Friday, July 8, 2011

The Squeaky Wheel Owns All The Grease OR Nice Guys Don’t Even Finish

Deb: Do any of you have these people in your lives?  Service people you are undyingly faithful to and to whom you bring all of your business? You know, the manicurists, dry cleaners, seamstresses, dog walkers, butchers, florists, or handymen that you stick with through thick and thin?

We do. We are loyal customers and good customers and all the various merchants and services love us. That’s the problem. We’re the nice guys. The people they can count on. And as a result, we have become the people they can take for granted. They don’t have to woo us or treat us special because we are one of a core group of people who keep their businesses going.

Do they appreciate it? Yes, I am sure they do. Deep down. Very deep down. So deep down I think it seeped out of them into the cracks in the sidewalk. We are the people who frequent their establishments, businesses, pay our bills on time and compliment them on a job well done.

Now I honestly do not expect them to treat me any better than they would treat any customer. Truly. I am not looking for freebees or champagne on my birthday. However I wouldn’t object! I am just looking to be treated with the same respect as everyone. And yet­­––and here’s where it becomes interesting––I AM NOT.

I am the gal who goes to the seamstress with an appointment to hem or alter my garments. AN APPOINTMENT, MIND YOU! And I am the one who stands there with pins in my pants and daggers in my eyes as I watch her take customer after customer who have just strolled in off the street. The reason she gives me is that after all, they are just picking something up. Well, I am a fair gal. That is fine with me. THE FIRST TIME! But three or four in, I am seething.

Our handyman––whom we have employed for fifteen years––put us on his waiting list to sand and re-stain our deck. I asked him in DECEMBER! Still not done.

We have a dog walker who we have employed for years because we were so busy that the dogs were not getting enough exercise. He also stays at our house when we are away, guarding property and animals alike. We no longer need him as much as we used to, but we keep him because he depends on us financially. We needed him over two weekends and for a two-week period this summer because we are going away. It turns out that, without even asking us our schedules first, he has already taken jobs with people who employ him once a year, leaving us to scramble and depend on the kindness of friends.

I know what you are thinking and you are right. WE are the tools. And, believe me, the infraction list goes on and on and on. I have just cited a few examples here. So the question is, what do we do? These people do good work for us. And there are several options open to us––none of which appeals to me.

One: we speak up and then they are hurt and uncomfortable and I am miserable. My people do not speak up. They have not spoken up for centuries to my knowledge.

Two: we fire them and start over. Well, the problem there is that they all do excellent work and it is a pain in the butt to go looking for people of equal quality, not to mention the lack of time factor.

Or three: we start doing these things ourselves. Ha ha haaaaaaaaaaaaahaha ha ha ha hahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa. Oh. Wow. Ha ha. That was … good. Oh yeah. Ha ha ha. Man. Do these things ourselves...........Ha ha ha. (*wipes tears of laughter from eyes*). Ah. Hmmm. Oh. Ha.

I guess we should just replace them one at a time and become the cranky occasional customer who doesn’t really show appreciation and just employs them once in a while. That seems to be their kind of client. But it’s not our way of doing business.

So ... what do you do when you are the nice guys and want to continue being the nice guys and yet still get respect? All ideas welcome. Help us have our cake and stay nice too.

Barbara: You have me stumped here, Deb. I don’t have a lot of regular service people in my life. (Okay, a pedicurist/wax girl and esthetician who I LOVE and who are divinely respectful … which is why I LOVE them). That said, I did have a cleaning woman once who started cleaning less and less and chatting on her phone more and more. And she thought I was the nicest, sweetest client. No wonder! I let her run the roost. In her case, we still joke that we sold our house to get rid of the cleaning woman.

So in order to answer your question (plea) with a bit more confidence, I asked my guy who happens to be a trainer for service-oriented folk. And he has a simple, direct and no-buts solution to your conundrum. You won’t like it.

You. Speak. With. Them.

Nicely. Not yelling. But like a boss (as much as you hate this word) speaking with a valued employee to find a solution to a problem. You don’t have to go over past digressions, but you should discuss future expectations. Ie: Dog Walker: We love you dearly and you’re the best, but we want to know what we can expect in the future when it comes to conflicting needs between ourselves and your other clients. Seamstress: I only have a few minutes to spend here while you hem my pants/dress/skirt, so while I understand that other customers might come in for a quick pick-up, too many pick-ups in a row will make me late for my next appointment. Handyman: I asked you in December to please stain our deck, get the FUCK over here and FUCKING STAIN THE DECK!

Too much? 


