We don't often think about who pioneered the old adage that "The customer is always right." I imagine that far from making a simple request, this individual (probably Jewish) approached a manager about a situation that could have easily been resolved. The famous words, “Excuse me! You charged me for pickles” opened the doors for the rest of us to complain at will and no matter what, always be right.
The danger is that most of us aren't right. After college I worked as a server at a country club in Tarzana where I would wait on a dentist by the name of Dr. Gross. Nearly every day for the first month I called him Dr. Davis. I assumed that was his name since he never corrected me. He loved chicken. He loved chicken so much he would make special requests.
“Elliot, can you make the chicken a little rare?” he once asked me.
“Sorry, Dr. Davis. I think chicken is supposed to cooked?”
“Yea, well I like my chicken a little pink.”
If he wants to be called Dr. Davis who was I to argue? If he tips me, he can eat all the raw chicken he wants. I didn't want him to complain. Besides, the customer is always right. The larger and more pressing question--how does any business so reliant on customer satisfaction meet the egregious needs of their customers?
My favorite movie theatre, Los Feliz 3 was recently faced with this dilemma. A customer, who shall not be named, took his girlfriend to see a Saturday night 9:40pm showing of the feature film “Cosmopolis” starring Robert Pattinson. The film was not what they expected as you can read in the email below written to the theatre owner:
“We attend the theatre often and appreciate a neighborhood theatre that makes a variety of new and independent films affordable. I understand that independently own theatres are rare these days which is why we love supporting Los Feliz 3. Though out of hundreds of movies I have seen, I have never walked out of a movie until Saturday night. We both found Cosmopolis tasteless nor watchable. We left disappointed, like we just wasted $19 and our Saturday night. Upon leaving, the thought did not occur to me to speak with a manager as the time was roughly 10:30 and I did not think a manager was on duty. I only saw two employees at the concessions. On September 2nd I returned to the theatre and spoke with Chris, the manager, in person explaining our disappointing experience. Chris was very nice and suggested the best option would be to contact you. My hope is that we can be reimbursed with two tickets for a future showing, or receive $19 in return. I have the ticket stubs which I would be happy to present to you.
Thank you for your understanding, and look forward to hearing from you.
Los Feliz 3 Film Attendee
A day later, the patron received the following email from the theatre's owner:
Good Day Shmelliot,
I am sorry to hear that you did not enjoy "Cosmopolis" at the Los Feliz Cinemas on Saturday. Our film buyers strive to book films for a broad range of tastes and regrettably we cannot always be sure that everyone will enjoy the choices we make available. . For your information, our policy in cooperation with the studios is to allow refunds up to the first 20 minutes of any given feature. As tickets are good and negotiable the date of sale only we are unable to discuss a refund in this case. You indicated that you departed the venue at 10:30 PM which is of course beyond the 20 minute window. Personal taste for all of us is just that, personal, and we normally cannot afford to provide refunds to customers due to a bad film review. However I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to write regarding your experience with us and hope you will accept a Courtesy Pass good for two admissions for a date in the future as a token of my appreciation. Please let me know if you would like me to set up a mailing of the Courtesy Pass to you and I will post immediately upon reciept of your mailing address. If you prefer to pick up in person please let me know. Thank you again for contacting me.
In the above exchange the customer explained that he did not like the film. The owner explained that the movie theatre is not responsible for who likes the film. Because the patron spoke with the manager in person and followed up with a cordial email, the owner willingly made an exception in accommodating the customer with complimentary passes. Indeed it was a good day for Shmelliot.
It's almost beside the point if the customer is right or wrong. By supporting local businesses and giving sincere feedback, we all benefit. The customer experience will be improved and businesses will see a greater return. In this instance, Robert Pattinson is like raw chicken, something only certain special people can stomach. For the rest, it's best to stick to what we know.