“Maybe he’s sneaking things you don’t know about.” The dentist was referring to my three year old with at least four cavities. That was his response when I asked him what I could be doing to prevent future cavities. I explained that we don’t have soda in the house, we rarely have juice, and candy is always soon followed by tooth-brushing. I called my friend, also a dentist:

“It sounded so condescending!
Am I over-reacting? Is this normal?

I mean, really, look at my teeth – and Jacob’s teeth –
does it look like we don’t take care of our teeth?!”

My friend said to start from the beginning.

I brought Max in to see our family dentist when he was two years old; I noticed dark spots on two of his new baby teeth. Yes, they were cavities. When I asked what else I could be doing, his answer was “you need to be more consistent about brushing & flossing.” I was a little defensive, but I thought maybe he could be right, so after getting those two cavities filled I buckled down on tooth brushing in our house. Six months later the dentist proudly proclaimed “no new cavities!” and put Polaroid pictures of both boys on the “no cavity club” board in the waiting area.

Six months after that, Max was three and I was brushing his teeth in the evening. I saw a big hole in one of his new top molars. I called right away to make an appointment and that’s when the dentist suggested that my three year old was “sneaking stuff.” My friend asked “what did the x-rays show?” “He didn’t take x-rays yet; he said he’d take them at our next appointment, just before he filled a couple of the four to six cavities he thought he saw.”

“He didn’t take x-rays so he’d know ahead of time what he was going to do?” She tried to hide her disappointment; it’s a small town and all the dentists know each other.

My friend is a professional and didn’t want to speak badly of a colleague. I saw right through it.

“Let’s make an appointment for a consultation. I’ll treat for the consultation and you can pay me for the x-rays.” She found EIGHT cavities in my baby’s mouth. “Some kids are just susceptible to these bacteria. I’ll send you home with prescription toothpaste, we’ll fill these cavities (one required a steel cap), and follow up in six months.” Max hasn’t had another cavity in almost ten years.

I called the other dentist to have both boys’ records sent to my friend across town. I offered to give feedback when the assistant asked why we were leaving. I suggested the dentist call me so we could talk about my concerns about the treatment. He never called. I never went back. The whole family switched dentists.

Patient: Condescension is never ok. Forget the fact that when the dentist looks at you, he or she may have preconceived notions based on your appearance and possible education level. If your doctor is condescending, either call him or her on the bad behavior, or find another doctor. If you think something is wrong with treatment, don’t just trust the person because he or she is the doctor. Get a second opinion! You must advocate for yourself and your family. I waited too long to call for a second opinion and my son’s baby teeth suffered for it. Don’t let that happen to you.

Dentist: Condescension is never ok. You may have preconceived notions based on your patient’s appearance and possible education level; don’t show it. If a patient asks for ideas, don’t stop at “you should be doing this better.” Ask for details to find out if more aggressive treatment is necessary. If you don’t have a good answer, FIND ONE. There are so many resources available to you with the click of the mouse. Use them to improve the lives of your patients and the success of your practice, no matter how many years you’ve been doing it. And most important in this story; when a patient offers to provide feedback in a calm and constructive way, TAKE IT! Not only did my dentist lose our family as patients, he lost my respect and the possibility that I'd recommend him to anyone with children.

Princess & Pea ImageHe really wanted this sale. It was Saturday of a holiday weekend, and "only 15% of customers who say they'll come back actually return to the store." Shopping for a new mattress set can be fun; it’s a lot like playing Goldilocks.  Max & I tried out the “Cadillac” beds first. When I told the salesman they were out of my price range, he showed me another set of three; firm, medium, soft. These were more like the “Honda Civics” of the mattress world. I could tell the difference, thanks to reading mattress buying sites (1, 2, 3). Every blog suggests lying down on the beds in your most common sleeping positions for a minimum of ten minutes. Maybe it's different as we age, I could definitely tell the difference in quality among the mattress options at Sleep City. The salesman walked away to help someone else and Max and I moved over to another bed. This one was obviously somewhere in the middle in terms of quality and price. The salesman came back to check on me and I told him this middle-version was nice and would do if I couldn't purchase the "Cadillac". After all, we were replacing a 13 year old bed, purchased when I was pregnant with Max. Anything would be better, really. As I mentioned before, this guy really wanted this sale. After I told him I'd come back with my husband in two days he said:

"I really want to sell you the bed you want and here's where I'm willing to go to get you there."

