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Washington, DC Customer Service

Since I moved here in 2000, I have noticed one continual trend in DC – customer service sucks. I think it’s due to the largely out of proportion ratio of the number of people who work in politics and for government to the number of people working in the service sector that supports politics and government.

In any event, the customer service here is terrible. Restaurants, with the exception of really nice restaurants, have almost universally bad service. Retail stores have employees that move slower than ice floes. Getting good customer service is a rare treat and complaining is almost useless. The demand for service sector employees is so great the people who fill those jobs can generally get a new one with very little effort, so there is no incentive to keep one.

That leads me to the experience I had at a Giant Grocery Store in McLean last night. I almost always use the self-checkout option because I can’t stand the sense of time standing still that I get waiting for the clerks to ring up my groceries.

As I am ringing up my items, I get an error message on the machine that says “Invalid item” and the machine locks up. The guy running the self-serve lanes walks up and asks “what seems to be your problem?” I informed him that I had no problem but his machine did.

After telling me the problem was the bagging area was full, he scanned an ID card and reset the machine. I indicated the error message said something different and was told, “I don’t care what the machine said. I work here. I know what the problem is.”

I scan two more items and get another odd error message, and called the guy over again. He tells me it is still because the bagging area is full (despite the fact that more than the two additional items I had scanned had been bagged and none were in front of the eye beam). then he tells me “Maybe you’re not smart enough to use the self -checkout.”

To make a long story short, I spent about the next 45 minutes talking to various managers at Giant and have a call into their corporate office to talk to their regional manager. Despite the fact that I inherited my father’s temper, I never lost my cool, never got angry. Another customer actually walked up to corroborate not only my side of the story, but to also file his own complaint alleging the same clerk insulted him a week or two ago.

Despite all of that, he was still working there when I walked out.

Is it just me, or is that simply incredible? If I had an employee who talked to a customer (let alone two) like that, and insulted their intelligence because the machine was popping up error codes, they would have been walking out the door about two minutes ahead of the customer I just bought groceries for.

Written by Michael Turk