Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly: A View Inside Customer Service (or the lack of it)

By Patricia Adams

Can you imagine a day in which the best part was having a double root canal? This week, The Forum looks at how local business can break—or make your day.

It all began with my dentist making a referral to an edodontist for me to get an over the top, complex root canal. Setting aside my gripping aversion to dentistry in any form, I reluctantly made an appointment with Dr. Mitchell Greenberg.

No stranger to the parking nightmares in Forest Hills, I was comforted by the fact that Sylvan Garage was directly across the street from Dr. Greenberg’s office. I entered on Austin Street and made my way to the “Pull Here and Stop” sign. I got out, got my ticket and headed for the elevator. Riding up to the lobby I tried to console myself—it wouldn’t be that bad. Even children go for a root canal all the time.

Once in the office I waited only for about five minutes before I was called in for x-rays. It was starting-- I could feel the dental fears mounting. Dr. Greenberg appeared right away and after looking at the x-ray he informed me of the good news...and the bad. Although my teeth could definitely be saved, I would have to undergo not one, but two root canals. Paralyzed by fear, I reluctantly agreed to proceed.

Three shots of Novocain later, I started to get a crazy idea that this wasn’t going to be so bad after all. Dr. Greenberg had a kind of calming effect on me and he seemed to be very relaxed and confident in what he was doing. Not only did he not have traditional dentist music piping over the sound system—he    was    singing along    with    Cindy    Lauper.

In about thirty minutes, the dental chair was being raised back into the upright position and I had reached the rinse stage. Hallelujah! I was still alive and going to keep two very important back teeth.    This was going to be a banner day. I scheduled the next two follow-up appointments and was on my way—in the cold and rain, to the very convenient parking garage right across the street. I was going home. And as for Dr. Greenberg, well he is a keeper.

I approached the desk to pay, and even smiled at the attendant as I held out the ticket. He returned a small, reluctant smile. “There is a problem with your car.” Pausing, he waited for me to say something—OK, I’ll bite.

“What seems to be the problem,” I asked non- chalantly—this root canal had apparently had a very calming effect on me. “Your car is not drivable; the front axle is broken.” He continued, “Now, you have a problem. You have to get your car out of here as soon as possible. You need to get a tow truck. And make sure you get a small tow truck because a big one will not fit down here.”

OK, let’s get this straight- - I leave my perfectly fine car in this parking garage for less than an hour and now it’s un-drivable. Trying to stay calm, it occurred to me that if I drove it in with no problem and now I can’t drive it out, it should not be my problem.

I took the elevator upstairs make my phone calls since there was no service in the underground garage. The first number I called was Sonny’s Collision and Towing. I explained what had happened and was advised to call both the police and my insurance company. A voice at the other end of the phone asked how I was and assured me he’d get the truck I needed there right away.

Next up on the call list was Geico. I felt a tap on my shoulder and when I turned around, my eyes met with those of the building’s security guard. “I’m sorry ma’am. I’m going to have to ask you to leave the building. We don’t allow loitering here.”

Loitering? I just came from the basement of your building where my car was destroyed. It’s cold. It’s raining. I just had two root canals.

Loitering? I thought it all but never said a word. The guard said, “I’m sorry ma’am. I’m just”—I cut him off, “Yes, I know you’re just doing your job.” I headed for the door.

Once outside, I noticed a Duane Reade. I went inside and got coffee from a kiosk. I would finish the calls from here. I found a place to sit on a ledge outside the drugstore. I called the corporate office of Sylvan Garage and asked for the manager. He wasn’t in. Call back after 2:30. I explained why I was calling. “Oh,” said the receptionist, “you can call him back but we are not responsible for mechanical damage.” “No problem,” I answered, “this isn’t mechanical. It’s structural. And you are definitely responsible,” — another tap on the shoulder. I knew this time before turning around it was the security guard. These buildings were connected. I was loitering again.

Back outside, my phone rang. It was Pete, from Sonny’s. He had arrived and would meet me back downstairs. I started to feel better. We were getting out of here. There would be no more loitering.
I got downstairs within two minutes and stood waiting for my tow truck driver in shining armor. I saw the attendant approaching. “I just heard from my tow company,” I explained. “They will be right here.” I felt a slight pinch. The Novocain was starting to wear off.
“He is already upstairs,” the attendant informed me, “we are waiting to let him in.” “What the hell are you waiting for?” I demanded. The attendant replied, “We can’t release your car until you pay the $12 for parking.”

