Recently I was given a referral code for a grocery delivery service. It's a simple concept: you pick from a list of things available at local stores, and someone goes, gets them, and delivers them to your house or business for a fairly reasonable fee. Ordinarily, I have plenty of time to go to the grocery store and get my food, but every so often the depression strikes and "there's no food I want in the house and I don't have the energy to go get any," becomes a convenient reason to punish myself with hunger, or we're at T minus 25 for guest arrival and realise there's neither bacon nor cream for the next morning's breakfast. So, I tried out the service with an 'office restock' of the snacks and stuff I like to have on hand in the office for lunch general blood-sugar maintenance, plus some fresh fruit and cake for lunch.
It was super-easy and very convenient. They had most of the things I wanted, and I can really see how on a busy week, or if you were home sick and didn't want to interact with people (I didn't have to sign for anything, so one presumes a "Please leave the bags on the porch and ring the bell; I am contagious" request would work), this would be a total godsend. It's not something I would replace my regular shopping trips with, because I really like going to the grocery store and especially choosing my own produce, but great in a pinch.
What I didn't expect was for it to feel uncomfortably elitist. I'm a solidly middle-class person, and even with the delivery fee this is a pretty minimal increase in the grocery budget (I did the math and it worked out to about a 6% increase in the overall cost, not including tip). I'd put it roughly equivalent to the fiscal 'luxury' of having a pizza delivered instead of heating up a high-end frozen one. The pizza delivery guy doesn't make me feel elitist, nor does the cookie delivery service, but grocery delivery...really did. There was this moment of existential angst of "Do I really think I'm too busy and important to buy my own cheese and soup?"
I don't, by the way. I'm much less busy than I was a year ago, and I'm not too important to shop, but I also acknowledge that this could be another tool in my self-care toolbox. Some days there are not the spoons for fighting Traitor Brain to get out of bed, fighting it to get some pants on, navigating the complicated social world and overwhelming choices of grocery shopping, *and* cooking the food I bought. If all I have to manage is "order the groceries and grab them off the porch," the likelihood of me cooking and eating the food goes way up -- especially if that grocery order can include ready-to-eat foods.
So why am I worried about being 'That Customer'? Because the company sent me a request to rate their service. I had one minor complaint, that the tres leches cake had tipped over on its side and leaked a little milk out into the bottom of the bag, and I had to rinse off my container of half & half.
I gave the service four stars. In my world, four stars says, "I am quite satisfied with the service I have received, and absolutely intend to return. You are to be commended on providing something of above-average value."
Apparently to the service in question it means, "You have failed me and I am dissatisfied." Upon providing my (I thought very complimentary) four-star rating, I was asked to provide an explanation for why I had not given a five-star rating. Thinking that I could help them improve, I noted "Everything was fine except please ask your delivery person to remind the baggers to keep the cake upright. It leaks a little if it's put in sideways."
Within minutes, I had received a profound apology signed by a real person, explaining that they'd be 'following up' with my delivery driver (referenced by name), ensuring me that they'd be certain to avoid errors in the future, asking if I 'had been able to enjoy' the rest of my order, and then offering a *second* apology accompanied by a ten-dollar credit.
I am not entitled to perfection. I am not entitled to have my every whim addressed, to be entirely and thoroughly satisfied in every retail interaction. Sometimes things don't happen. Sometimes a waitress forgets whether I wanted corn or flour tortillas, or a clerk has to tell me an item is out of stock. Sometimes a customer service representative will have to tell me no. I must, on occasion, be advised that the world does not revolve around my consumer happiness, and that walking through a world of 'pretty good' interactions is, on balance, as good as or better than I really have any reason to expect.
Combined with that earlier twinge of elitism, the sudden and effusive catering left me oddly unsettled. As consumers, America has become a nation of people who seem to expect that the world will bend in every direction simply to ensure that the baseline of our experience is smooth and unruffled. We wave the standard of 'the customer is always right' as some sort of holy birthright, some sacred Constitutional principle upon which the security of the nation depends.
As a whole, the retail and service industry should tell us to fuck right the hell off with that nonsense. That the profit on a ten-dollar lunch special isn't worth the dignity of those who cook and serve it to us, and that those who exchange goods or services for our hard-earned money are just as deserving of respect as those who pay us that hard-earned money, because we're all human beings who deserve to be treated as such.
They don't, though. Instead, they grasp desperately at the razor-thin margin and bend before the threat of a lost customer, or even simply an angry one, sacrificing employees and often their own self-respect. Even, sometimes, sacrificing the customers driven away by the conspicuous, screaming displays of arrogant petulance our fellow shoppers present.
I worked my years in retail, and have been hurled full-force beneath that bus more than once. I have also seen my share of valid complaints. However, if you respond to every complaint, valid or not, by admitting fault, blaming staff, and offering discounts, coupons, or credit to every single person who complains then what you end up with is a culture where real complaints get lost in the haze of demands for validation.
What do I want? I want the people who have to tell me no to do so without the fear that they'll lose a job for it. I want the friends I have who work in a service industry to feel safe in the knowledge that they will be protected from abuse. I want any complaints I might make to be evaluated fairly and reasonably, so that real problems can be corrected and imagined problems can be ignored.
Most of all, I don't want to be coddled with indulgent platitudes and have credit thrown at me to make me go away whether I am right or wrong, or to be treated as if I am so fragile, as a customer, that anything less than perfection will shatter me.