  1. The only kind of person that we have Had around our house is just the movers when we moved from a house to a home. We were support to be all moved in two days and because everytime we would start the movers woe be late.. Finally after about the sec day of them being late we finally told them that if they did not get their act in gear we would find movers that would be there in time. After that they always showed up on time. So my suggestion would be to just scare them and maby that will get them back in gear.

  2. Yeah I know Barb and Lyndsie. I know. Argggghhhhh. But it's not fair. I shouldn't have to. They should just treat us as we treat them!!!!!!!

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  4. Oh Barb, your comment about the deck made me laugh out loud!!!!

    Deb, I cannot tell you how many times my family and I have been put in this position. But I do have to agree with Barb on this one and say that speaking (gently, of course) to said person/service people is the best policy. As for me, I try to live by the golden rule and, perhaps hope, that others will join the bandwagon and do the same!

    But it is frustrating! I've always made a joke that if my post-undergraduate plans don't work out I'm going to teach a course called "Common Courtesy 101". :D

  5. Holly I know that is what I should do. But I resent that I am put in a position I don't want to be in when I have done nothing to deserve it. So please Holly, teach that course!!!!

  6. I used to have a very hard time speaking up for myself,and would be the regular patiently waiting for service. Then I opened my own business and I had to learn very quickly how to speak up if I wanted to succeed and it has taught me something.

    It is in never offensive to remind people of their commitments and their need to reciprocate loyalty and respect. The vast majority of the time whatever it is that was bothering me was unintentional and is easily resolved by talking. Most of the time people don't honestly realize how some actions will be viewed by others unless they are told.

    I've very rarely had speaking up come back to bite me in the ass but when it does that's when I know it's time to take my business elsewhere.

    I'm 100% sure your regular service providers would be so much happier to hear your thoughts rather than never hear from you again.

  7. Deb. I agree with Barb, you need to have a chat with them. Think of it this way, the other customers have set these expectations (serve me first, I am the sqeaky wheel) by the way they act. But you aren't a rude person, so you will need to reset expectations verbally. "hey, you have done such a great job for us in the past and I want to continue using your services, but I need my deck done by x date. Can you manage it or should I find someone else for this time?". Put the ball in their court. Good luck.

  8. I am like you Deb. We had a pest control service guy who came every six weeks. The guy would come in and just start talking to me. He spent more time talking than spraying for bugs. I would try to politely work on other things while he was here, but he would hang out in whatever room I was working in and chat with me. I dreaded his visits. I finally got so annoyed I got a new pest control service and I lied to the guy about why we quit using him. I couldn't bring myself to tell him the truth.

    I don't like confrontation, except for calling up insurance companies. It just feels so good to yell and complain at them. :)

  9. Deb,

    The solution is simple. Have your dog walker sand and stain your deck.


  10. I think customer service has gone the way of the dodo & dinosaurs...and we, as consumers, who have choices, need to step up and courteously demand that we be treated with respect. Which seems like trying to breathe new life into the extinct.

    After all, if enough of us do this, perhaps someone will sit up and take notice...maybe even those obnoxious folks whose mantra is "ME FIRST!"

    I hate those people, but do not sink to their level.

  11. Ohhhhh Deb, do i/we know this all too well. UUGGHHH!

    Hire an assistant! LOL... But seriously, you teach people how to treat you,

    Deb. You can still be "nice" and have your needs met. I'm the master at this! Kill them with kindness. Never make them feel "wrong" or their ego gets involved. Blame yourself when asking for what you need.

    Handy man: "We have a party next month and i need the deck to look good, can you fit us into your schedule? I really want to use "YOU". I dont want to hire anyone else."

    Seamstress: When you walk into the store... "I'm so sorry, i should have told you i'm in a crunch, when I made my appointment. Can you have me out of here in 15min?

    Dog Walker: Ask him if he can refer someone else to you.

    By asking them for a referral, they know you will go someplace else. They also know that you do not want to ... but YOU WILL.

    The other day we ordered a meal at our local Deli. We know everyone there. The order came back completely wrong. We didn't want to be rude, so I said to the waiter. "i think i must have ordered this wrong, or communicated this wrong to you." Not only was he beyond NICE and apologetic, he said "NO NO you didn't order it wrong, i put it in wrong, i'm so sorry"... and he took 20% off the meal, AND gave us a a VIP card for our next visit!

    So, instead of him perceiving our irritation and feeling defensive and wrong, he went out of his way to make up for his error because he didn't feel scolded. We danced around his ego. Win win!

