Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Combat Consumerism - Lesson One - Get it in Writing

We'll be opening a new website soon, "Combat Consumerism," which will not only continue to honestly review "bad businesses" but will also give consumers tips on how to best stand up for themselves and their rights.  Most importantly, the "right" that the "customer is always right."  "Combat consumerism" is not about fighting, but about standing up for your rights and interests, and taking bold actions when you're not getting what you believe you're paying for.

An example from the other night, when - after waiting 20 minutes for an order that should have been out in 7 minutes - I got cold food at an IHOP.  Then, when I told the waiter I wanted it done over, the shift manager didn't come by to comment, explain, apologize or even acknowledge the problem.  This robbed the meal of any potential enjoyment, so rather than eating hot food I could no longer enjoy, I got up and left.  That's one way of standing up for your rights.  But then I also contacted the company via their website, and (read my blog on IHOP, here), and ultimately received what looks to be a very fair make-good.

In anticipation of this new, informative "Combat Consumerism" website, we'd like to offer an initial thought on what "combat consumerism" is, and how to go about it.  In this case, if you get some offer of satisfaction, get it in writing.

A couple of months ago, I got some unexpectedly bad service at a Macaroni Grill; I called for the manager, explained what had happened, and he not only apologized, but offered me a make-good meal.  I didn't ask for that - I almost never do, as I'd rather see how they respond, un-prompted, as that's a more honest gauge of their commitment to customer service.  He said he'd leave my name "up front."

Last weekend, my wife and I went back there, and I mentioned this.  However, there was no indication that he'd left my name up front, and then seemed surprised that I hadn't been mailed a make-good coupon.  Still, he (more or less) accepted my word, and offered my a $7 discount plus a free dessert. 

That was a nice touch, especially under the circumstances, but once again, I didn't "get it in writing" (i.e., I didn't nail down the offer).  When the waiter said, "free dessert, my wife and I both assumed that meant a free dessert each.  We're not big dessert people (I'm diabetic, so "dessert" is either fresh fruit or nothing at all), and we ate our fill before dessert, but we ordered two to take home.  Imagine my surprise when only one of the two desserts was comped - if we'd understood the offer, we'd have only ordered one.

But that was my fault, not Macaroni Grill's, and overall, I give them good marks for responding to what was, after all, an unsubstantiated customer complaint.

However, it does make the point: if you're offered a make-good, be sure you understand exactly what they're offering.  This is a basic tenet of "combat consumerism."

In our move to our new site, we'll be offering you an ongoing series of useful, practical, ethical and productive tips on the best ways of standing up for your rights - your right to the products or services you pay for (i.e., hot food served in a timely fashion), as well as your right to be treated with the respect due to someone who's putting good, hard-earned money down in exchange for what the vendor offers.

We will also be reviewing books, websites, blogs and other sources of useful "combat consumerism" ideas, and we welcome your recommendations on what you'd like to see, read or learn about.

Monday, September 10, 2012

IHOP Doesn't Hop To - Delivers Cold Food Slowly

 By Ned Barnett (c) 2012
Feel Free to Use with Credit

International House of Pancakes isn't Morton's or Ruth's Chris, but for a 24-hour breakfast short-order operation, I've been a fan for years. However, recently, I've noticed the quality of their service has been sliding, and tonight it came to a head.

I dropped in to the location at 352 North Nellis in Las Vegas (at the corner with Stewart Ave.) about 8 p.m. to grab a quick breakfast - the "Senior Two-Two-Two" (two pancakes, two eggs, two strips of bacon), one of the few items on the breakfast menu that doesn't include too-tasty, too-tempting and too-cholesterol-ish hash browns.  I'd rather not order them than test my will-power.

At 8 p.m. on a week-night, the place is not busy - I had my choice of tables, and the hostess was quick on the draw getting me a beverage.  The waiter took a few minutes, but not excessively so, and I placed my order.  Two eggs, scrambled, two strips of bacon and two pancakes - extra butter, please (yeah, all of it loaded with cholesterol, I know ...).  I opened my book, planned to wait just a few minutes (they weren't busy, remember) and settled back to read.

When I was on my second glass of iced tea, I realized that the meal was taking a lot longer than I'd expected.  After all, how long does it take for a place geared up for this kind of food to scramble a couple of eggs, grill a couple of pancakes, and scoop a couple of strips of bacon out of their holding tray?

At about the time when I was ready to ask where it was, my food arrived.  No extra butter, but that's a small thing, quickly rectified.  Then I dug into my eggs and ... cold.  They'd been sitting around a while.  So I flagged down the waiter, asked for some fresh (hot) eggs, and buttered my pancakes.  One bite and ... cold.  So I flagged the waiter again, told him that apparently everything was cold.  He said he'd get them working right away on a fresh meal.

