Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Lowe's Home Improvement

DaveG has been very gracious to invite me to post here at Usually Jovial. I like this idea of his to document and publicize both good and bad customer service experiences. It is important to render praise to the worthy and to heap scorn on the unworthy. My first entry will be a slightly edited version of a recent post at my homeblog, Pike Speak, on the exemplary treatment I received amidst the tall aisles of the Lowe's Home Improvemnt Store in Richmond, Indiana.

I've written previously that I enjoy cooking very much. At some point, I may write about the Zen-like bliss that comes over me when I cook with my Brinkman Electric Smoker. It is one of my favorite appliances, given to me as a gift several years ago and it is a much beloved member of our household, much like a pet.

My smoked ribs are better than any ribs that I've eaten almost anywhere*. I've done all manner of chicken, turkey, pork roasts, lamb(!), seafood, corn, name it. My smoker never fails to render some of the best flavors I hope to experience this side of Heaven.

But that's not what this post is about. I'm writing today to extoll a case of excellent customer service at my local Lowe's Home Improvement Store. I have been looking all over town the last two weeks for some replacement grilles for my smoker. To no avail and to my growing consternation, nobody has 15.75" grilles in stock. So today, upon seeing my distressed expression, the two young red-besmocked women working in what I learned is called the "seasonal" section of the Richmond Lowe's asked if they could help.

I told them my plight and they both set to looking to see if they could find something suitable in what was truly a generously stocked section of the store featuring all manner of barbecue hardware and gadgetry. Nothing. Then one of them cast me a conspiratorial sidelong glance and said, "Is your smoker like one of the ones we have here at Lowe's?". I affirmed that it was identical to the display model at the end of the aisle, albeit several years older.

We walked down to the display model. She removed the perfect, bright red lid and withdrew the two grilles from the smoker and handed them to me. She smiled and asked if I minded taking them. Fair sputtering with joy, I thanked her effusively, and assured her that I was pleased to take them. She then pulled out a slip of paper, wrote some numbers on it, made up a very reasonable price and handed it to me saying, "This should get you out the door."

I left happy and fulfilled. This type of "smokin'" customer service is very hard to find any more and I am grateful. The new Menard's that is being built 1/2 mile down the road is going to be very, very hard put to win my business.

* There is this one place in Oak Cliff, the infamous south Dallas suburb. It is called Burrell's and is located on South Ledbetter. His smoked pork ribs may be better than mine, but no one else's.


Friday, November 10, 2006


On the way back from my miserable lunch at Donatos (see below), I made my normal Friday stop at the brand new Krogers over by my office. Krogers has learned a few lessons from Giant Eagle, and the chnage they made that most pleases me is the addition of an Olive bar. I usually grab a pound or so of fresh green and Calmata olives. The greens have Feta cheese in them - yumm! Other than the fact that they don't seem to understand that pitted olives DON'T have pits on them, it's a nice set-up.

They went above and beyond, though. Krogers realized that deli areas that serve sandwiches, sushi, hot foods, and olives may be the only desitination within the store for many shoppers. Realizing that lunch shoppers probably don't have the time or inclination to stand in line behind an octogenarian buying a weeks worth of groceries, they set up a cash register over in the deli area. Sonya is the normal cashier there, and we have a nice little bantering relationship going. Today she asked me if I wanted to use my Kroger loyalty card. I told her no, it didn't get me any discounts last week when I used it. She countered with the argument that I still got points towards discounted Krogers gas by using it. I said, "Sonya, you're not fooling me again. You don't even have any gas pumps." She sure got a kick out of that!



I had lunch today at one of the new style Donatos. In these restaurants, you don't have a waitress to take your order; you use a phone at the table to call your order back to the kitchen. Not to be too subtle about it, this just plain sucks. The kitchen staff are slow to respond to the call (I had to apply my patented evil eye on the slacker at the counter before he threw up his hands and went to answer the call), and they aren't overly familiar with the menu. One of my co-workers literally read the menu to him, and he still wanted to argue over the availability of Honey French salad dressing. They seem to have trouble hearing correctly over the ambient noise of the kitchen, and the order had to be repeated multiple times. And they still got it wrong. Besides that, they have no skin in the game as they have no hope in hell of sharing the tip, should there actually be one. Without the tip being in play, it costs them nothing to screw up.

