Phone Monkey: Trifecta

Before I begin this post in earnest, I should probably make it clear that the vast majority of customers are decent and generally know what they’re doing. Online ordering can be tricky, but most people understand the general requirements of doing business on the Internet.

The Holy Trinity of Online Ordering:

  1. Read: Read all of the instructions, and if you’re going to use a coupon, read the fine print. Terms and conditions always apply. The safety and comfort of your home does not excuse laziness.
  2. Double Check: Always, always, always look through your order to make sure you have put down the correct contact information, billing information, and that you’ve ordered what you think you ordered. You wouldn’t rush through booking an airplane flight. Why would you rush through an order for something that you’re going to put in your body.
  3. Be Cool: If something does go wrong, start at #1 and work your way back. If there is still something wrong, your Phone Monkey will be there to help. Accidents happen, and it’s our job to pick up the pieces. Very, very rarely, does anything blatantly malicious ever happen (a fry cook spitting in food, a driver calling a customer a whore, etc), but when it does, we actually have genetically engineered weasels that we can set upon unscrupulous restaurants.

Of course, we rarely hear from people who are satisfied with the service–after all, we’re the complaints department. Still, most people are reasonable, or at least not belligerent. There are people, of course, who are always impossible to deal with, and generally make our workdays a living hell. Almost all of them are unable to grasp #3 in the Trinity. As I mentioned in a previous Phone Monkey post, I attribute most of this to the anonymity of the Internet allowing people to remove the barrier of decency between their brain and their fingers or mouth (email/phone).

The Unholy Trifecta of Customer Service
1. Lawyers, Law Students, and Pedants

We are definitely not ones to holler, “Kill all the lawyers!” from the bell towers. As I mentioned in a pervious post, they keep us safe from you, and the other way around. As a rule, we’re not opposed to dealing with anyone because they come from any specific social group. But when we see an email addressed To Whom It May Concern, there is much muttering and sighing. One time out of a thousand, we’re surprised, and what follows is courteous. All of the other times, the email is a terse demand, usually for “restitution” and almost always employing the words “rendered,” “pursuant,” and “forthwith.” All they’re missing is the “Good day, sir!” at the end.

Why is this not OK? I understand where this comes from. You’re dealing with someone you’ve never met and probably will never meet, and doing so over the Internet, so the temptation is to come in hard and no-nonsense–make known your intentions. But what it actually turns out to be is bullying. In a meat-space service environment, the people who cause the most stress are the ones who can come into the store or office and physically intimidate. When we’re in the realm of black-on-white, we’re like Neo in the Matrix–muscles don’t mean a damn. As a result, those with command of language are at a huge advantage, which is why your phone monkey is likely to be someone who thought they could make a living as a writer, got a master’s degree, and then fell into a deep dark hole of debt, failure, and regret. And while we wind our way through complaints with tact and grace, the cynics come and present the black-on-white version of a gun. Loaded or not, we have to treat it like one, which means that instead of having a cordial service experience, you’re going to be treated like a menace, and we’re going to hate you for it. Working under duress sucks, especially when it’s the calculated threat of legal action. Be cool, not cold.

2. The Atom Bomb

Some of you may know what a chargeback is. For those who don’t, a chargeback is the result of a financial institution reversing a charge made to a credit card. This can be a great thing for the consumer, as anyone who’s ever had their cards or card numbers stolen can tell you. I can attest that our company would never want to keep a charge from someone whose identity was stolen. Unfortunately, this tool, like any tool, can be and is regularly used for evil. On a daily basis, customers use the threat of a chargeback to get their way from us or our vendors. Sometimes, it’s for major things, like food not delivered, but some days, like today, we have people tell us that they will be asking their bank to reverse the charge on the whole order because nachos and guacamole had clearly been fraternizing. But shouldn’t they? Tsk tsk … come now.

Why is this not OK? It should be obvious. As with the legalese, this is again us working under duress and treating the customer like a threat. But it goes a little deeper than that. Even if the bank denies the chargeback, it’s a pain in the neck for us, labor wise. It can also be hard on some of the small businesses we work with, as frivolous and opportunistic chargebacks can put undue strain on an already uncertain financial situation. By letting customers file chargebacks as freely as they do, we’ve essentially given the keys to a financial atom bomb to people (mostly college students) already in debt to their necks.

3. The Righteous Clueless

You’re home late from work, and all you want to do is sit, relax and order some delivery. Maybe you’ll crochet a sweater with cats on it for your friend. You get on the computer and pop in an order for some Chinese food from the best place in town. The thought of dumplings and roasted meats makes your mouth water. Forty-five minutes later, the doorbell rings and you pay and tip your driver, because you’re happy as a clam. As you unpack the bag, the steam fills your nostrils and you tear open the lid to your dumplings and chomp into one. And that’s when it hits you: you’re kosher/halal/vegetarian/vegan/pescetarian/breathairian! How dare the Chinese restaurant give you pork! Get thee to the Better Business Bureau!

Why is this not OK? This mistake happens far more often than it has any right to. After living abroad for some time now, I’ve come to realize that Americans generally don’t have any clue what other people around the world eat. There’s the old dismissal that Chinese food in the States isn’t really Chinese, and to the extent that it’s been molded to an American palate, that’s valid. (You might be surprised, though.) The real concern here is an ignorance of what kinds of things people eat. The quick-and-dirty explanation we got when we came to Malaysia about party etiquette was, “The Muslims don’t eat pork and don’t drink alcohol, so don’t offer them. The Hindus don’t eat beef, so don’t offer it. And the Chinese eat pretty much anything, so go hog wild.” In the States, more people need that kind of brief education before leaving home. That’s not to say that my education in this matter is finished. In Taipei I learned that pork is a vegetable. True fact. So if you’re ordering from the pretty-much-anything restaurant, expect the unexpected.

Above all, be cool.

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