Customer Service Rants and Raves

I just got home from the Great Christmas Migration of 2008. Tom and I are bicoastal. His family is in Pennsylvania and mine is in San Diego. Both demand our presence (and presents) at Christmas. This gives us plenty of chances to enjoy the fun of air travel and to meet interesting and helpful people along the way. This year instead of emulating the executives from the auto industry we decided to forgo taking the VMI company jet (Southwest, in our case), and instead flew our various journeys on a mainstream airline.

Christmas and the holidays are supposed to be the merriest time of year – so why is airline customer service the gloomiest? It starts with the smiling (not) faces at the airport check-in. The check-in staff is the frontline of the airline. They’re the first impression you get of the service you’re about to receive (or not). I’m sure that everyone has some part of their job they don’t like, but excuse me, sir, your job is to help me check in, tag my bags for the right airport, get them on the belt and tell me my gate number. If you don’t like that portion of your job, rotate to something else. Don’t make a face because my bag looks heavy or because I have two of them. Yes, I know you’re going to charge me to check them, but you don’t have to be so stern about it. I’m a customer not a prisoner (at least not until I board).

I think that being a nurse makes it difficult to sympathize with someone who’s upset about the fact that you asked for a second 4-ounce glass of lukewarm water. Look at what nurses do every day – change catheters, clean suppurating wounds and get sprayed by bodily fluids we shouldn’t discuss in mixed company (but still do). Some flight attendants really make me want to take their blood or at least stick them with an oversized needle. I feel like saying “Look lady, I asked you for a napkin – not to wipe my ass. Don’t act like you’re doing me a favor after taking 20 minutes to bring it. Yes, I know there are other passengers onboard, but right now you’re standing in the back of the plane kvetching about your upcoming layover in Poughkeepsie.”

It’s not just airlines that have bad service. Retail sales are down everywhere you go. ‘Blame the economy,’ you may say. If these retail employees keep it up, there won’t be any retail economy. I don’t know about you but I’m sick and tired of trying to give my hard-earned money to the lethargic, tattooed, multi-pierced cashier who’s on her cell phone. Or, the two salespeople talking to each other who act put out when you ask one of them to look in the back for a size 4. Try getting away with that type of behavior as a nurse. Can you imagine a patient saying, “Excuse me ma’am, I’m truly sorry to bother you, but I’m in desperate need of defibrillation. Would you please stop chatting about your ex and shock me back to life?”

In contrast, here I am at the Mecca of customer service – the Apple store on 5th Avenue in New York City. Like an airline, this store is open 24 hours a day and there’s usually a line to get inside. Unlike an airline, people wait patiently, even expectantly, because they know that once they get inside, the experience will be extraordinary. When’s the last time you heard someone say their flight or shopping experience was extraordinary unless they were talking about the extraordinary prices?

Apple sets the highest bar for customer service (plus the store is mad cool inside). Sales staff help you with your purchase and stay with you until you’re done shopping. They accompany you to the checkout line or point out one of the roaming check-out staffers who comes conveniently equipped with a wireless credit card machine. You walk up to any one with your purchase, joyfully swipe your credit card and get on your way without a hassle. My receipt is emailed to my BlackBerry® before I’m out the door!

Even if you don’t buy anything, staffers will patiently answer any question about all the cool stuff on display (and you get to play with it as long as you want). You can even make an appointment to bring in your computer, iPod or iPhone that you already paid for to get whatever service or training you need, including how to turn it on. The entire experience is exhilarating from the time you walk in until you leave. It makes me want to turn my whole office into Mac users. (Just kidding, Tom.)

I live by my rule, “do what’s right, not what’s easy.” A legal nurse consultant was complaining to me about something her attorney-client wanted her to research. He was off-base but demanding about it. She got angry with him and it may have cost her the relationship. I wanted to support her, but I couldn’t agree with her and said, “Remember, the attorney-client isn’t always right, but he’s still the attorney-client. Just be grateful he didn’t ask you to wipe his butt. If he’s paying you to do a job, it’s your job to do it and your duty to do it with a smile on your face (if not in your soul).”

Certified Legal Nurse Consultants exist because of our customers, attorneys. Aim to be more like an Apple store than a lemon airline.

Success Is Inside!

12 thoughts on “Customer Service Rants and Raves

  1. Thank you for the article on customer service and your airline travel experience. It puts everything into perspective as to what is important from a customer service perspective! We can only hope that others from their respective industry take a big hint!!! Thanks again.

  2. Thanks for the New Year Greetings and humorous comments on customer service! Next time you’re in PA visit Philadelphia and go to the Willow Grove Macy’s store (especially the Shoe Department) – you’ll feel like you’re on another planet i.e. a civilized one!
    Here’s to New Years Revolutions!

  3. Vickie – as usual you are 100% on. I ended up this Christmas Season walking out of several stores of course with my smile and integrity, refusing to spend my hard-earned cash in stores that lack customer service by being blatently rude and disrespectful. Perhaps you need to write a book titled “Inside Every Business: Customer Service for Dummies.” I have found the more family-oriented businesses to be the best in customer service and so I shopped there and enjoyed many social occasions among friends who own such businesses. Happy New Year to you and Tom! Next time in PA, give me a buzz.

    Wishing you Health, Happiness and Much Success in 2009!

  4. Vickie,

    Sadly, most of America is in need of customer service training for every aspect of their lives. Many people are just plain unhappy with life and project their unhappiness unto others. It has been a LONG 4 days from your last blog. I am hooked already on your blog. You had me rolling on the floor with your comments. It has made a tedious Monday more delightful.

    Many Blessing!

  5. Vickie,
    Can’t wait to see you in March so you can tell it like it is! You’re so refreshing and so funny!
    You go girl!

