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A lesson on how not to behave on the phone…

March 3, 2014, 11:05 PM

I got a very interesting series of phone calls Saturday night (technically early Sunday morning) beginning around 2:00 AM.  Apparently a woman was looking to have pizza delivered from one of the many fine pizza establishments located in the District of Columbia.  So she called my phone number.  At two in the morning.  I believe that the initial call was an honest mistake, but after I told her in no uncertain terms that she had not reached a pizza establishment, she firmly earned her place in the customer hall of shame.

The first call came in at 2:04 AM from a New Jersey number.  I ignored the call.  After all, it was 2 AM, I was beyond tired, and I didn’t recognize the number.  I figured that once the person heard my “You have reached Ben Schumin” voicemail greeting, they would figure out that they had dialed a wrong number.  If it did, in fact, end up being for me, they could leave a message, and I would get back with them at my convenience.  And if it turned out to be important, I would have called them back right away.

A voicemail came in from the unfamiliar number.  It was a woman’s voice, and she was looking for pizza:

Hey, I’m interested in purchasing, um, an order for delivery.  Please call me back.  My phone number is 201-981-7557.  I’ve heard great things, and I’m really looking forward to it.  Thank you!  Bye.  (listen to audio)

This seemed reasonable enough so far.  I occasionally get callers who intended to call someone else.  The way I figure, I have a Washington DC number, i.e. 202 area code, and being a major city, there are lots of similar phone numbers, and so there must be a pizza place with a number similar to mine.  Also, noting that 201 is an area code for New Jersey (more specifically, North Jersey), I wondered if perhaps she misdialed the area code, and meant to dial another 201 number rather than a 202 number.  It happens.  After quickly verifying online that the number was, in fact, a cell phone, and wanting to let the caller know that she had not reached the place that she had intended (but at the same time, not wanting to actually talk to her), I sent the caller a quick text message at 2:07, saying, “So you know: I think you may have dialed a wrong number.  I have no idea what you are referring to regarding orders for delivery.”  I figured that would be the end of it, or, at most, get a quick text back apologizing for the mistake.

That ended up not being the case.  I got a call back very shortly thereafter from the same number.  Thinking that she was calling either to apologize for the earlier mixup or trying to get assistance finding the place that she was after, I took the call.  Much to my surprise, after apologizing for any confusion, she tried to place an order for pizza with me.  I stopped her, explaining that she had reached a personal cell phone in the Washington DC area.  After all, for all I knew, considering the New Jersey area code and Bergen County prefix (specifically Hackensack), she was looking for a place in New Jersey.  Bergen County, New Jersey and Washington DC are two very different places.  So after I explained that she reached a personal cell phone, she asked me if she could still have pizza delivered.  I told her “no” in no uncertain terms.  Her response was, “But this is America!”  That clued me in that I was not going to win this one, so I told her, “Have a good night,” and hung up the phone.

Then the text messages began.  Here was the first one:

"This one, piping hot just like last time. Also, one order of breadsticks with extra marinara. You guys are the best! Thanks"

Followed by this one:

"Please don't forger the aioli!! It's my favorite. I've written Yelp reviews praising its glory"

Which was followed by a third:

"Also, can you draw a dolphin on the box? My friends said you did that for them and it was so great"

Apparently, this is how you order a pizza these days.  You send a text message to a person who already has told you twice that they are not a pizza restaurant, sending them a picture of what you want that is lifted from an Urbanspoon review for a pizza place in New Albany, Indiana, plus breadsticks with additional sauce.  And also aioli, which, for those who don’t know (I didn’t), is a sauce made of garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, and usually egg yolks.  Probably the closest thing that many of us have had to aioli (and correct me if I’m wrong) is the garlic sauce that comes from Papa John’s.  And then while they were at it, they also wanted an illustration of a dolphin on the box itself.  All of this would be reasonable enough, I suppose, assuming, of course, that they had reached a pizza place in the first place.  However, note what is missing from this request: the size of the pizza, and also the address where it’s supposed to be delivered.

After this, I went to bed.  I was tired, and I had to get up in the morning.  After I was all settled in bed, I heard the phone ring again.  Since I was already in bed, I let it run out, and then a minute or so later, I heard the “uh-oh!” sound that indicates that I had a message.  Shortly after that, I fell asleep, and slept soundly.  When I woke up, I found that four more voice messages had been left over the span of about half an hour.

