Wanted: great customer service

A police officer an a man peer at night into the brightly lit menswear display window at the Simpsons department store in downtown Montreal
Montreal Simpsons department store window in 1936

I don’t want to gripe but I just went through two experiences that made me wonder about businesses and customer service.

My son invited me to a movie this week. We hadn’t allowed ourselves enough time to eat anything before the screening (of Chef, of all things!) so we ended up with one of the movie theatre’s expensive popcorn/drink/candy packages. We paid $21.05 for a large popcorn, two soft drinks and a bag of M&M’s.

The straws and napkins were on this counter/island thing a small distance away from the concession counter, in the movie theatre’s lobby. We put our stuff down on the counter as we placed straws in drinks and got ready to carry our drinks, candy and huge bag of popcorn  to our theatre. Just as we were doing this, an employee said, “Excuse me,” and then proceeded to open up the base of the island thingy where we’d placed our stuff. It seems that’s where the movie theatre keeps its napkins and there was some sort of napkin crisis happening because he was very insistent on getting those napkins even though we were maybe half a minute away from leaving and there weren’t many or possibly any other customers in the theatre at the time. We had to move all our stuff to the other side of the island thingy to make room for him. I said , “Hey, we’re customers, can’t you wait two minutes for us to finish before you go in?” or something like that. This got him angry. “I said ‘excuse me,'” he replied before heading over to complain/gossip about me to another employee.

After spending more than $40 on tickets and overpriced popcorn, drinks and candy I thought maybe we would be treated like our customer needs counted. Silly me! My question to anyone serving drinks and food is why would you store supplies in the bottom of the counter/island where customers pick up their napkins, straws etc. It’s akin to Starbucks storing supplies below the area where people get sugar packets and stir their coffee. It’s not convenient for customers or for staff. It doesn’t make sense.

The other surprise came at a co-op I’ve been a part of since 2001. Though I bought a lifetime membership, in recent years the co-op introduced an annual fee members must pay if they want to enjoy members-only discounts. I’ll confess I don’t like this policy and I did boycott the fees for a while. My position is a co-op should either have annual fees (examples of this are Le Frigo Vert or Coop Le Milieu) or a lifetime membership (Mountain Equipment Co-op), but not both, as is my situation since I bought a $10 share in 2001 and now must pay an annual fee as well to receive discounts. I missed the vote and since a majority of co-op members okayed annual fees, in March I finally paid the fee.

But yesterday when I got to the cash to buy gardening supplies, the staff gave me a hard time. First the new employee, who was in training, could not find me in the system. She searched for me both by last name and then by member number. Then she asked another employee for help. That employee found my file but then told me flat-out that I’d never paid the annual fee and in fact it said on my file I’d refused to pay it.

I didn’t have a receipt because since it’s an environmental co-op you help the co-op when you refuse a receipt, but I knew I’d paid the annual fee. I told her to look up the first transaction I’d made this year. She found the proof and then told the young trainee I had been listed as a non-member. This irked me since my annual dues are not related to membership – some members of the co-op don’t pay the annual fee but still are considered members so it shocked me to hear I’d been considered a non-member. It appears the guy I paid the $10 to for the annual fee forgot to correct my file and it’s unclear whether I received the members-only discount during my last visit. But one thing that really needs correcting is this one employee’s attitude towards longtime members.  After years of good experiences at the co-op, yesterday this woman I’ve never seen before treated me like crap. I don’t buy much at this co-op and will probably visit even less often now even though I’m one of the first 100 people who supported the co-op.

I suppose I expect a lot. I expect businesses to hire friendly staff who answer customer needs. No second guessing. Basic respect.

One business that knows how to treat customers is the Simons department store in downtown Montreal (La Maison Simons). You could buy something small and inexpensive and the staff will still treat you well. Maybe they’re good actors. But it’s a lot of fun visiting places where the staff make you feel like you matter.