden employees are a prime example.  I normally find the Olive Garden medium-to-gross, but I used to belong to this secret diner organization where I’d eat at restaurants and report back on the experience.  They assigned me to the Olive Garden like six times.

Mediocre food delivered with sycophantic service!  My kind of meal!

I was talking to my friend Mose last week about that.  He’s an American currently living in Barcelona, and he said it was a shock when he came home for a visit and went out to eat.  He couldn’t believe how insincere the server was.  It’s a sad state of affairs, I tell you.  I would say I’m looking forward to the service in European restaurants, except the fact is we’re going to be eating in as few Norwegian restaurants as possible.  Restaurant prices in Norway (as well as all other prices, but especially restaurants) are outrageous.  Luckily, much of the time will be spent in apartments, so we hope to do some cooking to keep the costs down.

On the other hand, I do like it when I’m in some kind of retail situation and the staff go out of their way for me.  For example, I was in a clothing store not too long ago, and I picked out a dress from a rack with a 50% off sign on it.  When I went up to pay, she charged me full price.  When I made a little squawking noise, she explained that only the navy dresses were on sale, not the black ones.  I said that navy would be fine, so I went over to find one, but there weren’t any left in my size.  She kindly gave me the black dress for the navy dress price.  That kind of experience makes me want to shop in that store more.  I try not to get my way by throwing fits, though.  That’s just embarrassing for everyone.

In sum, I believe that the customer is always right when I’m the customer.  I believe that the customer is sometimes right when I’m the service provider.  I believe the customer is never right if the customer is trying to buy babies on the black market to feed to giant snakes in some kind of sick carnival act.

10 responses to “The customer is always weird”

  1. Holly says:

    I listen to This American Life all the time. One of the episodes featured an experiment where two waitresses were wired with hidden microphones. One of the waitresses was super nice and the other was very cold and aloof. The point was to see if the nice waitress would get more tips. It turned out that the cold and aloof waitress made more money. So, being nice doesn’t always pay off in the end.

    For the record I always tip the same whether the waitress is nice or not.

    If you are interested I could get you a copy of the show (I have copies of every This American Life). It is titled “The Allure of the Mean Friend.”

  2. Aprille says:

    That sounds really interesting, Holly. I’d like to hear that. Thanks. I am afraid that it would give me license to be mean all the time, though.

  3. map says:

    I try my best to maintain a 20% tip whenever we go out. I’m quicker to raise that figure for exceptional service than I am to lower it for poor service.

    The best service I’ve ever heard of was the treatment my friends Dennis and Marcia got at Tru in Chicago. Of course, when you’re paying a couple hundred bucks for a bottle of wine, you sort of expect special attention, I suppose. Hearing them describe that meal is like listening to the most wonderful fairy tale ever created.

  4. map says:

    And, really, be honest. You don’t know anyone who takes vacation pictures using film anyway, do you? I guess that’s a good way to spot an outsider over there in IT.

  5. Aprille says:

    Map: what are you talking about?

    Ah…I read back up and finally found it.  “Outsiders” use our facilities all the time–we have equipment that’s supposed to be for instructors to use for educational purposes like course materials creation, but sometimes people abuse it.

  6. Katy says:

    I’m glad you blogged on this topic…
    Wow! I’m always amazed when I hear people who love food unappreciate wait staff. I was a waitress for many years as well as worked in the food service industry.
    I went into food upon my return from Italy. I loved the way I could always go to a restaurant there and feel taken care of and… as pathetic as it sounds- when you are traveling around and feeling lonely- I found many friends and company from eating and drinking out.
    Sooooo…. I guess you really have to walk in their shoes for a good month before you say they, “whore themselves for tips”. I think people like to criticize waitstaff to make themselves feel superior. Many people do it right to their server’s face. As servers, we have to grin and ask if they’d like more water in response.
    I made awesome tips as a waitress and I took pride in my work. I’m glad I was able to make tips because I would have been paid $10 an hour and wouldn’t have had the gratification of being personally rewarded and appreciated by the people who know how to recognize excellent service.

  7. Aprille says:


    I’m really sorry if I offended you with those comments. When I said waitstaff have to “whore themselves out,” I meant it in sympathy with waitstaff, not to be critical of them. I think it sucks that waitstaff are at the mercy of customers and have to take the kind of crap they do to make money. It would make much more sense to pay them reasonably in the first place and give them the freedom to dish it right back to anyone who deserves it.

    I apologize if it came out that I was feeling superior to waitstaff. I’ve never worked in the food industry, but I do deal with rude clients a lot (nobody comes to me when things are going fine with their websites; they come to me when things are broken and they’re already frustrated and angry). I’m not criticizing the people, I’m criticizing the system that makes them have to accept rudeness from customers and take it with a smile.

  8. Katy O says:

    No problemo!
    I just think about these sorts of things a lot when I’m out to eat. I no longer work in the industry any more but I learned a lot from it. People in food service always say that anyone who goes out to eat should be required to be a waitstaff for at least one month of their life.
    We’re a crass and bitter bunch of vagabonds. See the movie “Waiting”. Its hilarious and a pretty accurate protrayal. You’re far off with that fake plastic smile 😉

  9. Katy O says:

    I meant to say your NOT far off… opps
    This is a topic for a blog of its own (to me anyway).

  10. Dot Collins says:

    It’s an interesting article, and for sure, I think there ar elots of times when the customer is not right…however, my issue is that at most major retailers, it seems now that the customer is NEVER right. Take, for example, my most recent experience with the Target photo-fools. I sent my order via Yahoo. I recieve a confirmation Email saying it will be ready in an hour. three hours later, when I go there, I am informed that the machine is broken, sorry.

    Okay, I’m annoyed, and I tell them I think I deserve compensation, however, I’d be happy if I could possibly access my yahoo account from the store and transfer the photos to another Target location. At which point, they inform me that there is NO computer in the store that can access the internet (yeah right).

    fine, so I go away, and come back another day, at which point they tell me that no, they don’t have my photos, and then tell me I never ordered them. In fact I’ve not brought my confirmation Email, but I resent being called a liar, and again, I suggest that I should be compensated at least with a free photo order or something, since I’ve now driven to and fro Target TWICE, and I still don’t have the photos. but, they insist that I’m either a liar or a fool, and I didn’t really send the photos. right.

    so then, a month later I order more photos, and go to fetch them….and lo and behold, what is sitting there but the FIRST order of photos that they SWORE they didn’t have. And, would you believe they wouldn’t even give me the month-old photos for free–all I got was a lecture about how I shouldn’t order photos and then leave them there so long.

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