Here’s voice message number two, left at 2:39 AM:

Hello.  Um, my pizza, it’s been an hour, uh, half hour – excuse me – and it’s still not here.  Um, I’m just wondering when it’s going to be here, because you have a policy in your website that says after a half hour, it’s free.  And I, I really don’t want to take advantage of that, but it seems like it’s gonna be that way, because it’s been over a half hour.  So I wanted to know if my pepperoni pineapple pizza is gonna be here soon, or if I’m going to have to enact that policy.  If you could please let me know, that would be very much appreciated.  I’m really looking forward to it, I’m so hungry, and I’ve heard such great things.  Um, again, if, um, 413 Elm Street, and, um, if you could maybe throw in that complimentary order of breadsticks, that would be great, especially since, since it’s now running, um, two minutes late.  Okay, thank you very much!  Bye.  (listen to audio)

I don’t know how one is supposed to deliver pizza to a person who has not given an address, especially when the person had already been told in no uncertain terms that she had not reached a restaurant of any sort.  But in any case, she provided some sort of address in this message.  However, I don’t know where “413 Elm Street” is.  New Jersey?  DC?  And if in DC, what quadrant?  Also notice that she threatened to invoke some “thirty minutes or your pizza is free” delivery policy, added pepperoni to her pizza order (the earlier image showed only cheese and pineapple), and that she now expected that her order of breadsticks would be free.

And then ten minutes later, at 2:49 AM, I got this:

Hey, I placed an order for pizza, and, um, it’s been over 40 minutes.  I’m just wondering where it is, and if the free delivery after a half hour still applies.  Um, we also ordered breadsticks, but now I believe that they are complimentary as well, and we wanted extra marinara.  So if you can please get back to us and let us know the status of our pizza.  We’re really looking forward to it.  We’re so hungry, and you guys have amazing Yelp reviews, so, we’re just really looking forward to it, and if you could please call me back.  My phone number is 201 [unintelligible] and we are still looking forward to it.  Ummm, also, if you could throw in a few jalapeño bites, we would not be opposed to that as well.  Thank you.  Have a nice evening.  (listen to audio)

With this message, the woman’s expectation changed from free breadsticks to getting the entire order for free.  She was demanding free pizza, free breadsticks (with extra marinara), and also something new: jalapeño bites.  At almost three in the morning.  She also began referencing the restaurant’s great Yelp reviews, which made me think that she was possibly thinking about leaving an unkind review for whatever establishment that she had intended to call.  And what was with that phone number?  She said “201” and then something unintelligible where the rest of the number should have been.

Then at 2:54 AM, five minutes later:

Hi!  Um, I placed an order over 45 minutes ago for my pineapple pepperoni pizza, and clearly, you do not [unintelligible] apologize about not being able to take my calls this time, because I’ve been waiting this long for my pizza.  Now, contrary to your Yelp reviews, I’ve been waiting for an extremely long time for what should be a very simple order.  I mean, a pizza plus breadsticks is not a difficult order to fulfill.  I could understand if it was a larger one, but this is not difficult, and this is the DC area, so you should really get your act together.  And as far as my Yelp review goes for you, it will not be a flattering one.  Furthermore, you can only make this up if you brought me wings as well, within the next ten minutes.  And seeing as that’s not going to happen, you’re going to have the most tarnishing of reviews on your Yelp.  Now, I hope you understand that.  I hope that you know that I am very disappointed in the service I’ve received tonight.  [pause]  Have a good night.  (listen to audio)

She has now moved from “Hey, where’s the pizza that I ordered?” into outright threats of extortion.  She flat out demanded an order of wings at her door in less than ten minutes at almost three in the morning, or else she would be writing a bad review about them on Yelp.  And mind you, this is after she was notified, by me, via text message and over the phone, that she had reached a personal cell phone, and not any sort of eating establishment.  All of this was apparently irrelevant to her.  Apparently, in her world, my number went to a pizza restaurant.

And then I got a fifth and final voicemail seven minutes later, at 3:01 AM:

I have waited well over an hour for my pizza.  At this point, I am really upset with your customer service.  How dare you claim that you have a half hour ordering time and not hold up to it, because right now, I am so hungry.  All night, I looked forward to my pineapple pepperoni pizza [unintelligible] a shoe-in pizza.  And now, it’s not here.  What am I supposed to do?  Am I supposed to order from Domino’s?  Are you serious?  I’ve heard such wonderful things, and now I’m only disappointed by shoe-in pizza.  Come on.  What a disgrace.  When your Yelp review pulls up tomorrow, I hope that you are shocked by what you read.  Shocked.  I am so upset and so hungry.  Of all the things to look forward to and be let down by, I did not think it [unintelligible] pizza [unintelligible].  Thank you, and good evening.  (listen to audio)

Finally, she moved on from threats of extortion to self-righteous indignation.  Apparently, she gave up on ever getting a pizza from whoever she thought she was calling, and a bad Yelp review would soon be forthcoming.  And what a slam to Domino’s Pizza.  Clearly Domino’s was the bottom of the barrel as far as pizza places went in this woman’s mind.  Okay, then.

