Visiting Tim Horton’s on a Sunday often reminds me of a goal I have set for myself in life. I don’t want to become one of those old people who doesn’t know what the new normal is. Who gets bitter at the world for changing because the way things are done now don’t match their outdated expectations. I want to think that I’ll be able to stay sharp enough and “with it” enough to be able to conduct myself in public places with competence and confidence, no matter my age.
It’s one of those sad things to which I’m sympathetic but numb — older customers whose naiveté causes difficulties when trying to patronize a place like Tim Horton’s. Most people don’t think too deeply into things like fast food restaurant chains, so they often take for granted that each establishment has their own set of procedures, and it’s a challenge to bridge the gap between those procedures and the populace’s expectations for how a restaurant should work.
Good service involves a mutual responsibility–good customer service skills and good customer skills. (“The Customer is Always Right” is a destructive idea.) It takes a mutual understanding to communicate.
Here’s how you be a good customer when you order from a fast food place–watch how the order comes up on the screen as your order gets taken. Each chain has their own system for entering orders. They have to translate your words into the system’s language. If you learn their language, you can always get what you want.
Burger King has an ordering language. Whopper with cheese meal, no onion, heavy pickle, fries, root beer to drink. Mix up the order you say it, and it gets complicated. Tim Horton’s: plain bagel, toasted, with plain cream cheese; medium tea, bag in, two milk, one sugar. If you say it like that, it’s easy for them to punch in. Watch how the order comes up on the screen, or, instead of throwing out your receipt, take a look at the print-out and see how they structure their orders. Order it in those words, you get what you want. Easy.
This morning, an old woman loudly berated the staff at my local Tim Horton’s, who were working hard to serve a line of customers out the door and a drive-through line equally long, for getting her husband’s order wrong three weekends in a row, forcing her to drive there in her pajamas to get it fixed. She was upset that they wouldn’t give her husband the time to check the order before driving away from the window. I commented aloud that I just pull into a parking space to check it if I have doubts–so I don’t have to drive all the way back from home. Then I thanked the staff for working so hard at a job that’s largely thankless.
I don’t want to be one of those customers who can’t see things from the store’s point of view as well as my own. The customers who understand that yes, it’s going to be busy and a bit nuts on a weekend morning at Tim Horton’s, and so were waiting patiently in line. We all understood that the staff doesn’t want her husband holding up the dozen cars in line behind him. For them, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.
If I cared more than to write a blog post about it, I would have loved to ask that woman what she ordered, and what was wrong with it, and if she knew how her husband was asking for it. Because I would bet money that he was asking for the wrong thing three weeks in a row.
I had this elderly customer at Black’s Photography about seven years ago who was having problems with her burned photo discs. She had no way of knowing which pictures were on which disc, and she demanded that we fix how we did things. She wanted a “reliable system”. I explained that we have one–every time we burned someone’s photos to a DVD, we printed up 4×6’s with an index of thumbnails of every image on the disc. She was skeptical–it wasn’t working for her.
Fair enough–I took her order. When she picked it up later, she was ready–she was going to show me how the system didn’t work. There were four or five DVDs. Turns out the first thing she did when after she took them was to open each one and remove the index cards, and put them in a separate pile.
I stopped her before she took the thumbnails out of the second disc. I took the index cards from her hands and put them back in the first case. I explained to her–just leave them in the case. It took a good minute to bust through her skepticism, and had to close by telling her to just trust me, and try the system for a while.
I mean no disrespect for the elderly. It’s really hard to keep up. I can’t imagine how confusing the world now must seem to someone who’s old enough to remember World War II.
All I know is this: the only alternative to growing old is dying young. I want to grow old gracefully. Each year that passes is an opportunity to build on what we’ve done before, to enrich our lives in a new way. Another year to experience, reflect, learn, and grow.