To Serve And Reject
In one of my (too many) former employment lives, I worked as a sales manager for a consulting firm that installed and configured overpriced software that was supposed to help companies keep track of all their customer relationships. We used an extremely complicated cost/benefit formula to help our clients justify the massive expenditure they were undertaking, but it basically boiled down to the following: better record keeping = enhanced service = greater customer retention = increased profits.

It was all very logical, in theory, and was one of my more fun jobs, until our clients caught on to the piece of the equation we tried not to tell them about: abysmal customer service skills + automation + better record keeping = a paper trail documenting each and every management misstep on the short road to You Suck.

My achievements in this job were twofold. First, I made several hundred thousand dollars that I really didn't deserve and promptly pissed away on nice vacations, a new car, and other unnecessary expensive diversions; and second, I developed a marked hypersensitivity to every shortcoming in customer service I encountered in my everyday life. For someone like me, who is already infuriatingly oversensitive to any and all shortcomings she finds, both real and imagined, this is indeed a heavy burden to carry.

Theoretically, it’s not really that difficult to provide good customer service. A little effort, a little follow through, and a few hours of employee re-training is really all it takes to give someone a positive customer experience. And, one would think, given the miserable shambles that is our current economy (shut up, Bush supporters; I’ll bet you my final unemployment check -- which ran out last August -- that the job market still sucks) it should be easy for companies to find competent, hardworking, pleasant workers who are so afraid of getting fired they’ll do backflips for the people (i.e., me) they are supposed to serve. Instead, though, it seems like the opposite has happened. For every good customer service experience I have had somewhere, I can document at least double the number of things the same company has done to screw it up. And, even worse, the news of the screwup is usually conveyed by a completely innocent third-party scapegoat, who is then forced to face the full force of my wrath because there is simply no one else available for me to scream at.

Over the past week, when I would ordinarily be bursting at the seams with Christmas cheer, I have instead been enveloped in enough Bad Holiday Karma to suffocate a small village of Santa Elves. And, sadly, the Bad Holiday Karma is usually the end result of something good that someone was trying to do for me.

So, in one final, mighty effort to become the solution rather than the problem, I have compiled some handy service tips for the establishments that have managed to offend me over the past week in the sincere hope that my unfortunate experiences will be of some benefit to my fellow consumers:

- Attn: Shaw’s Supermarket in Allston: Thank you for my new frequent-shopper discount card. Last week it saved me $2.84 over retail prices. That’s more than enough to keep me coming back until my financial circumstances change for the better. And the underground bundle pick-up you offer is a great idea -- I pay for my groceries and you send them out on a big conveyor belt, which I then drive my car around to in order to have it packed up by an army of eager young bag-loaders. What would be really good, in my humble opinion, would be if the eager young bag-loaders could manage to remember to load all of my groceries, not merely the non-perishable items. I had a really hard time making Chicken in a Pot With Root Vegetables last Sunday, what with the both chicken and the root vegetables being missing from my order. And, yes, I do appreciate your eventually finding my bags. I do not, however, appreciate having to drive all the way back to the store during a blizzard to get them when it might have been more customer-friendly of you to put them in a cab and deliver them to me.

- Attn: Kendall Square Cinema: Kudos for defying the unwritten mandate of the People’s Republic of Cambridge to only serve Pepsi beverages and switching over to Coke products! And your new policy to refuse entry to people who arrive more than ten minutes after the film has started? Brilliant! You are so my new favorite movie theater. I just wish you’d be a little more pleasant to me. If I’m spending upwards of ten bucks per movie on Diet Coke, popcorn, and M&Ms, it would be really nice if the concession stand attendant would actually hand me my purchases instead of slapping them down at the other end of the counter and making me walk all the way back there to get them while he ignores me and chats with his friend at the ticket booth. Just a thought, mind you.

- Attn: My Expensive Health Club: I figure, between monthly dues, my personal trainer, the spa, the bar, and the hair salon I've easily dropped about $7500 there this year alone. Face it. I’m Poor because of you. Oh, I certainly regard it as money well spent, but I can’t help wishing you’d appreciate me a tiny bit more. It’s bad enough that the Spiteful Vacuum Cleaner Lady still chases me through the locker room every morning trying to knock me over and suck me up with her giant red Electrolux, but I now think there’s a conspiracy underway with the laundry service as well. You know, that laundry service I pay extra for as an Executive Member. How else to explain my missing white v-neck t-shirt and dwindling sock supply?  And, really, it is December now. High time to fire up that hot water heater, don’t you think? But thanks for the free disposable razor you left in my locker with the “Season’s Greetings” note. It’s really the thought that counts, right?

- Attn: Swanky Back Bay Eating Establishment: I appreciate the convenience of the valet parking service you provide. Twelve dollars is a small price indeed for the convenience of door-to-door transportation on a snowy winter night. It might, however, be a good idea to remind the valets that the Saab convertibles that are placed into their keeping without seven deep and jagged scratches across the hood are best returned in the same condition. And, in the unfortunate circumstance that this is not possible, a heartfelt apology and some form of remuneration are generally universally appreciated by the wronged patron, as opposed to the deafening silence emanating from the other end of the phone when said wronged patron calls to complain, ever-so-politely of course.

And, last but not least…

- Attn: Derek at Boston Water & Sewer:  Because I know you are not one of the Soulless Bureaucrats who have been maligning and threatening me for the past six months, but merely a cog in the Evil Machinery of Hopeless Red Tape you serve, I was fully prepared to be pleasant and accommodating to you during our scheduled 8 a.m. appointment last Tuesday. And it was quite thoughtful of you to call me from your cell phone at 8:20 a.m. to let me know you were on my street looking for a parking space and would be at my door shortly. I can certainly identify with your lament that BW&S doesn’t reimburse you for parking tickets or garage fees. After all, they don’t reimburse their customers for lost time, expensive modifications to our homes, or damage to our property when one of their workers -- no, I’m not saying you -- makes a mistake. Perhaps if you had heeded my advice and circled the block a few more times until a space opened up instead of driving off without telling anyone where you were going and leaving me hanging for the next three hours, you might have spared poor Ina from Boston Water & Sewer the brunt of my blind fury when she called a little after 11 a.m. to “reschedule” the appointment the Soulless Bureaucrats in the Evil Machinery of Red Tape had forced me to agree to in the first place. Fortunately, I calmed down in time to assure Ina that, in fact, I really do have nothing better to do with my time than sit in my apartment and wait for the workers who never come and that it was perfectly okay for her to lie to me and tell me you couldn’t get there “because of the weather.”

After all, ‘tis the season to be jolly.

Isn’t it?