I reached into my pocket and handed over a ten and two singles. The attendant looked at me as though there were something else to come. Despite the days events, I decided to have a little fun with this guy. “Are you looking at me as though I should give you a tip? I asked. “Because I’ll give you a tip: five years ago I would have gone into the trunk of my car and found something to bludgeon you with after what you did to my car. But because of the benefit of years of therapy, I’m going to let you slide. This is your lucky day. Now how’s that for a tip.”

Ten minutes later after some expert maneuvering, my battered Infiniti was on the hook. Yes on a hook, not a flatbed—it really didn’t matter. The parking attendant had taken out the front bumper and both tires as he broke the axle.

We got to Sonny’s about 15 minutes later. Follow-up calls were made to my insurance company and arrangements for a rental car were made. My car was secure, the insurance company was on board, I was getting picked up by Enterprise, and the whole process took about 20 minutes. I started to think about the big difference great customer service can make. I was no longer feeling victimized or outraged. And Sonny’s—oh yes, another keeper. It’s now 2- 1 for local business good service over bad.

On the way to Enterprise I toyed with the idea of possibly encountering a trifecta of good service in local business. I decided not to factor in the hour I had to wait for the pick-up and I chalked the delay up to the bad weather.

But reality overcame my optimism, the Novocain had definitely worn off, and I knew what to expect—I had been forced into renting from Enterprise on several other occasions. My experiences were all bad. The only saving grace is that someone from Sonny’s always stepped in to handle their ineptness.

This time was no different. Despite the fact that I had rental coverage from Geico, I needed to leave a major credit card on file for a “just in case” deposit. No problem—I handed over a business credit card. “I’m sorry, we can’t use this card,” manager Chris said. “It doesn’t have your name on the front.” “That’s because it’s a business account,” I explained, “but see here’s my signature on the back.” I knew that any further pursuit of this discussion would be futile. I inquired about alternatives. I offered cash—not acceptable. “Well you can get a money order around the corner. We can take that.” The rain had stopped, I walked around the block to get the money order.

In less than 10 minutes I was back at the Enterprise office, money order in hand, thinking now I’ve got it. I’ll be out of here in a flash. “Ok,” manager Chris said. “Your car is all ready.” As we walked out to the lot things began to lose their luster as we approached a vehicle not at all fitting the description of what I agreed to rent.

“Oh,” said manager Chris, “didn’t I mention that with a money order deposit you can’t rent a vehicle valued over $30,000.” Actually no, you didn’t mention that. “Look Chris, I am nearing the end of my patience so here’s what we are going to do. I am going to take this vehicle back to my house to pick up a major credit card with my name on it. When I get back here you are going to have the car I chose ready and waiting for me to leave right?” I wondered how imposing I sounded as I drove home for the card.

The day had started with a 9 a.m. appointment. It was nearing 3 p.m. and no trace of the Novocain remained. My tooth was thumping, my head was pounding and I longed to be back in the dental chair. Back at Enterprise in 15 minutes, I smirked at manager Chris as I waived a major credit card bearing my name. “Take the deposit off this and give me back the money order so I can get out of here.” The absurd continues—“I can’t give you the money order back because I already stamped the back of it with Pay to the Order of Enterprise. You’ll have to post another deposit and get everything back in the end.”

That was it. I was defeated for the day and gave way to corporate customer abuse. I allowed the double deposit and climbed dejectedly into my “over $30,000” rental car. I finally got home at 4:15 p.m.
Fast forward to three weeks later, when I picked up my own car at Sonny’s a few days ago. It looks as though it just left the showroom-- an absolutely perfect job. Someone from the shop returned the rental for me. I couldn’t have faced another encounter of the Enterprise kind so soon. At the end of last
week, I made my second visit to Dr. Greenberg. The repeat performance proved equally as good as the last—look at me, I’m loving my root canals.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little tale about my experience in running the gamut in the local-world of customer service. In this little tale about the difference in local business, the Oh So Ugly, Sylvan Garage, maintains as ridiculous as it may seem, that the car was already damaged when it was brought in. Geico is suing them for total responsibility.

The Bad, which could actually be known as the Worst, is Enterprise Rent-a-Car. They have earned this dubious distinction for consistently failing to make the customer experience even remotely tolerable.

The Good definitely describes my experience with Dr. Greenberg as well as Sonny’s Auto Body and Collision which could be deemed the Best in this saga.

It’s nice to know that there are still some businesses and professional practices where customers are treated with respect and where great service is a given. They deserve our business and a nod of approval for a job well done. As for the other end of the spectrum, the onus is on us to demand quality service and professional treatment.

As with all other stories, there is a moral to this one-- the next time you need root canal, take a cab to the dentist’s office.

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