Thursday, March 28, 2013

Tomatoes, Groupons, and Ethics, oh my!

Most people who know me, are aware that half of me is made up of Italian and Sicilian American genes. I am originally from Long Island, NY -where people are known to have 'STRAWNG' accents and bad attitudes and customer service is associated with the latter of the two. I too, when I am around it for even a second, have an accent that comes back and helps me have social courage to be loud and somewhat stronger personality and feel more powerful.

Also, most people know have met me know that I own my own business -a massage practice in downtown Sacramento. Most of my clients are state workers, body builders, cross-fitters, rich people, not so rich people, broken people emotionally and physically, and happy people with amazing spirits that even heal ME when they walk into my office. The only thing they have in common is they bestow upon me the gift of gratitude, and I, in turn, are grateful for their presence in my life, even if it is during my 9-5 and not on a more personal level.

Growing up the second half of my life in California, customer service is ingrained into you (probably because culturally no one here seems to want to tackle verbal confrontation no matter how simple and innocent). Whether you perform retail for minimum wage or you own thirty franchises -customer service IS sacro-sanct. I never questioned why it was so dramatically important to go so above and beyond to make 1 person happy (no matter the issue or their demeanor or value to the company in question) because it just IS important to have amazing customer service.  Proper business ethics is not even a choice, it is a requirement, no matter how amazing or awful that customer or client is and no matter what you offer or don't offer.

Well, how about this: business is not a one way street. If one party is upholding good customer service, shouldn't the other party partake meet half way in showing some small amount class and graciousness? Not too long ago I began to realize that there is something missing that I like to call 'consumer ethics'.

It was ingrained to me to make the client happy NO MATTER WHAT and with charisma and passion -like a cute performing circus monkey. To make corporate happy by forcing myself to WANT to make the client happy for any and no reason at all, probably to the point of anal retentativeness (I AM Sicilian after all and being high strung is genetic.) I am no longer a 20 year old worker bee who was brain washed to be over-enthusiastic about a product that isn't personally condusive to my lifestyle to pay my way through school...No longer needy of making customers happy just to be patted on the head like a golden retreiver at $8 an hour with the hopes of being needed and wanted and irreplacable.

Living in California, I have come to expect to be welcomed and given good customer service. In turn, I go above and beyond to be really friendly as a consumer. I rememeber what it was like to work in retail, I hated it and secondly, you are more likely to receive more than the bare minimum if you show some respect and gratitude to some degree.

A few weeks ago I visited long Island, NY with my family. Although it was wonderful to be home, I had a rude awakening. I ordered food for pick up at a famous kosher deli. I am allergic to tomatoes (actually, I hate them SO much I just tell people I am allergic and then forget that I acutally am not allergic. See what happens when you lie? You start to believe it yourself). I ordered a salad to-go and said to the gal at the counter "I am not familiar with your menu, but I am allergice to tomatoes. May I order a salad without tomatoes?" She cut me off rudely as if I slightly insulted her in a very customary Long Island manner and said "We DON'T put tomatoes on our salads". I said, "Ok. Perfect, thank you very much." I went back to my hotel room to eat my salad -the chicken on it smelled divine, and they make their own dressing, I couldn't wait to chow! Low and behold there there were tomatoes on my salad! Oh boy, was I furious! I HATE tomatoes THAT MUCH that the mere sight of them gets under my skin and makes my left eye twitch in fury. They were not even the dainty cherry tomatoes that I can pick off, but the large -too red -too ripe -too slimy sliced tomatoes that had the nasty coppery tasting juice making endless and disgusting love to my salad with the half green icky seeds EVERYWHERE! I instantly lost $18 and my appetite to boot. (You probably got my point without my rant, but bear with me).

Instantly expecting that the restaurant should get me a new salad or a gift card or something to make up to me for my experience. I asked my dad "What do I do? Should I go back and get another salad? Should I just call and complain and just eat something else?" My dad was amused and half laughed at me saying, "Baby, this is New York, not California. l can guarantee they did that on purpose."

