Wednesday Whine: Customer service!

I’m trying to learn to demand customer service. Not big service – just the common everyday service that seems almost to have been wiped off the face of the Earth.

Aw, shucks! Thanks fer what you did! (copyright Ron Harvey)

Aw, shucks! Thanks fer what you did! (copyright Ron Harvey)

I truly believe that businesses attentive to cheerful customer service — including freelance businesses – can rule the world because they are so rare.

Take today. When I paid at the McDonald’s drive-through lane, the cashier attempted to hand me back bills, coins and receipt in one bunch. To take them requires reaching up and awkwardly twisting the wrist, then carefully guiding the wad downward so the coins don’t slide off. With orthopedic hardware in my wrist, I can’t do it anymore , so I asked the cashier to hand me the paper, then the coins.

She dropped coins. They clattered to the pavement. She turned away to the next customer talking through her headset. She seemed to expect me to be OK with driving off without the change she dropped, but I am a skinflint. Fifty cents buys a postage stamp with one cent left over for a gumball. I’m not abandoning that on the ground.

I could not get the car door open more than six inches without hitting the wall of the restaurant. As the cashier continued not to pay attention to me, I stuck the handle of a windshield squeegee out the door and led the coins to me with it. Then I bent like a contortionist to pick them up. Actually, the kink that was in my neck for a couple of days feels better because of it, but I didn’t order a side of physical therapy.

McDonald’s, please train your cashiers not to hand back change in a wad. Whatever you’re doing to put the fear in them of reaching back into the cash drawer when they drop a customer’s change, stop it!

I’ve left stores when clerks were too busy chitchatting with each other to answer a question for me. Because of that experience, I probably will never go back to a Lamps Plus. Yes, it’s an irrational reaction, but those clerks represented the company to me that day.

The most fun I’ve had with customer service occurred in an Aaron Bros. Art Mart. I picked out some art supplies, then waited at the register. And waited. And waited. Ten minutes passed. (I was patient.) I looked around for a bell. There was none. But there was a microphone. I waited five more minutes. Should I? Oh, yes. And I did. “Attention, Aaron Bros. employees! This is your customer. Please report to the front checkout to take my money.” Someone emerged from the framing room – the only person on duty that night — and we had a good laugh over it.

What does any of this have to do with freelancing? A lot. Give your editor a little customer service, and you grease the path to your next assignment. If the editor wants a headshot from one of your sources, don’t balk or demand extra payment, because everybody knows how long it takes to say “Mr. Fulano, my editor would like a headshot of you to run with the story, if you have one to send. You can send it electronically as a .jpg. Here is her email address. Please put your name and ‘headshot’ on the subject line.”

Likewise, if the editor requests a sidebar with the story, don’t complain that it’s so much extra work that you expect extra pay. Everybody knows it takes a few minutes – not hours – to break information from the story into a sidebar.

Editors remember writers who provide little touches of help because they are so rare. Give your editor customer service, and you’ll cultivate a happy repeat customer.

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