10 March 2007

May I Help You?

There is an aspect of the United States that I really miss...

Being greeted with a smile and "May I help you?" when you walk into a store, restaurant or business.

While it does not happen every time, it certainly happens far more than not. And it is not just an empty greeting. It will be followed through with action. In most cases, employees will do what they can to ensure that the customer leaves happy and that any issues are resolved immediately.

Although there are notable exceptions -- the US banking and airline industries immediately come to mind!

Regardless, just in the past week I have seen numerous examples of excellent customer service.

For instance, very early on Monday morning we were awakened by garbage trucks emptying the dumpsters outside the hotel. This happened at 3:30 am, to be exact. There were three dumpsters and the noise continued for 20 minutes while they emptied them. Shortly thereafter, the morning deliveries in the loading dock area started.

The next morning I went to the front desk and asked to be changed to another room. After I explained why, the hotel desk clerk immediately apologized for the issue, even though it is not the hotel's fault as the city decides when garbage is collected. Not only did she move us to a larger, corner room on the other side of the hotel that was further from the street level, but she also gave us points in our frequent stay program for two free nights stay at one of their hotels anywhere in the world at a future date.

Here's another one -- one morning GLH and I went to a typical "All-American" diner for breakfast. GLH's slice of ham had a lot of fat in it and he couldn't eat most of us. When the waiter returned to the table for one of his frequent "Is everything alright?" visits, he noticed GLH had not eaten the ham. When he discovered the reason, he immediately offered to bring a new slice. When GLH declined, he discounted our bill to make up for the poor quality of ham that was served. All of this without us complaining or asking to speak with the manager.

Here is one final example. In Switzerland most stores are extremely proud of the two year guarantees that are offered. When you purchase the item, you are told to keep the receipt and if anything should happen during those two years, it will be fixed or replaced. The Big Finn recently shared a story about how things tend to break for him shortly after the two year anniversary. (Look for posting entitled "Swiss Quality" from 6 March.)

How about this? My niece recently noticed the zipper on her winter coat was broken. Her father took the coat back to the store, without a receipt, and showed them the broken zipper. He thought the coat had been purchased about a year ago. Because they keep electronic records, the clerk (in Minnesota) was able to find the original purchase information (in Vermont) and discovered that the coat was actually purchased more than three years ago.

No problem! He was given the choice of either having the coat sent in for repairs. Or he and my niece could walk over to the coat rack and select a brand new coat at no charge.

I could go on, but you get the point.

Switzerland is wonderful on many levels. The efficient public transportation, the cleanliness and the extreme natural beauty springs immediately to mind.

And there are aspects of the United States I am happy to leave behind such as high crime rates, strip malls and dangerous pedestrian crossings!

But I would love to live in a Utopia where I could have instant access to US customer service, Swiss efficiency, and Italian shoes. Given time, I sure I could create a much longer list!

Too bad you cannot meld all of the good things from around the world into a single location. And remove all the bad things.


Impossible Jane said...

Rhode Island must not be in the US then. You practically have to slap someone to get a "Hello Can I help you?" at the store.

On the flip side of that though B.F. and I had an experience in Geneva where we were eating at an outdoor cafe and our table broke. Our food went flying, the table practically rolled down the street, napkins everywhere and NOT ONE SINGLE PERSON stopped to help us pick up the mess or give us new food.

So I sort of get it! But find that people in RI and perhaps the N.E. can be just as grumpy.

Un-Swiss Miss said...

I don't know about US customer service. Sometimes it's great, but most of the time it's simply terrible, because companies seem to compete on price rather than loyalty. (Yes, it's our fault, I know!)

On the other hand, I sometimes find Swiss customer service simply creepy. I walk into most stores (with the exception of Ikea and grocery stores) and someone immediately comes forward to ask if they can help me find something. If I say no, usually that's the end of it. But on occasion, they've proceeded to follow me around, trying to be helpful in German (which I start off speaking), French (which I occasionally use), and finally English (when all else fails). Can't you just let me browse??