    It is actually kind of fun to turn your own frustration into an "ego dodging martial art" toward an "obstacle". The resolution is very often a peaceful outcome where your needs will be met from now on, AND you haven't risked damaging an important business relationship.

    Hope this idea speaks to you.

    Seana AKA "Ego Ninja"

  12. Oh, Deb, I hate SO MUCH that the nice guys get shoved to the back of the line. I think Barbara gave great answers. When it is me (and this is different--we don't have regular service people, as we live in poverty, but say... the phone guy who keeps not getting it right...), gerally I say, "I'm sorry to do this--I realize this isn't all you, but I'm really frustrated, so I need to rant about this for a minute. Your company is not doing its job"

  13. Deb,

    I have a question. If it was one of your close friends who was taking advantage of you, how would you react to them? Would you just let them walk all over you, or would you say to them, "I think we need to talk about something." ?

    It depends on how important the relationship is to you. If you would sit down and speak to your friend, why wouldn't you speak to someone whose services you are paying for? It sounds trite, but you are treated only as well as you allow people to treat you.

    You said something that's really irked me.
    "My people do not speak up. They have not spoken up for centuries to my knowledge."

    So, because they didn't, you don't? They may have been taken advantage of, so you have to be? You certainly don't have to yell at anyone, but to not say anything at all makes absolutely no sense at all. There are plenty of snappy comebacks--personally, I love Barbara's suggestion for the deck--but if you're not into that, the previous posters here have many good ideas on how to approach the subject.

    These people whose services you use either want to lose you as a customer, or they want to learn how to serve their customers better. I find it difficult to believe they want to lose a customer, so speaking up can only help the situation.

    You say they all do excellent work. No, they don't. They do an excellent job of taking advantage of you. Many people can do the same job just as well and care about their customers. There are plenty of ways to find new people to do these jobs. Go to Home Depot and ask them if there are any "deck people" they can recommend. A fabric shop can recommend seamstresses. Pet Smart can recommend dog walkers. There are ways. You just have to use them. Otherwise, you're stuck teaching your dogs how to stain a deck, and I doubt you want that, either. (

    (Getting that stain out of the dogs' fur/hair would require you to find a good dog groomer, and the last thing you want is to have to find someone ELSE to have to worry about regarding proper service.)

    Good luck.


  14. I have had the same people for 20 years or more. Most give me great service and when I call they are here as they know I also pay fast. When I am put on a list as an old time customer I speak up. If it is a really long list I make up a party or event and then they can bump someone else as far as I am concerned. I, too, would like to gt an occasional thank you or gift at my birthday since I give them one. My housekeeper who is more keeper than house cleaner gives me flowers every birthday. I stopped giving her kids gifts except for graduations as I never got thank you's. Same with my manicure's kids. I have basically not gone the extra route for a long time as it go to be too much and with no thank you's I said no way. I also stopped trading birthday gifts with friends as it got to be too much. We all buy what we need.
    I expect loyalty back and if it keeps happening that I don't get it I do switch and explain to them why. They either make amends and do better or they are off to handyperson heaven.

  15. All the service people you mention depend on you financially, but they aren't calling you to check if your schedule works with them, because they don't depend SOLELY on you for work. They know they have more customers coming in the door. (This isn't used as an excuse for them. It's just leading up to my point.)

    The dog-walker is in a different situation. He has to take work when he can get it. If you always go away for the same two weeks and the same two weekends every year, then, ideally, he'd have a calendar with that fact marked off and he should have checked with you to see if you need him again. However, if your schedule fluctuates, as I suspect it does, if these other customers call him first, he has to take them first, because he doesn't know where his next check is coming from.


  16. MadgeW,
    I think you're asking too much for the people who work for you to get you a birthday gift. If you choose to give them a gift, it's just that, a gift, and it's by your choice. They are under no obligation to provide anything more than an excellent job and courteous treatment. If they know your birthday, it can be nice to get a "happy birthday" from them. Sure, a gift is nice, but to expect one? I find that an unreasonable expectation.


  17. Deb,

    What's supposed to happen and what is actually happening are two different things. I know it's... let's say irritating... to not have people do what they SHOULD do, and we are here to listen to you rant and rave all you wish and support it, 'cause it does suck. (Shoulda stuck with "irritating.)

    If only wishing made things happen.

    Dawn <----is going to back away from the keyboard now

  18. Erin and Shawn you are right. I know this is something I have to do. Even Barb's thing about speaking to them nicely. Well here's the thing. I do that. And they are sooooooooo hurt and defensive. And I think, why the hell should I have to be nervous and step out of my comfort zone when it doesn't even work. And yet, I will try again.

