Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Good Customer Service

From my July 2009 Vegas Vacation...

Two sides of customer service...

So, I’m having a late breakfast in a casino coffee shop. The hostess seats me in a section where the people at the table next to me are all bitching at the waitress. I feel sorry for her, because the world is filled with pushy jerks... and they all have to eat. Vegas must be really rough because you get people who are drunk or hung over or who have just got into a huge fight with their spouse after losing the rent money, and the waitress has to serve them. And waitressing is a tough job anyway - I have a friend who never orders anything as it appears on the menu and after doing a million substitutions gets picky as hell over the smallest things. “I ordered this medium rare and this is just medium, take it back!” I hate going to dinner with him, because he always abuses the waitstaff. When I talked to him about it once, he said he’s paying good money for food and wants to get exactly what he ordered. Somehow, this turned into a conversation about how I have no backbone and never send anything back - even if they screw it up. That’s basically true - unless there’s a hair or a cockroach or a severed human finger, I’m not going to send back the food. If I order medium rare and get medium - well, to tell you the truth I’m not exactly sure where the line is between the two. Usually I’m hungry, it’s food, and unless there is something actually wrong with the food, I eat it.

This waitress had a whole table full of complainers. I wanted to make sure I was nice to her, and make sure my order wasn’t difficult. It was actually easy - scrambled, hash browns, sausage, wheat toast, coffee. I ended up with white toast instead of wheat, but that’s no big deal. The guy sitting at the table on the other side of me got his whole order screwed up. I mean everything. He got scrambled eggs when he ordered a hamburger. The waitress took it back... and something went wrong because it took him a long time to get his burger. He had to ask the waitress a few times where his meal was. He got his food just as I was finishing mine, and we sat down around the same time.

When the waitress brought me my bill, it had an item I did not order - a $2 side of grapefruit. I didn’t order that, it wasn’t delivered to my table. I mentioned this to the waitress, who said she’s be back in a minute with a corrected bill. MANY minutes later, she came back with a fresh printing of the exact same bill - including the grapefruit. After an, um, discussion, she gave me $2 in tip money from the table of people who had been arguing with her when I was seated and told me to just pay for the grapefruit, because she didn’t want to get in any more trouble for doing things wrong today.

More trouble.

I probably shouldn’t have left her a tip, but the dude who fills water glasses got my coffee a couple of times, and it wasn’t is fault the waitress was an idiot.

Now I go up to pay my bill, and I pay with a $20 and the exact coin change...and the woman at the register gives me back coin change. I tell her that is not correct. She tries again, and gets the paper money wrong. I end up walking her through it - but come on! This is easy! The machine does everything for you (had she punched in the coins - which had been counted out before I dropped the $20 on the counter) - and even if it didn’t, how hard is it to do 2nd grade math?

Later that same day I went into a Walgreens, and also paid with bills and coins. But the guy behind the counter was doing the math in his head and told me what my change would be before punching it into the register, then counted it back to me. Oh, and he also mentioned that they had something similar to one of the things I was buying on sale, would I rather have the sale item?

Now here’s the big picture: this is Vegas. I’m sure there’s no shortage of con men and short change artists. Do you want the person behind the register to be someone who can’t count, can’t do simple math, and is easily confused by a customer who hands them a bill and some coins? Or do you want someone who made it all of the way trough the 2nd grade? Which person is going to keep your business from losing money?

I don’t know the background of the waitress and the woman at the cash register - maybe they had some hardship and had to drop out of school. But shouldn’t they have to be able to do the basics of their jobs? And it is never too late to learn 2nd grade math and how to write down orders correctly. I’m not even going back to that casino to gamble - what if they hire dealers who don’t know how to add card values?

Okay, what does this have to do with screenwriting? Hmm, let’s look at competently doing your job and education.

So, here’s another one of those nightmare stories that no one wants to hear (including me) - I know a guy who wrote and directed his own low budget film, and this is one of those people who can get other people to work for free and get people to invest in a movie. A smooth talker. A born leader. Someone who can convince others that what is good for him is good for them. I am not like this at all, and am secretly jealous. I feel uncomfortable asking people for favors, let alone money. So this guy made his film, it looked like an amateur film, the script had problems... but it actually delivered on some genre stuff, and you could easily forgive the problems because this was the guy’s first film. It landed a distrib, and did well on DVD. He talked the distrib into financing his next film, which costs a lot more and had all of the same problems as the first film... but had a good cast and some great genre stuff and made money.

