When Did the Customer Become THE PROBLEM?


Our server brought back the check and credit card slip for my signature. “Thank you” I said. “It was a good meal and I really appreciated your service” “No problem!” he replied, and I’m thinking, “Huh? Were all the customers tonight thought to be a problem, or just us?”

Apparently I am a problem.  And so are you.  Let me explain.

Mary, my bride of 37 years, and I were coming off a very busy work week, and since neither of us felt like cooking, we decided on a rare treat, uber-fresh fish at the always-busy Bonefish Grille over by the biggest mall in the area.  Service was good despite the crowd, the food was hot and delicious, and it was delivered with a smile, so I felt generous with the tip when the check came.

Our server brought back the check and credit card slip for my signature. “Thank you,” I said.  “It was a good meal and I really appreciated your service.” “No problem!” he replied, and I’m thinking, “Huh?  Were all the customers tonight expected to be a problem, or just us?”

Whatever happened to a heart-felt, “you’re welcome?” When did the customer become the problem?

Mary was the first one to point this out to me, this unholy substitute of “no problem” for “you’re welcome.” She’s faster with these things than I am, but she’s absolutely right.  To say no problem in response to a thank you says that the other person expected you to be a problem.  And because you apparently weren’t the big problem he or she thought you’d be, he or she can now declare you to not be a problem after you thanked them and helped them pay the rent this month by your patronage.

Is that what it’s come down to…customers are the problem?

Pay attention this next week for how many times you say thank you to someone and he or she says, “no problem.”

So what happens when the seller creates the problem?  If what happened earlier today is any indication, the customer is still the problem.  We were out doing some Saturday afternoon shopping and stopped in to the local Acme market.  I’d received a flyer in the morning’s mail stating an unbelievably low $3.99/pound promotion with coupon on prime rib.  Acme has an excellent cut of meat, so we decided to stop.  The coupon stated a $25.00 purchase had to be made in addition to the prime rib, in order to get the sale price.

Since we were going to a party, I placed a 12-pack of gourmet beer and a bottle of wine into our cart, plus a bag of potatoes for us, and a 9 pound prime rib into the cart and joined a 4-deep checkout line.   When I got to the cashier, I was told that alcohol had to be purchased in another line, but they could ring through all the items I had in my cart over there.  I waited my turn in the 5-deep line for beer and wine.  When the cashier rung me up, he curtly informed me that he could not accept the coupon.

“Why not?” I asked.  “Because it is alcohol,” he replied.  So I said, “Your coupon says nothing about that…was there a sign I missed?” Annoyed with my question, he countered, “Nope, it’s alcohol, and you are right, the coupon says nothing about alcohol not counting towards the $25.00 purchase.” The he added, a bit annoyed, “Nothing I can do for you. If you want to talk to a manager, take your stuff and go over there,” he pointed.  Apparently I was the problem, not the failure of the store to get their promotions clearly spelled out.

No offer to call a manager. 

No apology. 

Just a stupid problem customer and thinly disguised contempt for all the people who keep retailers, restaurants, and solution providers in business.  The customer.

Acme Markets is one of the grocery chains that make up the $60B Albertson’s family of companies.  They are relentless advertisers. I wonder how much money they lose on customer-unfriendly tactics like the ones I described.   Bonefish Grill is owned by the $4.3B holding company Bloomin’ Brands (Carabba’s, Outback, Flemming’s, and Bonefish).  Another voracious advertiser who needs to teach its staff to avoid saying things that suggest the customer is the problem.  


Bottom Line

Tom Peters told the world about sellers who had thinly disguised contempt for customer in his bestselling books In Search of Excellence and A Passion for Excellence.  I quote from A Passion for Excellence, page 50: “…TDC – Thinly Disguised Contempt for the customer…It’s the biggest barrier to sustainable superior performance – in hospitals, schools, banks, among retailers and manufacturing companies.” 

You and I do have a choice of where you spend our money.  And when we do, we don’t want to ever be made out to be the problem.

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