Thursday, July 23, 2009

Help, Wanted? Guest Blogger George Garner

Today's guest George Garner shares some simple ways we as customers can help those in the service industry to help us more effectively. ("Help me help you help me..." anyone?) Garner has worked in the retail industry for seven years and bought stuff from it for over thirty.

Help, Wanted?

By George Garner

I’ve been in the working world for about sixteen years so far, and roughly seven of them were spent in the glorious world of retail. During those seven long years I’ve learned one very important thing: I cannot read minds. No really, it’s true. Yet, in my store on any given day, streams of people walk in and out expecting me to instinctively know what they need and when they need it.

I’ve spent a lot of time behind the counter offering help, but, like every service employee, I’m often on the other side of the counter seeking help. And those of us who spend time behind the counter have a unique perspective on how to the find help we’re used to giving. So to you, dear reader, I offer these tips on what you can do to help your service employee read your mind better:

Service people are people too. I spent a day greeting about a dozen different people, and about half of them never said a word or returned my gaze. So, consider your body language and how rude you’re being when you enter the store or ask for help. Are you saying “please” and “thank you?” Are you looking at a person’s eyes instead of some random product? It’s pretty unfair to ask a service person to be kind to you if you won’t do the same to them.

Let us help you.
We’re there to work, and our work is helping you. Don’t forget, just as you’re evaluated in your job, we’re evaluated by how we help you. While you’re “just looking,” our bosses are standing around wondering why you’re aimlessly wandering around while we’re just standing there watching you look. We have a job to do, and that job is to help you. So let us. You’re happier when you find what you’re looking for, and we’re happier when the boss isn’t breathing down our neck.
Remember, it’s okay if you really are “just looking,” just say it differently. Training manuals have pages on dealing with the “just looking” customer, so if you say, “I’m just looking,” the staff will snap into action to turn you into a buying customer. Just say the truth: “I have time to kill before my lunch hour is over,” or, “My wife/husband is next door and I thought I’d poke around,” or, “The bus isn’t here yet.” Whatever it is, just say it. Chances are the staff person will learn you really are just looking and leave you alone.

No one has learned to read minds. Tell your staff person exactly what you need with as many details as you can provide. If you’re looking for a particular product, tell the staff person when and where you saw it. This helps us narrow down the hundreds of products sold and hone in on the one product that you’re looking for.

It’s a business, not a playground. If work is your second home, then the store is a second home for those who earn a paycheck there. Treat it nicely, please. There’s no need to go around messing it all up, letting your kids run around unsupervised, or leaving a pile of unpurchased merchandise in a different part of the store. If you don’t know where something belongs, ask us. We’ll help you. Are your kids getting a bit out of hand? Ask us. We’ll help you. Don’t know what to do with that pile of tried-on clothes? Ask us. We’ll… you get the idea. Just let us.

We’re not trying to take your money.
One day I saw a customer looking at a product that I bought years ago and have enjoyed ever since. It cost about $12.50. I walk over and share my experience with him. He looks angry, and his wife says, “It’s okay, he’s just doing his job.” I felt awful. I really have used it, and I really did enjoy it, and really, I’m just doing my job – helping you. At the end of the day you’re the consumer – you have all the power. Our job is to tell you about our product and determine if it fits your needs. Most service people realize this and want to do well by you. We tell the truth. Sure, we want to make sales and, occasionally, we do work on commission. But for the overwhelming majority of service people one sale will not make or break our numbers or even earn them any commission, so we’re not lying to you just to make a sale. Instead, we’re trying to help you trust us and listen to us.

We don’t run the company – we just work there.
I cannot tell you how many people choose to vent their frustrations about company policies to me. I get it, I really do. But please, vent to me as a fellow consumer – not the head of the company. I don’t make the policy and I don’t make the product. Talk to me as a person, not as the CEO. I promise I’ll do the best I can to help.

Stores cannot carry everything all the time.
I cannot control the fact that you, as a size 3 petite or 24 long, cannot find clothes anywhere. I’m sorry that the Whizz-Bang gadget is out of stock. Yes, it sucks, but there really aren’t enough of you to make it profitable for a company to carry all products all the time. I can sympathize, and really, I do, but I cannot change it.

Hold us accountable for how we do by you. At the end of the day, if you’re kind, considerate, your needs are reasonable and you communicate them well, then it’s my job to make you happy. If I don’t, tell me. There are many, many service people out there who hate their jobs and/or don’t do them well. Sure, customers bear some responsibility to help us to help you, but some of us just stink. Tell us, or tell someone that your experience was poor. At worst, it’s a learning opportunity for us. Oh, and if we do well by you, tell us or tell someone. Reward the good of us, point out the bad, and you’ll be helping hundreds of customers find help happier, speedier, and easier.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Help FOUND: Times Square Restaurant

We checked out the new restaurant by the airport for you! (I know, another food review...I swear this isn't a food critic blog hiding inside a customer service blog) I want to share our wonderful experience at Times Square Restaurant on Lincolnway across from the South Bend airport. You can see their menu via their other location under "Bravo Cafe" here.

The first thing I noticed was they had environmentally savvy florescent bulbs in their outdoor lighting...you know the twisty kind we are all supposed to be buying. I also really liked the landscaping outside of the restaurant. It is unlikely you spend a lot of time hanging out on Lincolnway but it isn't the nicest part of town from a curb appeal standpoint. Their bright flowers, borders and raised beds make a difference.