So, this guy is climbing up the budget ladder - each film costs more than the last, has a better cast, and now he’s changed distribs a couple of times - also moving up. So he makes a studio film... and it flops. Big time. And critics tear it apart. And they are right - all of the same problems he had in his first film are present in the new big film. Script problems, direction problems. The budgets have gotten bigger but the films have not gotten better. I bump into him and, um, hint around that I have some scripts, and...

Well, he tells me the scripts are not a problem - he just wrote a new one and is looking for a new distrib to finance the film. I, um, hint that he might note some of the problems the critics pointed out and not give them any reason to blast the new film for those problems, and he says the critics are idiots. Okay, maybe they are - but sometimes they have a point... except I didn’t say that. That was my thought balloon. Whenever I do a class in LA, I send this guy an e-mail that he can sit in for free. He never does.

This guy doesn’t seem to want to get better. He has stopped learning, and his attitude seems to be, “Hey, I’m already making movies, why should I take a class or read a book or expand my horizons in any way? And there are people like that in the biz. If you were a studio, would you want to hire someone like that?

None of us are perfect. All of us have our weak spots. But that doesn’t mean we can not improve ourselves. We can get better. We can find the ways to correct our mistakes and practice like hell until those flaws are less noticeable. One of the reasons why I write new script tips is because I either learn something new and want to share it, or am struggling with some writing problem and trying to figure it out. I teach classes so that I can learn. I love being challenged with a question that I don’t know the answer to, because then I have to go out and find that answer or figure it out. That stuff keeps me moving forward instead of just standing there.

No shame in stopping to regroup and solve your problems before moving on. There are lots of big name directors who have some recurring problems with their films - pointed out by those idiot critics every time - who could probably use some down time between movies to learn a little something and become better directors the next time out. On vacation, I am reading a book on screenwriting that uses a completely different method than I use - maybe it will make me a better writer?

The audience is our customer - we are telling them a story - we want them to be so satisfied with our work that they keep coming back for more.

Classes On CD - Recession Sale!

- Bill


jazzence said...

I know too many people like your friend. It amazes me because they don't mind their work being half-assed, which is career suicide. Your film is your calling card. But somehow they manage to convince or drug people into financing these bombs. Next time you have a class, I'll take his spot.

Joshua James said...

Great post ... and this:

"This guy doesn’t seem to want to get better. He has stopped learning, and his attitude seems to be, “Hey, I’m already making movies, why should I take a class or read a book or expand my horizons in any way? And there are people like that in the biz. If you were a studio, would you want to hire someone like that?"

I know so many like that, worked with them, in fact ... it's something, it really is.

And the people we admire are the ones who constantly challenge themselves to grow and change and improve ... I mean, do people remember that Will Smith had his own sitcom for a few years after he was a rapper, and that after his sitcom was canceled, sat down with his manager and plotted exactly how to move ahead?

Or Jamie Fox, who was on In Living Color for a year or so, did some movies, did his own show and kept upping his game until he won an Oscar.

I keep using actors, but that's because they are visible ... there are many actors who don't change, who got as far as they could with their one or two tricks they do well and don't grow beyond it ... and they lose ground, eventually.

Writers and directors, too.

Great post, man. Thanks,

Anonymous said...

can you share the name of that casino so I don't eat there? post it incognito in a sentence on your FB if need be...

Wallfly said...

Similar thing happened to me at HD when I handed the cashier bills and he rang it up in the computer after I had found exact change. When trying to hand him the change, he said he couldn't accept it because the computer "couldn't go back as it had already figured it out."

Sadly, the world is made up of more of these types of people than those of us who do try to be considerate of others.

As to your director / screenwriting friend, he is probably spot on with his opinion that the critics are idiots. Chances are, with the economy in the toilet, these critics have second jobs and are the same ones serving you at the restaurant to make ends meet. As they make up the majority of all people, they can hastily be generalized as said idiots. The end.

mrswing said...

So what's the book you're reading?

odocoileus said...

Second that.

What's the book?

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