I was beyond puzzled and could not wrap my mind around the thought "Are you kidding?! They are SUPPOSED to make me happy!" Yup! I said that loud and clear like a true typical self-entitled customer who expects to be given the sun and the moon for integrity sake!
He wisely responds "Baby, their business has been around for a long time not because of service but because what they offer is what people want. If someone doesn't like your stuff here, they can go somewhere else. However, there is employer-employee loyalty here which we don't have back home. Regardless, customer service doesn't seem to make a difference here because everyone has an attitude, customer and client alike without social business agendas. " I was still puzzled and could not digest this layered mini lesson -Nor the stupid salad. (Damn tomatoes.)

In the beginning stages of owning my own practice there were times I knew that the client I was serving was not going to be a returning client, but still, I would serve them the best I could because I was brain washed to believe I HAD to.

One evening I had a client who purchased an online voucher at a discounted rate to enjoy one of my services. When I booked the appointment I was aware that her voucher already expired, I still offered to take care of her, because she was so pleasant. Our schedules collided and she would have had to wait two months to get to see me -on a waiting list. So, I rearranged my personal schedule a little bit to give her a good experience. I figured me breaking my boundaries a little bit could be an investment into a new client.

In person she was the opposite: Pompous, arrogant, and more annoyingly, could not stop spouting sonnets regarding how much "experience in receiving massage" she has had all over the if massage was the equivalent of elite cheese and wine tasting. Listening to her stories of receiving Swedish massage in Europe, Thai massage in Thailand, and cold shell massage in Tahiti -began to irritate me.

To make matters worse she felt the need to 'educate' me (as if I have NOT done this for 11 years). The session lasted a mere 15 Minutes. She went on attempting to correct my technique by informing me I "don't do Swedish Massage right". Losing my patience and playing dumb, I asked "have you ever studied massage? Is that why you are so knowledgeable?"

The final straw that broke the camel's back was when she responded to my question regarding her experience if she had ever trained and practice massage herself: "ME? touch other people!? PALEEEEZ, that is below me!"

"Well, serving [people like you]* is below me. You may get dressed and leave my office now". She said nothing out of surprise and I quickly exited my office to respectfully and professionally give her the time and privacy to dress herself.

She complained that she paid for her service in full. I was in disbelief that I was truly interacting with a 5 year old brat who truly believed that if she complains enough she can get everything she wants! I had to reiterate that she paid only half my rate by purchasing a groupon, for one. Secondly, it was expired and I did not have to honor it. Thirdly, I opened up my off hours to accomodate her, out of kindness only.
 For the first time in 7 years, I had kicked somebody out of my place of business. From old habbits working for big corporate companies at the bottom rung, I went into defense mode and almost had a panic attack and had that edgy feeling you get when you are 6 and you did something bad and your parents are going to spank you when they find out, and you will be shamed for being 'bad' (don't forget, I am Sicilian and high strung, this is my nature). But, I realized, wait a second, I am being stupid. I have a right to respect myself and as a friend put it, I have a right to "fire" a client. I am not in trouble or did anything bad

I realized that I didn't have to go "above and beyond" to the second or third power, like I always had to to make ends meet. Did I REALLY want to make those old habits the premise of my business ethic? Considering I am my own boss now, do I take a different approach to making my clients happy, like, respecting my protocols, schedule, and price list first to have my time and skill respected more? I value my integrity and the universe will always take care of me if I am a good girl with a good heart who does good things. My profession is about spreading joy and wellness and healing and its my job to be that person before during and after a session...And then the last reason, which is to make good money! Lets me honest, I want to make a living and be a sole provider for my household AND be able to spoil my nieces and nephews at Christmas! In other words, to keep a good professional reputation to make good professional money!

I used to belief that my business would suffer and crumble if I had a bad review on Yelp or playing 'he said/she said' with the BBB! Like I said, old habits die hard. But they can be let go of by adopting new habits. Like, respect for business, respect for other businesses.

At this point, I can confidently say that I am willing to serve my guests with the best that I can offer, while still respeccting my limitations as well as my boundaries. I do reserve the right to refuse service to anyone, and I reserve the right to fire a client if it is in my best interest to not serve them. But most importantly I will respect and honor my amazing and wonderful clients by showing that respect and ethic to myself as well. Everybody gets the best of me and my personal as well as professional integrity.