It was a good deal. He took good care of me as a customer, he’s knowledgeable and honest about the beds in the store, lives in town with his family, and has a kid in a local public school. I wanted him to have the sale so I took the deal. It’s not a huge store; the small chain is a family owned business, so they don’t keep the beds in stock. He told me it would be three weeks. I was ok with that; they were delivering the bed and removing our old one.

It was worth the delay because I wouldn’t have to do any of the heavy lifting.

On the third week, the day he said I’d get a call to schedule delivery, I didn’t get the call. I got home and called at 6pm; the bed had not been delivered to the store. He said something about the bad weather in the mid-west. I completely understood, the salesman had no control over the trucks and weather. He said I would get the call in a week.

I didn’t get the call. I called at 6pm - again - to follow up.

He apologized again for the delay and offered to include a pillow in the delivery, or to remove the cost of the mattress cover I purchased at the time I purchased the mattress set. I completely understood that this salesman had no control over when an item would get to his store once he ordered it. He was so appreciative of my understanding, “you wouldn’t believe some of the things people have said to me today. It has been a terrible day with people yelling at me and calling me names. I usually have a pretty thick skin but today has been really awful.”

Customer: When you are ordering something that is not carried in the store, you are right in expecting they will have the item delivered when they say it will be there. It would make sense that when placing an order; the store would take into account that in February, delays might occur. When something goes wrong, the customer has two choices: Take the options, discounts, and gifts a salesperson or manager has to offer to make things right, or cancel the order and take your business elsewhere. Treating people badly won’t make the item arrive faster. Yelling at another human being because you are frustrated won’t make it better. Remember that most of the time, the person in front of you has little to no control over when an item arrives in the store. I guarantee that your calm and understanding reaction will get you MUCH further than an irrational, angry approach, even if you end up canceling the order. Yes, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, I’m sure the grease is spiked though.

Salesman: First, great job, Kevin, in making the sale. Your knowledge of the beds in your store, your direct approach, and your willingness to work with me made it easier to put the money down on a large purchase. Want to make things even better? Be proactive.  No matter how many customers you had who were waiting for delivery on that day, call each one – or share the list with a colleague – and let them know the situation as soon as you have updated information. That could have been earlier in the week, even. Do not wait for a potentially disappointed and/or angry customer to call you. Make sure you have support from your manager to offer something special to each customer during your call apologizing for the delay; a little goes a long way!

Sleep City: This is a large purchase for many people; for the company to hold a customer’s money for more than a month without delivery is absurd. It would make sense to take a down payment or deposit of 50%, or even 60% at the time of the order and require the final payment upon delivery. If that had been the case with my order, I would have been more understanding about the delay. My money would have remained MY money until the product was delivered.

It was a completely different environment from our previous gig. We walked into the Silver Dollar Saloon and were immediately greeted by the bartender, Paula. "Hi there, welcome back!" She came around the bar to help us get the back door open to bring in our gear, and as she walked with us asked what she could get for us to drink.

As we were setting up our projector, screen, lights, instruments and other performance enhancing tools, the owner of the bar came over to help us set up the sound. His gear was old and a little tricky, but having the sound board and speakers already there made our lives as musicians a bit simpler and much more worthwhile to travel more than an hour to the venue.

Every time we’d take a break, the bartender would ask what we wanted to drink. Most of the members of our band don’t drink alcohol, so she made sure those guys had whatever soda or water they needed. Me? She fed me top shelf tequila – on the house. As a group we probably would have ended up with a bar tab around $40 but they never charged us. When we got paid at the end of the night I left a $10 tip and thanked her. She and the owner helped us load our gear into vehicles and hugged us before we left. “Drive carefully, guys! Give us a call when you want to schedule another gig here!”

This was in direct contrast to a gig earlier in the month. As we walked in the front door with some gear, the bartender glanced over and looked away. His expression was grim and bothered. When I asked about opening the back door so we wouldn’t have to walk through the entire bar with our gear, he grabbed the key and walked around the bar, looking at me like he was doing me a HUGE favor. Our small bar tab was not forgiven. Never once did he or his staff offer any kind of assistance in setting up, never once did he ask what we needed or wanted. We were playing for the door, which meant we would charge a cover of about $5 and would take home whatever we made there. No guarantees for making back our expenses of promotion, time, and equipment hauling. In a friendly tone, I asked at the end “how was the night for you? We had at least 150 people pay at the door, it was a fun gig!” “It was slow at the bar; your crowd wasn’t drinking tonight.” He looked at me like it was my fault that it was a slow Saturday night, even though most Saturday evenings are significantly less busy than any Friday night.

