It is funny you mention the ideas about customer service. Check out this letter I sent to the local Safeway:
Mr. Lyle Waterman
Safeway Stores Inc.
16300 SE Evelyn St.
Clackamas, OR 97015
Mr. Pete Ambler
Safeway Stores Inc. #4404
138 West Ellendale Ave.
Dallas, OR 97338
It is very rare event when I comment in writing about an experience in any store, positive or negative. Usually, I dismiss the good service as expected and the bad service as “par for the course” in today’s society. Being a 35 year old man, my generation (to generalize) is more apt to just internalize what we see and experience and change our behavior to avoid those negative experiences rather than complain or compliment. I myself fall under that generalization.
I have a certain level of expectation when it comes to service at any store I patronize. I expect the employees to put on some sort of front that says to me “Welcome to my store” whether that is a smile when the see me, a “hello” if we are standing near each other, or even a “How can I help you?” if I look confused. If I ask for where something is, I expect a store employee to either tell me exactly where to find it or to take me to the item or items. I expect a thank you at the end of the transaction. A store that meets those expectations will always get my business regardless of any sales that a competing store is having that does not meet those expectations.
My experiences with the Tanasbourne Safeway store in Hillsboro, the Jantzen Beach Safeway in Portland, and the Downtown store in Corvallis set a service expectation in me that is higher than my own expectations. I expect, due to their service, that if I am on an aisle an employee will always say hello and ask if I need any help. I expect that checkers will smile, strike up some sort of small talk-even if it is to ask me if I found what I was looking for, and thank me by my last name (which I usually hate myself, preferring them to use my first name if they use my name at all). I expect that if a courtesy clerk is at the end of the check stand, they will bag my groceries, offer to carry them out, and also thank me by name.
Today however, I feel the need to explain what happened at the Dallas Safeway. For six months now, I have experienced a level of service I expect at the local Wal-Mart as opposed to Safeway, and am unwilling to tolerate it anymore. For your reference, I have included my receipt in case you wanted to review the transaction with me as I describe what happened today.
I came in to the Dallas store needing just four items—unbleached white flour, canned pie filling, graham pie crust mix, and canned black beans—but I was also in a “shopping mood”—which means I am much more likely to get more than just the four items that drove me to the store. I got my shopping cart and headed to the Bread area to see what good buys I could get on breads-usually I make my own, but bagels sounded good today.
As I reviewed the stock of bagels, I stood next to a female employee for a couple of minutes. She was straightening the shelves—I saw no name tag on her apron, and said nothing to me at all, never even an acknowledgement I was standing there. I sighed to myself, finding nothing on ad that I wanted to purchase, and walked away. I didn’t think much of this-she was busy after all—but a “hello” would have been nice.
I walked further toward the Bakery, and checked out the fresh breads. I was looking for an Asiago cheese loaf, but did not find any. A Bakery employee was checking dated stock in the front of the case, clearing out the bay. At no point during my look (which I did not find any of the bread I was looking for) did she acknowledge my presence or even ask if I was looking for something. If she had, she would have found I was looking for six loaves—five to freeze, and one to have for dinner tonight. Instead, I walked away with nothing.
I went over to the meat department, having decided to cook cube steaks for dinner tonight instead of the chicken I had in the freezer at home. There were three Meat department employees in the immediate area, talking loudly about cars and car repairs or something to that effect. One was even stocking the meat counter. At no point were any customers, including myself, ever addressed in any way. I walked the length of the counter looking for my steaks, and even passed right in front of the person stocking the case.
I picked up my steak, and then gathered the flour and the beans, but could not find the pie filling or the graham. I searched for over 10 minutes for these items, walking up and down every aisle of the store, gathering a few more items along the way. I passed two people I recognized as checkers (people who have been rude in the past and I avoid like the plague when I am in this store) who just walked past me without saying a word. One walked past me at the exact moment another customer told me where to find the pie filling, but he never stopped on his way to the front to address either one of us. I just took it as single mindedness—he must have been called to check--although to be honest I did not hear any page.