My lunch was the usual: it looked nothing like the picture in the menu. You know what I'm talking about: you'll see a nice, tall, crisp looking sandwich in the menu, and you actually get a plate with sandwich ingredients strewn all over the place, only passably taking the form of a sandwich. Fluids like sauce and/or other condiments are dripping all over the place, making the actual consumption of the offensive meal a messy affair.

From now on, I think it's delivery only if I ever want Donatos again.


Employee Breaks

Ok, I worked in food service. For three years when I was in high school, I cooked pizza. Fridays and Saturdays were tough: 5 pm to close. "Close" meant 3am. The restaurant would get so crowded that people were stacked up in the foyer, and pizzas were lined up waiting to get to the ovens. We each got one 30 minute break to grab a quick bite or just to unwind. I tell you this to set the stage for what comes next.

I've had two recent experiences where I was under served as a customer while employees took their breaks. The worst of the two was at our local KFC. We arrived at around 6:30 pm, apparently on the heels of a dinner rush. They were "out of" the original recipe chicken preferred by my family, there was no drinking water in the cooler, and there was not a single clean table available. In fact, the entire place was a filthy mess. We got our second-choice food, went without water despite having asked twice to have the cooler refilled, and wiped off a table with napkins just to have at least a moderately clean place to eat.

We did this in plain sight of a group of four employees sitting in a booth having a break. We did this in plain sight of the manager and a couple of other employees leaning around and BS-ing back in the kitchen. We did this on our last visit ever to that restaurant!

When we took our breaks at the pizza place, we did it one at a time, we did it when there was no impact on customer service, and we did it in the back of the kitchen where customers could not see us. In fact, if we wanted to eat in the dining room, the requirements were that there were no customers waiting to be seated, and we had to change into street clothes. Was that difficult? Sure it was! But it was an introduction to how things should be in the service industry: the needs of the customer should always come first. Our local KFC ignored that fundamental service industry tenet, and our local KFC has irretrievably lost our business as a result. Fast food restaurants are fungible - we'll just drive a few more miles in a different direction if we decide we want KFC again. When will these people learn??


Monday, October 23, 2006

Yes, yes, I know....

Ok, this is a silly little peeve of mine, but it's something that I noticed a few years ago and it shows no signs of relenting. I'm talking about signing the credit card receipt.

I've had credit cards for what, 20 years now? Longer? How about you? How long have you been using credit cards routinely? A long time, I'll bet. So, why do clerks at stores, restaurants, and just about everywhere else think they need to tell me to sign the receipt? Can they possibly believe that this transaction is my very first with a credit card and I don't know that I have to sign the receipt? Do I look that naive??

Like I said, it's a small peeve, but I'll bet you think of it next time someone hands you the receipt and tells you that you need to sign it!


Friday, October 20, 2006

Waffle House

One of our stranger family traditions is to have breakfast at Waffle House on Thanksgiving and Christmas mornings. We also go there a few other times a year, but the "for sure" days are those two.

One might expect a rather surly staff to be working those mornings, grumpy because they aren't home with their families and basically taking it out on the customers. NOT SO! Even on those special days, we are greeted with a hearty "Hello!" and treated as welcome friends by the staff.

It would be easy to drive by Waffle House in search of the next Bob Evans, or take seriously the jabs at "Awful House," but we have yet to have a bad experience with ANY Waffle House. The food is good and filling, and the prices are very reasonable.

Waffle House: highly recommended!


Custom Framing

I take a lot of pictures, and the best of them get framed and hung in the office or home. As anyone that has had custom framing done can tell you, it is both expensive and slow. It can take a couple of weeks to get the framed photo back, and easily cost in excess of $100 for even the smallest, simplest framing job.

Enter HobbyLobby. Every custom frame in my house comes from HobbyLobby. It is the rule rather than the exception for their custom framing to be 50% at any given time, and that's 50% an already relatively low price. I can typically frame a 16" x 20" picture, with a mat and glare free glass, for under $50, and they will do it while I wait! My last framing job was two 13" x 19" photos matted into 18" x 24" frames, and it only took 20 minutes. The total cost for both was under $70. The people working there are always pleasant and cheerful, and I never fail to have an excellent experience there.

HobbyLobby: Highly recommended!