Now I don’t know this woman, and I have no idea what pizza place she was attempting to call.  But I have to wonder what was up with the way she went on after having been told that she had not reached a restaurant.  My guess is that she was temporarily impaired in some way, i.e. under the influence of alcohol, marijuana, or some other intoxicating substance.  After all, who in their right mind hears a voicemail greeting that sounds like a personal phone rather than a business and still leaves a message asking about food for delivery, calls the same number back to order delivery after receiving a text message saying that she got a wrong number, leaves three text messages clearly intended to place said order, and then calls back four more times to check on said order and make demands for free food?  Exactly.  My best guess is that considering it was late at night on a weekend, she was not entirely together that night.  If you want to order food late at night, please get a sober person to place that order for you.

Meanwhile, having worked in customer service roles, it always irritates me when I see blatantly bad behavior and unreasonable demands from customers.  It really is the bully mentality when people behave this way towards people in service occupations.  They know that the person on the other end of the phone or the counter can’t retaliate, therefore they feel as though they can abuse them.  In addition, I’ve seen too many managers enable bad customer behavior by rewarding them for it, under the guise of “the customer is always right”.  That’s a phrase that needs to disappear from our lexicon.  As I understand it, the original meaning of the term was that if a customer wants to buy it, then it’s the vendor’s job to supply it if they want to stay in business.  In other words, if someone is willing to put money on the table for a product or service, then who are we to argue?  Money talks, after all, and so the idea is to make available for sale what people want to buy.  But when it comes to modern customer service, the phrase has been twisted to have a far more literal meaning.  It’s no longer about the concept of supply and demand, but rather that the customer is viewed as some all-powerful god to be pleased at all costs, and it gives rise to abusive customers who make unreasonable demands, and managers who will enable their abuse.

Assuming for a moment that the woman in the above example had actually reached a pizza place and not my personal cell phone and had successfully placed an order, it would then be the pizza place’s responsibility to deliver the goods.  If the goods are delivered beyond any promised fulfillment time for reasons beyond the customer’s control, then it would seem reasonable to compensate the customer in some form for the delay, either with a partial refund or with some form of complimentary product.  However, the choice for method of resolution is on the company.  Really, resolution of a problem is where a store or restaurant to really show what it’s made of.  This is where great businesses are made and where bad ones tarnish their reputation.  Thus if one gives the business enough space to make a determination, then they will either make it right, or they will unwittingly hang themselves.  My mother and I were at a restaurant in Silver Spring a few years ago, and we discovered a piece of plastic in our appetizer.  We brought it to the server’s attention, and they investigated it.  A few minutes later, the manager came out, apologized, told us that they found the source of the plastic (a chip out of the container that part of the appetizer was stored in), that they had discarded the remaining product along with the container itself, and the cost of the appetizer was on the house.  It was a very reasonable solution, and we have been back there several times since.

However, when the customer starts making demands for free products, they’ve crossed the line between being reasonable and being unreasonable.  Likewise, dangling a bad Yelp review over a business’s head in exchange for free product is extremely poor form, if not outright extortion.  I have given many bad Yelp reviews over the course of the last few years, and all of the businesses deserved it.  However, I always give those bad reviews quietly, later on.  The business won’t know how badly they messed up in the heat of the moment, because I let them hang themselves.  I almost never mention Yelp reviews during any direct interaction with a business.  The only time I ever mention Yelp is if someone asks how I found out about the place, and I actually did find out about them from Yelp.  And in fact, I’ve found many great local hole-in-the-wall restaurants exactly this way.  But a Yelp review is not something to be dangled over a business’s head.  Allow them to succeed or hang themselves, and then report back to us via the Yelp service.  The rest will work itself out.  Plus of course, under most circumstances, one is not obligated to patronize any business that they don’t want to.

There are also certain times when it’s better to just let an unreasonable customer go.  The woman in the example above fit that definition quite well.  She was demanding free pizza, free breadsticks, and wings in less time than it would take to cook them (let alone prepare and deliver them).  It is unclear whether she wanted the jalapeño bites and the ten-minute wings for free or if she was placing an additional order, but considering the tone of those messages, I would guess that she probably wanted them for free.  Assuming again that she had successfully placed her order rather than just leaving messages with me, there comes a point where a restaurant would just be losing money on her.  That’s when you have to ask: is it more profitable to give into this woman’s demands just to please her, therefore enabling her to do it all again next time she wants free food, or just cancel her not-yet-fulfilled order (with full refund if already paid) and let her go?  I think I’d let this woman go, because she would just be losing money for the business, every time.

And lastly, this is a general reminder: adults are responsible for everything that they say and do at all times.  This is without regard to whether they are sober, drunk, high, stoned, or what have you, because that is not my problem.  Likewise, I am not required or otherwise obligated in any way to protect someone’s identity if they say or do something stupid on the phone.  It is also not illegal or a violation of anyone’s privacy to circulate a message left on a voicemail, as voicemail systems make it quite clear that what they say after the tone will be recorded.  What I do with the recording after that is my business, including releasing it on the Internet, unedited, unredacted, and with all metadata intact.  So do what responsible adults do, and think before you speak, or else someone might just make an example out of you for what not to do.

Categories: Cell phone, Some people