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Customer Service

Takeout food. METRO photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

I could take it personally, you know. I mean, come on! Does this happen to everyone?

Okay, so, check it out. First, I’m coming back from the airport, and I’m starving. I don’t tend to eat too much on days when I’m on a plane. I have a sensitive stomach, yeah, right, poor me, and I’m a bit, which is an understatement, of a neurotic flier. The combination doesn’t tend to make travel, food and me a harmonious trio.

Okay, so, there I am in the car, on the way home, and my wife can tell that I’m hungry. Ever the solution-finder, she suggests I order food from a local restaurant. When I call, the woman on the phone takes my order, which includes a salad with blackened chicken, and tells me I have to get there within half an hour because they’re closing.

When we arrive home, I bring in my small bag, grab the keys, and race out to the restaurant.

“Are you Dan?” she asks hopefully as I step towards the counter.

“Yes,” I say, realizing that I’ve cut the half-hour mark pretty close.

“Here’s your food,” she says, shoving the bag across the counter.

“This is everything?” I ask.

“Yes,” she says, as she rings me up and is clearly eager for me to step outside so she can lock the door and go on to the portion of her evening that doesn’t involve taking food requests, handing people food and charging them for it, all while standing near a gratuity jar that says, not so subtly, “Even the Titanic tipped.” That, I suppose, should inspire me to consider forking over a few extra dollars.

I stop at the supermarket for a few items next door, drive home and bring the bag into the dining room, where my wife opens it.

“Uh, Dan?” she says tentatively. “They forgot your salad.”

“What?” I rage, between clenched teeth in the kitchen as I unload the groceries.

“Your salad isn’t here. Did they charge you for it?”

“Yes,” I say, as I grab some slices of turkey I bought for lunch and a few salad items.

The next day, I called the restaurant to explain that my food didn’t come. The manager said he came in that morning and saw a salad with blackened chicken in the refrigerator. He says he can make a new one that day or can leave me a gift card. I opt for a new salad,

When I arrive, the same redheaded woman with a nose ring from the night before greets me.

“If it makes you feel better, I forgot much bigger parts of other people’s order,” she says, with a curious mix of sheepishness, humor and pride.

“No, how is that supposed to make me feel better?” I ask.

Still in food ordering mode, and perhaps not having learned my lesson, I ordered two breakfasts the next morning and, this time, received a single order that was a hybrid of my wife’s and mine.

That night, my wife and I went to a professional basketball game. Stunningly, the person operating the scoreboard had the wrong statistics for each player and the wrong names and uniform numbers of the players on the floor.

What’s happening? Is customer service a thing of the past? Are we better off with artificial intelligence or online systems?

I realize that the missed food could have happened with anyone at any time and that the thankless job of taking orders, preparing food and making sure people get what they order isn’t particularly exciting. 

Are people not taking responsibility in their jobs? Are they proud of their mistakes? Has customer service become like our appendix, a vestigial organ in our culture?

I’m the type of consumer who would eagerly become more loyal and would recommend services when the people who work at these establishments show me they care, want my business, and can be bothered to provide the products I purchased. Companies, and their staff, should recognize that I’m likely not the only one who enjoys efficient, professional and considerate customer service.

Pixabay photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

I read bumper stickers, buttons, fortune cookies and messages on T-shirts. They are a form of poetry that captures a moment, an approach, an attitude, and a message in fewer words than some of the soupier birthday cards.

Like birthday cards, sometimes these messages work, are amusing, evoke a reaction, or make me laugh for intentional and unintentional reasons.

In the modern world, in which so many interactions seem less than optimal or contrary to the intentions, I have some suggested messages that reflect the current state of customer service and civility, or lack thereof.

— Please don’t interrupt. I’m in the middle of looking busy. When I started working many years ago, someone told me to balance between looking busy and being under control. She suggested I walk quickly and purposefully, even if just to the bathroom, to suggest that I’m too busy to tackle something new that might involve lots of administrative work.