Everyone was "opening week nice" so we started off well. They didn't have highchairs which was kind of odd for a family restaurant but they are getting some soon. It was fine, our baby bucket fit nicely in the comfy booth. The physical menu was probably created in house by the owners and looked kind of funky-not-cool to me, but the offerings on it were extensive and tempting. I don't care what the menu looks like if the food is yum and it was. They had all the standards you expect form a good family restaurant-pasta, red meat, sandwiches, breakfast all day and a good menu for the kiddos. Everything looked good and the prices seemed reasonable so we were glad we stopped in.

I had the gyros plate which came with a large Greek salad that had Greek olives, feta, red onions cucumbers, tomatoes and whole anchovies on it! There was tons of food with the Gryos meal plus a whole second plate for my yummy Greek potato and rice pilaf for just about eight bucks. Hubby had the half slab of ribs with a salad and baked potato for ten dollars. He was kind of afraid to see what the whole slab would have looked like there was so much food on his plate. (Did I mention he is a pretty serious eater with a big appetite?) We chatted happily about the great value for our carefully budgeted dollar. The waitress came back several times to check on us and an owner or hostess stopped over too.

You could tell they might have cut corners on little things like napkins and menu creation, but the food is the point right? We were very happy with the service, food and bang for our proverbial buck. I'm looking forward to checking out their breakfast options some time soon. Nice going Times Square!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Help WANTED: Riverfront Cafe Niles MI

A restaurant by any other name, or even the same name, just isn't as sweet. The Riverfront Cafe used to be a place with fabulously mouthwatering food and a happy eclectic atmosphere. When it closed down a few years ago everyone I knew in Niles was disappointed. When it reopened under new owners about a year ago we were elated. Now we are back to disappointed again.

According to our receipt our server's name tonight was Jennifer, but I am not certain she said her name. Poor Jennifer; she was a sweet young girl without an ounce of spark and only minimal wait service training from my estimation. I would love to work with the waitstaff there and help them enjoy their work. I wish someone had spent time with Jennifer, she has potential to be a great server and to really enjoy her job. If she was awesome I'll bet just her repeat customers alone could bump up business at this struggling cafe. I wanted her to enjoy taking care of us, I wanted to have a great time at the restaurant like old times. I wanted to covet everyone else's meals because they all looked amazing....but that was not the case.

Jennifer was pretty prompt in greeting me and the other woman who just arrived at the table. She took our drink orders and brought them back fairly fast. We said we needed a bit more time to select our meals and we didn't see her again for fifteen to twenty minutes. I finally got up and asked the host if someone could please take our order. In a few more minutes she did come and take our order. When listing sides she neglected to mention the fresh fruit side I noticed on the menu...a side with an extra dollar charge among fatty standards like coleslaw, french fries and potato chips that may be of great interest when waiting on a table full of women!

A friend and I decided to order French Dip sandwich and the Garlic Rosemary French Fries with blue cheese dip appetizer and split it. Bad idea. The sandwich was on the smaller size and really not enough cut in half. It was also pretty salty to me, but my pal thought the roast beef on it was good. The fries we paid seven dollars for were normal fries but a large amount of them. They had a flavored salt on them, a few sprigs of real rosemary on the plate and a 'blue cheese dip' that was mostly mayo with a bit of good old fashioned cheap salad dressing. I was dissatisfied, but getting used to it at the new Riverfront Cafe.

The last time we were there I returned the fried chicken I ordered to the kitchen...it was under cooked, too salty and not like any fried chicken I had ordered anywhere else. I cannot recall ever sending food back in my life. I am embarrassed to do it. But what was even worse for me, a real foodie, was my appetite was gone. I was so turned off by my food I didn't even order a replacement. I should have remembered this and eaten before I met the girls here this time, but I keep hoping it will all turn around. The menu reads like a foodie's heaven, but what arrives at the table doesn't quite hit the mark in my hungry opinion.

When our club met at the Riverfront Cafe two months ago the service was pretty good then even if the food was not. I wish I remembered the server's name from that visit. She saw us again tonight and thoughtfully commented on how much bigger my infant daughter is now. I was very touched by her effort and consideration. She wasn't waiting on us tonight but I wish she had been. I was really impressed by her thoughtfulness.

After the meal, our waitress offered our checks without offering us dessert! Again, not the best route for a bunch of women out for the evening. This was a chance to increase our bills and therefore potentially increase her tip. I asked about desserts and the other women then chimed in as interested parties. Of course, when she showed us the dessert tray I could understand her disinterest in up-selling us: Each dessert only cost two dollars and was the size of a shot glass. No Kidding....creme brule in a shot glass. Two truffles the size of marbles. A teeny piece of cake that may have been the size of a deck of cards. SIX WOMEN PASSED on dessert. And none of us are supermodel thin. We are definitely dessert eaters. The teeny desserts could be cute in Hollywood, but not here in the Midwest. We eat dessert because we adore it, not just for show.

We lamented our choices and wished there was another place to go get good dessert nearby. We raved to each other about another restaurant in Granger, Yesterday's, and their phenomenal desserts. (I cannot say anything critical about Yesterday's...except do not get the blue cheese salad dressing, blue cheese roasted garlic, blue cheese crusted filet and a huge heaping succulent dessert all at the same meal. I discovered you can indeed eat too much blue cheese. Bummer.)


I hope they figure it out soon. I noticed both times we visited this summer that the patio was about one third full and there were maybe only two tables occupied inside. A few years ago it was bustling all the time and I remember raving about every menu item I tried. I want Riverfront to step up; it is such a great location and such a tantalizing menu. No matter what it is named, the location won't be enough to keep it running...it has to be the food, it has to be the customer service. When the waitstaff and cook staff find a sense of ownership, a spark of excitement in the work they are doing I know I'll eat there again. Until then I'll just enjoy a glass of iced tea and a good plan for afterward.