R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Find out what it means to your customers
Denise, from Medford, went to a lovely restaurant in a quaint South Jersey town with her husband and two other couples on a Saturday night. Even though they had made reservations, they were seated on the second floor - the only other table was a bachelorette party of 30 boisterous ladies. When Denise was leaving, an owner asked her how she enjoyed the evening. Denise politely said she would have appreciated knowing they were sharing the room with a large party. The owner's response: What did she expect on a Saturday night?
"She was so rude," Denise said. "I was absolutely floored. She asked what I thought and then got defensive so quickly." The owner added that she didn't care if Denise came back. She won't.
My friend Peg was bumped from a flight she had made a reservation for a month earlier. She arrived three hours early, checked in, got a boarding pass, and was told only during boarding that there was no seat for her. "It was just, 'Wait here, you've been bumped,' " Peg said. "He left me standing there with no instructions on what I should do." Her baggage made the flight, but she took one three hours later. "They were not apologetic at all," she said. "I guess they don't have to make an effort because people have to fly."
Recently, when I flew on Delta Air Lines, I was so impressed with how its employees helped me and my 86-year-old mother. The pilot even assisted me when my mom was leaving the plane. I won't forget that next time I travel. I also can remember waiters, parking-lot attendants, salespeople, and business owners who made me feel as if they cared. I feel loyalty to those people.
I also understand that customers can be rude, and that's not right either. My favorite recent story of one customer being right, one being wrong, and a server saving the day comes from the Associated Press in Minneapolis.
Joey Prusak, 19, who works at a suburban Dairy Queen, saw a regular customer with visual impairments drop a $20 bill. The woman behind him picked it up and put it in her purse. When she approached the counter, Prusak told her he would not serve her if she did not return the $20 to the man. The woman refused and left. Prusak took $20 of his own money and gave it to the man. A customer e-mailed Dairy Queen about what happened. Prusak, who acted with ultimate kindness and impeccable manners, has since been congratulated by many, including Warren Buffett.
Prusak doesn't see himself as a customer-service icon. He told AP: "I was just doing what I thought was right."
Readers: Have a question about etiquette? E-mail Debra Nussbaum at firstname.lastname@example.org.