My Week in Good, Great and Inept Customer Service

My oldest son was became a Bar Mitzvah on Friday, June 30th. In addition to the religious significance, many aspects of that particular milestone involve event planning. For reasons that continue to escape me, our family’s plan involved a catered lunch, a pool party at our development for about 40 of my son’s closest friends, all followed by a week-long trip to the Outer Banks for 14 family members.

It should be needless to say that I encountered quite a few vendors along the way. What follows are the customer service stories of a few of them. You may take your lessons where you see fit.

First, the Good.

I decided to purchase a Thule roof cargo unit for our Outer Banks trip. I visited the website as well as a few retail outlets only to find that installation was a bit more complicated than I had anticipated. Much depended on the make and model of my car and whether the luggage rack was complete with factory installed crossbars.

My car had no such crossbars.

I procured them at Fox Chevrolet in Timonium, only to be told that installation could only be accomplished by using an M6 star head screwdriver. I have Phillips and flathead. That’s it.

Frustrated, the day before the trip with no more time to spend on this endeavor, I wandered into the Hunt Valley Sears to find the screwdriver. What I found was an amiable and helpful man named Fred.

We could not find an M6 or anything vaguely resembling that designation. Rather than shrug, Fred grabbed a stepladder along with a selection of star head bits and headed out to the parking lot with me. We opened the kit for the crossbars, he stood on the stepladder to look at the roof rails, and tried every one of those bits until he found the right one.

He made a $9.00 sale, established a lifetime customer, and inspired this blog entry.

Now, the Great

While engrossed in the Thule search, I was also tasked with picking up a sheet cake my wife had ordered from Grauls Market in Timonium for the reception. Grauls had a standard bar mitzvah design in the shape of a Torah. (Picture a flat sheet cake with a large cake cylinders perched at either end.) I was kept waiting because there was a cake disaster. One of the scrolls had rolled off, taking part of the cake with it. After 10 minutes of what I can only assume was emergency dessert surgery, I received the cake and went home to Pennsylvania.

When I arrived home at 6:00 p.m., the cake was damaged. The scroll had fallen off again and my wife was beside herself. I called Grauls knowing there was nothing they could do. The Bar Mitzvah started the next morning, followed immediately by the luncheon. We’d have to deal.

Instead, Grauls’s bakery manager looked up the directions to the synagogue on Mapquest, kept his bakery open, produced a new cake, and personally delivered it to the caterer at the synagogue at 9:15 a.m. the next morning.

Where else would I ever order anything of importance again?

Nothing to say but…Why?

We have now arrived at the event itself. We had engaged a caterer well known in the York area who, truth to tell, put on a fabulous spread. The food was exceptional and universally praised.

During the reception, he approached me and asked for a check. Now, I have to say that I get it. When you are a caterer, it’s not like you can take back the food or undo the service. You better get paid before the event, when they still need you. Either that or leave only a portion of the bill to reconcile later.

Here, we had paid a deposit of roughly 50% and the caterer was looking for his other half. This is the confusing part.

First, he didn’t warn me and he doesn’t accept credit cards. I rarely carry checks and my wife is hit or miss. Fortunately she had one on her, although she was a bit miffed that we had no warning and were dealing with this in the midst of the event. Either way, I procured the check and asked the caterer what we owe. His response: “I don’t know.”

I was amazed. “What do you mean, ‘you don’t know?’”

“I don’t know.” I don’t have any paperwork with me. He then guessed at the amount, expressing that he was fairly certain.

Well, I knew he was close and I didn’t want him to go without payment, so I set out to write the check. That’s when he said “…and any tip you could add on for staff would be appreciated.” As I don’t throw catered affairs every week, I asked what’s appropriate. He told me “anything you put on there would be appreciated.” No help whatsoever.

So I wrote the check. Was it the right amount? Was the tip extravagant or on the cheap side? I’ll never know. What I do know is that’s no way to do business. As I’ve written in a blog entry entitled Rule Number 1, your main task as a vendor is to make it easy for people to do what you want them to do. In this case, he wanted me to pay him and tip his staff, yet he declined to give me a final invoice, could not accept different forms of payment, and would not provide any tipping guidance.

All I can say is…”why?”

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