Tuesday, April 29, 2008

In this internetastic super-cyber e-commerce world, customer service seems to be a lost art form. Most of the time it's non-existent, but when it's good, it can help a business rise above issues like mediocre products or pricing its patrons into the poorhouse.

One of our favorite restaurants is Cafe Paradiso. The food is very good, though not significantly better Italian cuisine than all the other restaurants around. And it's never too crowded, but that's likely because their dishes cost more than their culinary counterparts. So why do we keep going? 'Cause they remember us, give us the best seat in the house, and cater to all our little food foibles without flinching. (E.g., all of Adelphia's sauces on the side, extra chili peppers on top of everything of mine -- sure, even the gelato.)

And everyone on the West side has raved about The Counter. It's just a fancy diner, and despite the gimmick of building your own burger, the ground beef and garnishes aren't so great to justify the half-hour wait. But I gotta say, they've got some of the nicest staff I've ever encountered. So I'll continue to customize my accoutrements at The Counter.

Then there's the counter-examples.

Months ago, when I was shopping for a new laptop, I went into Creative Computers in Santa Monica. There was a guy who worked there -- well, he wore the store's shirt and name-tag, but he didn't seem to be working there. He was surfing the Web on one of the big-screen computers, checking out the latest football scores. I sat at one of the laptops next to him, and he muttered, "You thinking of getting a new computer?"

"Thinking about it," I said.

And then he did nothing. A minute later, he got up and walked away.

Okay, I had to be a more aggressive buyer, I guess. I asked another guy if he could help me. I told him I was looking for a new laptop, but wasn't sure what to get.

He regarded me with utter disdain, sneering through his rotten Wailing-Wall teeth, and asked what I wanted to do on the computer. I explained that mostly, I do a lot of writing, and web surfing, but my last laptop was too heavy and slow.

He sighed. "Well, I don't know how to narrow it down, if all you want is a portable typewriter with internet access."

The derision was too much to take. "Wow, nice attitude," I said. "You guys really don't wanna sell me a computer."

I left and got much better treatment at the Mac store.

Oh, and then there was last weekend at Tengu. Adelphia had a gift certificate for $50, which we kept meaning to use, but rarely went to Westwood. Since we had spent all day at the UCLA Bookfair, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to use that certificate to savor some sushi & sake.

Adelphia checked with the bartender/waitress, to see if she'd accept the certificate that she'd held onto for years, and the woman said no problem.

After filling up on some good raw fish, we wondered if we had even used up the full amount. The waitress gladly checked and said our tab was up to $46.50. As I was wondering if we should order something else, the waitress said something she nearly regretted.

"I checked with my manager, and he said we can't accept the certificate. I'm sorry," she shrugged and turned to walk away. "Don't worry, you guys. Your drink is on me."

Oh, our one drink? I thought: what about the half-dozen dishes of raw fish, lady?

But Adelphia had the right response. "No. First of all, the certificate didn't have an expiration date. Second, in California, it's illegal to sell a certificate with an expiration date, or even if it has one, it's illegal to fail to honor the certificate with the intended services or cash value. Third of all, you agreed to honor it before we even sat down." Adelphia took a breath and said, "Please have your manager come talk to me."

The waitress didn't know who she was messing with -- someone skilled and experienced in the service business. Adelphia knew her stuff. And I knew there was no way in hell I was paying for this food. We were prepared to have them call the police, but it wouldn't come to that. The woman returned and said not to worry about it. I almost felt bad for the waitress and I still left her a $10 tip, but she and her manager's stupid service didn't really cost them anything -- the food had already been paid for years ago -- except any future business from us.


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