Having gotten my remaining two items, I headed over to Produce and got the broccoli to have with dinner, and headed to the check stands. Two checkers were out front of the check stands, and one (Erica) was in her check stand—all three had no customers in line. They were all conversing about something or another. I pointed my cart into Erica’s check stand, oblivious to the fact she was in a conversation with another employee. The scowl on her face betrayed the fact she was irate at being interrupted.
As I emptied my cart onto the belt of the check stand, I asked for paper bags before she started bagging. She rather abruptly shoved the plastic bag dispenser back and opened a paper bag in such a manner as to tell me “This is not how I normally do things” I just ignored it, because asking for paper bags in this store is usually met with some sort of frown. Preferring the sturdiness of paper bags is a preference of mine, although I realize it is a more expensive item for the store, thus reducing your profit margin from my purchase.
I had left a coupon on an air freshener refill, loose; it was from one of those red dispensers that are on the shelf offering me 55 cents off the price of the refill. She picked the coupon up off the air freshener refill, and slammed it down on the lottery dispenser in an obvious “It goes there stupid” gesture. In bagging, she put my steaks in the same bag as the air fresheners (I had picked up one Airwick refill and two Glade fan driven models) with no separation between them. While I trust the packaging of the air products, my past experiences have told me that checkers will place the meat in a plastic sack if mixing the bag with household chemicals. It may not be a Safeway required thing, separating the two, but it is a thoughtful gesture.
She said nothing to me at all as she was ringing up the order, and the scowl remained on her face during this time. I even tried to joke with her, saying “I hope the phone number I entered was correct” for my club card (It was not, instead it brought up a Travis Jacobs instead of me—I recently moved and did not remember if I had changed my phone number with the Club Card online—but I must have.) No reaction from her at all.
Once the order was completed, no total was announced, but I did see the total ($50.23 after Club Card and coupon discounts) and used my debit card for the purchase. Only when my receipt came up did Erica finally turn pleasant, thanking me by my last name, asking if I wanted help out with my bags, and to have a nice day.
I wish I could say that this shopping experience was unusual for the Dallas Safeway, but unfortunately it is all too common at that store. With the exception of two shopping trips to the Dallas store, I have walked away from each shopping expedition with a negative experience. I have, in the past, been treated rudely or just ignored by three checkers, a front end manager, a head clerk, two Bakery employees, three Meat employees, one Produce employee, and two courtesy clerks.
Once I got home, I called the store at 5:35 p.m. and asked if Mr. Ambler was in-he was not. I asked if the assistant manager was in-he was not. I then asked for the Head Clerk, and informed him briefly of my negative experience. I got no apology for the experience, just a lot of “uh-huh” and “mmm-hmm” sounds; I was also not asked to elucidate nor was I asked any clarifying questions which I expected in order to ensure that I was heard correctly.
Mr. Watterman and Mr. Ambler, my shopping needs are not great. I have only spent $1,157.66 at Safeway after coupons and Club Card savings since moving to Dallas in July of this year; and so I realize that I am not much of a profit generator for Safeway. However, as I mentioned at the beginning of this letter, I still expect some level of respect and politeness from any store I go into to spend my hard earned dollars. It is just unfortunate that the store that is less than a block from my house (I can see it across the empty field that separates my house from the store) will never get that business from me again; instead I will give the local Dallas Select market those dollars I used to spend at the Dallas Safeway. They have proven to me in the past to be able to meet the minimum standards I mentioned above.
This was the response from Waterman, who is the Portland Division President:
Dear Mr. Ridenour,
Oregon store and how disappointed you were with the entire experience.
As you may be aware, several years ago Safeway embarked on a program to ensure that all of our customers receive a high level of service when in our stores. I am certainly sorry to hear that we may have fallen short on a number of service related issues.
We will look into the details provided in your letter and be in further contact with you to get additional details which will help our District Manager for the Dallas area review all the issues with store employees and follow up as necessary.
My letter was dated January 12, his response on January 16. I have not heard from them since. What gets me is that I gave him a detailed letter indicating the problems, so there is no "may have fallen short" and that they will "be in further contact with" me--and no one has.
Canned letters--makes writing a detailed letter not worth the time.
I never did hear from the store manager (Mr. Ambler) either.