As a band, we invest a lot of energy into each performance. We try to really engage with our audience. We love what we do and it shows in our performance. It was insulting to be ignored by the staff, it was unlikely we would try to book that venue again.

Performer/Musician: Be kind to the staff at every venue. If they have sound equipment you’re not sure is going to work, let them know ahead of time that you’ll bring your own. Don’t ever forget to tip your bartender, even if you’re not drinking alcohol, and ALWAYS encourage your audience to tip the bartender while you publicly thank the owner and staff for hosting you. No matter how talented you are, arrogance toward your host and audience is never appreciated. Work with the staff to make things right, don't expect them to know what you need unless you are explicit in your instructions.

Venue Staff/Owner: Most performers cannot work for free. They spend hours and hours practicing and improving, and thousands of dollars on equipment and peripherals (costumes, lights, etc.) If you are not paying your performers a reasonable amount of money, make sure they at least get a bar tab covered – and food if you have it. The band should not be entirely responsible to promote the performance and bring their own crowd, especially if they are coming in from out of town. It is to your benefit to fill the bar, right? Make sure all your regulars know about the gig and that they are sharing the information with friends. Ask the band if they would create and email a poster to you to print and post around town. It doesn't take much, really. If you're new to promotion, ask the band for ideas or get online and ask your peers and social network for ideas. For goodness sake – treat the performers like they’re your customers! Be kind, offer assistance when possible, and appreciate the talent that walks in your door. Even if you’re not a big fan of the music, know that your reputation can be improved dramatically by treating performers respectfully. We all know the drummers and divas when they walk in the bar; unless the performer is insulting your staff, venue, or customers, tolerate as much attitude as you can, it usually comes with significant talent.

Audience: As mentioned in the post, most musicians spend a lot of time, energy, and money to grow, improve, and earn gigs. If you are asked to pay a cover at the door, pay the cover! Don't try to sneak in to avoid a $10 cover charge. Many times the venue does not pay the band beyond the cover at the door. Would you be ok with someone consistently asking you to work for free, even if you enjoyed the work? If there's a tip jar, the band isn't getting paid enough to cover expenses; if you enjoy the performance, put a little something in the jar to let them know. Remember, if the band doesn't feel appreciated, they probably won't come back to the venue.

If you REALLY like the band, make sure you tell all the staff and venue managers/owners you can that you want them back. Ask your friends to ask for that band, too. Like them on Facebook and keep in touch!

Lobster in tankTheir exhaustion was visible. The couple walked into the restaurant, the woman carrying the baby, probably just over a year old. They were hopeful they could have a nice dinner but were resigned to a short evening. I was actually relieved for the opportunity to shake up the slow evening at the restaurant. I seated them and brought the highchair, asked what they would have to drink, handed them menus and told them about the specials. The baby was a little fussy so I brought a package of oyster crackers, which satisfied him for a few minutes while the couple ordered their meal.

When they had ordered, the woman asked me to have a “to go” order ready when they finished their dinner; she would bring it home for her sister who had been helping care for the baby while he had been sick. "We've all been sick all week and we're finally feeling better.  My sister came to help out. We haven't left the house in a week and we're giving my sister some much-needed down time. We hope to eat here, but we may need to make a quick exit if the baby starts to fuss."

As I cleared the couple’s salad plates, the baby started to cry. I brought their entrees to the table just as the baby began to erupt. I asked if I could hold him; the couple looked up at me, confused. "Can I take him out of his highchair? I'd love to show him the fish tanks." They nodded. I picked up the baby and wandered around the restaurant, showing him the fish tank, the lobster tank, the sea shells scattered around the dining room. "Do you know what lobsters do? They pinch noses!" I gently pinched his little nose and he giggled. Loudly. The couple looked up, shocked. They hadn’t heard that giggle in over a week.

I continued to wander around the restaurant, serving my other tables one-handed and introducing the baby to the other guests, servers, and the chef. Each time I walked by the lobster tank I gently pinched the baby’s nose like a lobster and he giggled. The couple finished their dinner and I handed them their check and their “go” box for her sister at home. It was a $50 tab, they tipped me $25.