Perhaps I'm unreasonable (always a possibility, especially after the day I'd had), but I don't think so in this instance.  The hostess - who I presume was the shift manager - knew about the problem, as she was talking to the grill-man when the re-order came in.  It would have been nice for her to come over, apologize, perhaps offer something to make amends.  Instead, nothing.

I sat for a few minutes, and realized that instead of a relaxing late-evening breakfast, I was going to be dealing with my growing anger, not to mention stomach acid and the possibility that the cook might give me a "gift" along with my re-do.  But mostly, I was angry that nobody seemed at all upset that I'd gotten a cold meal at a time when there was no business worth mentioning to justify it.

Rather than "enjoy" a meal I was in no way going to be able to enjoy, I got up, informed the waiter and the shift manager (who were still gossiping with the grill manager at the serving window) that any chance of my enjoying my meal was gone, and so was I.  The shift manager wished me a "nice day," that was it.  No apology, no "can we make this right," nothing but "have a nice day."

Conclusion:  Somebody is asleep at the switch at IHOP.  The facility is immediately adjacent to a 24-hour Denny's Diner, which also serves breakfast 24/7, and it's a half-mile from a Blueberry Hill, another specialize-in-breakfast short order restaurant.  I can only assume that the waiter was the one who'd been asleep at the switch - typically that's the case when food arrives cold.  But the shift manager (who knows me as a "regular" and is always pleasant) isn't running a taught ship, nor is she focused on "making a bad situation right."  With all the choices you have for 24 hour breakfasts - especially in Las Vegas, where all the casinos also have "graveyard shift" breakfast specials, there's not much reason to patronize IHOP.  At least not the one on Nellis at Stewart.

Update:  The manager called today, asked what happened, apologized, asked me to come back for two free meals, and asked that I come when she'll be there as she'd like to meet me (said the shift manager recognized me as a "regular").  We'll see how it goes, but this is a good sign, and a proper response.

Big Five Not So Big on Customer Service

By Ned Barnett (c) 2012
Feel Free to Reprint with Credit

Big Five, a chain sporting goods store, apparently isn't focused on customer service. 

Here's the story:  I went in to a Big Five store (4275 corner of E. Charleston and S. Lamb in Las Vegas) tonight - in the past, I've found them a good source for quality reconditioned military surplus bolt-action long rifles, which area far less expensive than your brand-new "deer rifles," but which maintain a decent ability to shoot out to about 500 yards (which is far as I can see).  As a target practice aficionado, I find this kind of firearm a low-cost way to keep my hand (and my eye) in out at the range. 

Within two minutes of arrival, I saw the kind of rifle I was looking for - a Mosin-Nagant, a WW-II Soviet bolt action rifle, in good reconditioned shape.  With it was a kit that included a butt-plate shock absorber pad, a woven canvas sling and a totally non-standard telescopic sight.  While I'd never considered a scope for a WW-II bolt-action rifle, as my eyes match the rest of my age (60), I got to thinking that maybe this would enhance my shooting experience (the M-Ns I used to have had a kick that would put a Missouri Mule to shame, so the butt plate shock absorber was definitely interesting).

So I stood around the gun counter and waited to be served.  And waited.  And waited.  I saw clerks helping other customers; at one point, one of the clerks (from the way he carried himself, he might have been the shift manager) was no more than three feet from me, showing another customer a paintball gun which didn't suit the customer - who left.  So I wasn't exactly invisible.

Still, I waited.  Finally, after 20-plus minutes, I'd exhausted looking at everything remotely interesting in the gun section and decided, "enough!"  I suppose I could have gone looking for a clerk, but after the day I'd had (fixing a flat, having a jack collapse on me - which damaged the front quarter-panel of the Honda) I was in no mood to have to beg to be waited on.  I'd arrived at 7:32, and left about 7:55, never having been waited on, in a store that seemed to have more clerks than customers.

As I left, I informed two clerks (one of whom was almost certainly the shift manager) that I'd been waiting 20 minutes.  I got a lame 'sorry' from one of them, and at that point, decided I really didn't need a World War II rifle tonight - and with a gun show coming up this weekend, I sure didn't need to give Big Five my business.

Conclusion:  Big Five has good prices on sporting goods, especially when they're on sale.  But they're not working for your business (or mine), and there are lots of other sporting goods stores eager for your business (in this economy, most of them are very competitive).  Before you jump on one of their sales, check around for a friendlier, more consumer-friendly outlet.  And when it comes to surplus firearms, check out a gun show.  They seem to be everywhere, and you'll find folks who are friendly and eager to serve you.