Poor customer service? Are you doing your part?

Are you a good customer? Have you ever thought about how your own attitude in a given scenario affects the interaction?

I was working at the Keystone Resort, in Colorado, in the US, over the winter of 1998/99 as part of a student working holiday program.

I was assigned to Base Operations. We were the groundsmen of the resort. We cleared the footpaths after snowfall, collected the trash from restaurants, and we marshaled the car parks amongst other things. Not very glamorous but a lot of fun.

We also had to man the parking booths. Remember the old days when you paid a real live human on leaving a paid parking lot? Well that was us.

This was one of only two direct customer facing jobs we were responsible for. You are on your own out there in the booth. It is just you, your cash register and your heater.

pablo (1)Most customers drive up to the booth, hand you their ticket and pay the fee. You let them out. Painless.

But not all customers. Of course not. You know that.

Every shift two or three customers would ‘lose their ticket’. If you lose your ticket you pay the maximum fee. It was $10.

The ticket is the customers responsibility. To help staff the rules removed the need for us to make a judgement call. No ticket, you pay the maximum fee.

But we could still exercise discretion.

We could raise the boom manually if needed. We could let customers out for free.

In some ways this could be perceived as good customer service. A happy customer returns.

That was the goal.

Repeat business.

Sure we could throw the rule book at the customer, but sometimes it was better to let them through.

I started to notice my own reactions each time this scenario presented.


How did I decide when to let someone through?

When to let them pay part of the fee?

When to stick to rules?

As I exercised variable judgement, variable because my willpower and energy levels influenced my willingness to enforce the rules, I would learn more about the situation.

There were customers who had genuinely lost their ticket. They would pay the fine and be on their way.

Other customers would suddenly find their ticket again, in the glove box, pay the correct fee an be on their way. The chancers.

And a smaller number would protest and kick up a fuss, get angry …

At this point you could decide to stick to the rules or just let them out.

And here was the lesson.

Unconsciously I was paying close attention to the demeanor of the customer.

To their tone of voice.

To their body language.

Trying to ascertain whether they were telling the truth and how committed they were to this course of action.

And you know what?

It mattered.

It mattered how they spoke to me. Their tone of voice mattered. Their body language mattered.

If they were unreasonably rude they got the rule book.

If they were nice and polite I would gently push back, and many times I would let them through without paying.

Maybe I shouldn’t have let them through. Maybe rules are the rules and we should enforce them all the time. Maybe. That is not the subject of this post.

The point of this post is that being polite made a difference.

Realising that I did not set the rules, that I did not lose their ticket, and that I was just doing my job made a difference. Treating me with respect mattered.

Treating me with respect resulted in more ‘free passes’ than being rude.

It predisposed me to going the extra mile. Yes maybe that is in my job description. Maybe and engaged employee would do that anyway.

But the customer could make it easier or harder. They had as much influence on the situation as anyone else.

That experience has stuck with me ever since. And it has paid off for me.

Being a considerate customer pays off.

Being polite and friendly pays off.

Yes being rude can sometimes pay off, but is it worth it?

So the next time you are a customer in a sticky situation, think about your role in the interaction.

Are you doing everything in your power to create a positive outcome?

Maybe the customer is always right, but that doesn’t excuse you from being polite.

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