— Yes, I am talking to you. Those of you old enough to have seen the Robert De Niro film “Raging Bull” will understand this one instantly. This message captures the prevalence of confrontations.

— I have no idea what’s good. I don’t eat here. Diners often ask waiters and waitresses, “what’s good.” More often than not, they tell people what’s popular dishes or their specials. The subtext here is that some of them don’t, can’t or wouldn’t eat where you’re eating, especially after spending considerable time in the kitchen.

— Everything and nothing is special today. Keeping with the dining theme, while blending in some grade inflation, waiters could provide something philosophical for their diners to consume.

— I believe in building suspense. The assignment, the job, or even the entree may be later than someone wanted. This message could suggest the tardiness was deliberate and was designed to enhance appreciation and add drama. So, you’re welcome.

— Sure, you can ask. I like the buttons people wear at Yankees games that encourage fans to ask a question. On a day when these customer service professionals are feeling tired or hung over, they could don messages that encourage people to move along or to figure out how to drive home to Pennsylvania from the Bronx on their own.

— How can I appear to help you? Life is all about optics. Yes, we should be helping and yes, people are paid to help each other, in person, on phone and on the Internet. Sometimes, the person (or artificial intelligence programs) that is offering assistance isn’t delivering much.

— I brought my own questions, thanks. I would love it if a politician wore this button to a debate. On one level, it could suggest the candidate has questions that are hopefully substantive for his or her opponent. On the other, it could be an honest way of acknowledging the disconnect between a question about the environment and an answer about the person’s commitment to family.

— What can you do for me? This is a way of turning the tables, literally, on a hostile or inappropriate customer. It also discourages people from asking too much of someone who is not eager to deliver.

— Is there anything else I can’t do for you? I’ve been on numerous calls with people who haven’t done anything, particularly when dealing with traveling details, who then ask if there’s anything else they can help me with. When they haven’t helped me with the first question, it’s hard to imagine they can help with a second. A more honest message might suggest that they also anticipate not being able to provide any help with a second problem or question.

— What did you get me for my birthday? People often want, or expect, something, even from strangers, on their birthday. They don’t often consider that the person from whom they expect service, help or extra treatment had a birthday they likely missed.

Stock photo

Long Island utility PSEG said residents across Nassau and Suffolk counties have been receiving suspicious phone calls threatening to cut their service if they don’t immediately pay bills that don’t exist.

An alert from PSEG Long Island said both residential and business customers have been receiving calls from tricksters claiming to be employees of the utility company and warning that their electric service would soon be cut if payments are not made to them the same day. Similar scams have been reported across the country, with PSEG being one of the latest to see customers fall victim to them, the utility said in a statement.

It was described as an “old scam with a new twist,” in which scammers spoof PSEG Long Island’s interactive voice response system prompt menu so that when customers call back, they are presented with an interaction that is similar to one they would receive if they called PSEG Long Island’s real customer service line.

“The scammers tell customers that, in order to avoid being shut off, they must immediately pay their bill with a prepaid card that can be purchased at many pharmacies and retail stores,” the utility said in a statement.

Dan Eichhorn, vice president of customer services for PSEG Long Island, said there were striking similarities in each of the scams.

“Scammers ask the customer to give them the number on the back of the pre-paid card and take the money from the card — usually within a matter of minutes,” he said in a statement. “This scam has affected companies across the country. We urge our customers to always use caution when making payments.”

The utility reassured that it would never force a customer to give them the number of a prepaid card, especially with such urgency. In a statement, PSEG Long Island said that suspicious residents should hang up the phone if they receive such a call and call back directly to test the validity of that call.

“When PSEG Long Island makes an outbound phone call to customers, customer-specific information is shared with the customer,” PSEG Long Island said in a statement. “That information includes the account name, address, number and current balance. If customers do not receive this correct information, they likely are not speaking with a PSEG Long Island representative.”

The number on the back of PSEG Long Island customer bills is 1-800-490-0025.

PSEG Long Island said the utility was working with local and national law enforcement to investigate the matter further and is reaching out to its contacts at local community service agencies, asking them to spread the word to their clients.