  6. Oh Vickie! How human can you be? This is so right! What a hoot! I love these stories. They remind me that we are all human.
    There is something about a nurse. We do things with a smile that others can’t be paid to do. If people only knew. But it is our world and I don’t think it’s shared by outsiders. Which is why we are unique even to each other.
    I agree with the Apple comment (sorry Tom) you know what I like best? The gifts! They come packaged looking as neat and tidy as Mr. Jobs himself in his black turtle neck== “Oh, Steve, you shouldn’t have”. None of this “throw it in the bag Microsoft stuff”. Silver packages with bows all neatly tied. Personal engraving if you wish…like you spent a million dollars on the gift. Class act.
    The airlines took advantage of the raise in oil prices. It took them right out of the red they- surcharged so much for that second bag (perhaps it was your luggage!). Now, if they could only learn what hospitals had to learn long ago, to keep that money out of the legal system, you need dedicated employees who don’t ask you to sit on the commode without a seat belt! (Like if it would have had a seat belt, it would have been less offensive! LOLOLOlolololol…you gotta laugh).

    I like this new blog. It’s good to know you have holiday struggles like the rest of us.

  7. I agree with Vickie in her last paragraph about giving the attorney-client what he wants even though s/he may be off base. I started working with an attorney on a case where he needed an expert in TJC standards and Medicare CoPs. Before too long, he was asking me to develop the complaint that he wanted to send to the state re: how this hospital was not meeting the standards. He continues to ask me to do work that gives me an opportunity to expand my thinking and experience. I learned a long time ago that in the CLNC® business, one can never go wrong by giving the client what he wants.

  8. Great article. Could not have summarized it any better myself. On a recent flight from Las Vegas to Denver my plane was delayed for mechanical reasons. I knew I was going to miss my connection in Denver (last flight out that night) and so did the airline staff. I tried to be proactive and spend another night in Vegas and take the AM flight out. The airlines would not do this without a change fee to my tickets. Even knowing they were dumping on Denver as connections would be missed didn’t’ matter. As projected I ended up spending the night in a hotel in Denver that they paid for. Again, I thought customer service was trying to be proactive. The airlines business model is definitely broken and before long they with be in line with GM and Ford with their hands out asking why they are going broke.

  9. I loved all the comments from my “Customer Service Rants and Raves” post – what a hoot! I never knew blogging can be so much fun. As CLNC consultants, it helps to keep an eye on the businesses that treat you right and know how to market their product because it gives us a higher standard to follow. For instance, we can all learn from the detail Apple puts into its packaging mentioned in Commode Commando Claire’s comment.

  10. Happy New Year to you also, Vickie!! My husband and I are both nurses and we frequently exchange thoughts on the service we have recieved. We have also walked out of stores, restaurants etc., when our presence has not been acknowledged within a short time. Do you remember the movie ” Planes, Trains and Automobiles”? Remember the scene in which Steve Martin is trying to get a rental car at the airport, and the customer service rep is on the phone and it’s obvious it’s a personal phone call? Unfortunately, that seems to be the norm. The customer is a nuisance, a pest, an interruption in their day. The clerk looks many times like they need a 3H enema. Nevermind that the customer is helping to sign their paycheck. This is the culture we live in now. How many times as nurses have our lunches been interrupted by ringing call bells? (That of course is assuming you had five minutes to actually put food in your mouth). Nurses are a different breed. We answer that call bell while our lunch petrifies and we do it with a smile. But, we are not responsible for their actions. We are however responsible for our reactions. Here in Elkton, MD the servers at Denny’s are always smiling ! Good job Vickie and Denny’s!!

  11. Ellen,
    Your mention of “Trains, Planes and Automobiles” brings back great memories. I was teaching a seminar in New York City during the ’80s (It’s true what Liza says – “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.”). I was out wandering the unusually warm October streets with a friend the day before the seminar. We found ourselves mixing it up with a bunch of people in winter coats. It turned out that they were extras for street scenes for just that movie! Being the shy person that I am (Alright Tom, stop laughing), and in the wrong clothing, the Assistant Director saw right through me and had me dragged off the set. I lost my first acting role in a major motion picture and decided to stick with legal nurse consulting.

  12. I feel I must present another perspective. Human nature would never allow me to treat my patients in the ways that have been expressed. However, let me state the following:

    I get so tired of patients and family members calling everyone in scrubs a “nurse”.

    Family and visitors thinking that because I work in the facility, I know every patient, wherever they may be, their condition, and where to find them.

    ” How do you get back to the lobby?” “FOLLOW THE BIG RED EXIT SIGN”

    ” Pull the car around, I will bring your family member to the car in a wheelchair.” Response; “Is that where I came in?” (How the heck do I know where you came in?)

    Stretchers and wheelchairs have the right-of-way. If you and the generations of family members who are blocking the hall would please move aside. And, please let us exit the elevator before you pile on.

    Speaking of the multitudes of family who feel they must be there when Aunt Bertha is having her gallbladder removed….STAY HOME. The hospital is no place for a family reunion. We only need a couple of you present. Everyone has a cell phone in order to update the genuinely concerned family and friends.

    The newest addition to the family, who is only two weeks old, has no business “visiting” the sick. Get a clue people. This actually prompted a “CODE PINK” (infant abduction) at my facility.

    I could go on but I think you get the gist.

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*The opinions and statements made by Vickie Milazzo, the founder of Medical-Legal Consulting Institute, Inc. are based on her experiences and expertise, should not be applied beyond the specific context provided, and do not guaranty or project actual results. Vickie Milazzo is no longer involved in the operations or management of the business, but is involved as an independent education consultant.

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