Server: I had no expectation of a large tip. I saw people who needed a break and I knew I could help. It was a slow evening at the restaurant and playing with the baby was a good distraction for me and for the others in the dining room.  If the baby had been fussy, everyone in the restaurant would have had their dinner disrupted, even if the couple ended up leaving in a hurry. The tip was icing. I had no idea that someday when I had a baby someone would do the same thing so I could enjoy a quiet dinner with my spouse. What comes around goes around. If you are not a baby person or just don't have the time to do what I did, provide distraction as much as possible. Bring crackers, bring crayons, have a few small (non-choking hazard) toys around for just this situation. You won't believe how much people appreciate this assistance. Remember to do this because they need help, not because you expect a big tip, sincerity is the most important part of your service.

Customer: Make a plan for a quick exit if you know you are on borrowed time with a potentially fussy baby or child. This couple told me as they sat at the table that they might have to leave in a hurry, could I please be prepared with “go” boxes just in case. When a server goes out of his or her way for you, show your appreciation. If you can’t leave an exorbitant tip, leave a note with the 20% tip so she knows what she did was extraordinary. And by all means, return to that business, write a good review online, and bring your friends!

It was a big purchase for us, more than $300 on two Nooks. Office Depot had a deal on the ones we wanted, so I called the store to ask about them. The manager said that he didn’t have any on site but would be happy to have a couple delivered from the Bozeman store and he’d call me to come get them when they arrived. He offered to honor the discount even though it would have expired the next day. The service was good so I didn’t hesitate to take his suggestion when I picked up the Nooks to buy the two year replacement warranty for each device. After all, I was buying them for two middle school-aged boys and one had a history of losing and breaking cell phones.

Within a month of the purchase, both of the charging cords broke. The piece that plugs into the device fell apart without heavy use. I brought them to the store and spoke with the manager. He immediately replaced them free of charge and explained that this was a common issue. The cords that came with the Nooks were delicate and easily broken. Again, good service and quick response.

It was almost exactly a year after we bought the Nooks that one of them got wet and wouldn’t turn on. I schlepped to the store the week before Christmas and was told they no longer carry the product. I’d have to call the service number listed on the warranty and deal directly with them. Frustrating, yes, but it got much worse.

After wading through the voice menu I finally spoke with a real person. I gave him all the information and after a lot of clicking noises he confirmed that the device was covered and that it was eligible for full replacement. “I’ll email a UPS shipping label to you right after this call. You can ship the broken device to use, we’ll receive and process it and you’ll receive an email alert that it has been processed. After about two weeks you should receive a gift card in the mail for the purchase price.”

A gift card? Not a Nook? 

“But I purchased a replacement warranty, not a refund warranty. Replacement is not the same as refund.” He went into great detail explaining the two levels of warranties. “We offer service warranties for items that cost more than $300, which covers repairs and replacement if necessary, and replacement warranties for items under $300; those are replaced with a gift card for the amount of the purchase.”

“There are two reasons this doesn’t work for me. 1) What if I cannot find a replacement device that costs the same amount as what I paid? (He said I’d have to add my own money.) 2) This delays my replacement substantially. I have to ship the item, then wait for you to acknowledge it was received. After that I have to wait for you to process it and send a gift card. When I receive the gift card, I have to go online to order the replacement because our local Office Depot no longer carries that item. It will be another two weeks, at least, that I’ll have to wait. It would shave off a considerable amount of time if you would just send a replacement device directly.”

He didn’t have an answer for me and I was ready to be done with this frustrating call. He asked if there was anything else he could do to satisfactorily end the call. I told him I was not satisfied, though I knew he had nothing to do with crappy company policy. He offered to complete a customer “dissatisfication” (his word) form for me. The form would be forwarded to his supervisor. I agreed.

Customer: Read the fine print when you purchase a warranty. At a minimum, ask the salesperson whether replacement might actually mean refund in the language of the company.

Salesperson: Know your product. If you know the warranty you’re selling doesn’t work the way the title implies, explain that to your customer.

Service Agent: You should have immediately moved this call to your manager. When you are dealing with a stupid company process or policy, the best way to change it is to have a customer who can speak clearly and define the problem be your advocate. You do not have the authority and in my experience your manager probably doesn’t listen to you when you make a suggestion. Use your customer to effect change, which will make your job better and easier in the future. I’m not the first dissatisfied customer with the misunderstanding of the word replacement.

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