  19. Oh Molly we have been there too! With the pepes who want to chat. And I love it I really do. But being writers, it is tough because people assume if you are home, you are doing nothing.I have actually had this chat with someone and we agreed that if I begin the conversation then it means I have time to chat and happy to do so. It is actually working.
    Brad you made me laugh. yes damn it yes I will. But maybe he'll be confused between deck stain and dog stains!

  20. Meredith I totally agree. And Sean'a we would hire an assistant except we had one for ten years and she became the biggest offender of all of them!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! LOL Melody, Barb did have the perfect answer-on paper. Doesn't work for us.

  21. Hart you are right as is kinda everyone. I guess the reason I wrote this was more out of frustration than answers because every single answer including Barb's is great. workie! And thanks Dawn these are all good ideas and if I ever get the time to replace people I will. And the thing that irked you was more of a joke than anything else. I was just making light of centuries of pepes of my ilk who did not speak up. Trust me I can when I need to. In a funny way, I am really regretting this post. Everyone is giving good answers and I feel badly about constantly saying to everyone that I have tried these things. I guess the reason I regret it is that it is not cut and dry. It is much more complicated than the flip little post I wrote. Madge Handyperson heaven is funny. Are there any empty clouds? I may need a few. And thanks Dawn for the extra advise on the dogwalker but it is not that type of deal. I would never expect him to turn down work! I would expect him to come to the people who basically employ him full time and ask first what our needs are before he does favours for people who use him once a year. As I said, complicated.

  22. Deb
    My parents tend not to speak up, either. As a matter of fact, they're having an issue with a LayZBoy chair that we can no longer talk about because of the way they're (not) handling it.
    My mom's family is all from Newfoundland. Maybe it's a Canadian thing? j/k Suffice it to say, I've diverted from the family norm.
    The "irked" part surprised me, 'cause it just didn't seem like you. I'm glad you said as much. :)


  23. There is a fine line between being a doormat and being polite. It is SO hard to confront someone you rely on (I can relate all too well).

    Think of it this way: A few moments of feeling bad while addressing the situation to the person directly is far better than all the time spent being walked on, then the time spent afterwards when you not only feel slighted by that person, but also turn that negativity on yourself.

    *Note: I wish I could say I DO this, but the fact is I don't. I feel bad for speaking up. But I know I SHOULD speak up. The only people I can do that with are pushy door-to-door vultures & telemarketers.

    Good luck,

  24. Deb, I understand your problem and I'm the same way. I hate having to speak up, and very, very rarely do so. Fortunately, I live with parents who have no problem speaking up when needed. I won't try to give you any advice on the subject, since I've yet to find any that works for me. But believe me, I do understand the frustration...

  25. Steph, good advise, really good. And April you sound like me, struggling with it. Thanks Dawn for weighing in again with good advise. Partly it might be a Canadian thing, who knows? I have so so so many friends with this issue. Thanks everyone for your kind and well thought out advise. So now I will weigh it all and .....OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!:-)

  26. Interesting post, Deb!
    As someone that provides service to customers for a living, I understand your dilemma. I would have to agree with whoever told you just to speak to the handyman/seamstress/dog walker. He or she doesn't realize what is going on, and never will know until it is brought to his/her attention. Be kind, but firm, and tell them what the problem is. If they truly appreciate your business, and want to provide the best service, then will honor (or honour, lol) your request! Simple as that! :)
    By the way, if "Brad" and "Seana" are the people of which I'm thinking of, it's SO COOL that they replied to you! :)

  27. My pet peeve is this: I'm standing in a lineup, finally I get to the counter for service, and then the clerk takes phone calls from other customers while I wait. ARGGGGHHH. Why not let the caller wait while I, who have taken the trouble to come into your store in person, stand here feeling disrespected, as if my time doesn't count?
    Do I say anything? Rarely. I put myself in the place of that clerk and know the phone ringing in the background, unanswered, would rattle the hell out of me. But dammit, I'd answer it and tell the caller to Hold, please.
    It is hard to speak up sometimes, especially because we really are (I know you are, and so am I) kind, understanding women who bend over backward to be accommodating and patient. We need to get on our Inner Bitch horses a bit more often, apparently. In a "kill 'em with kindness" way that gets the job done to our satisfaction. It makes my guts churn when I do it, mind you, but I always feel more powerful once I have, and better about myself. But I don't always, and then I feel like a chickenshit weakling, which isn't pretty either. Sometimes I just don't feel up to it, and take the easy way out, saying nothing.
    As a friend or an employee, though, I always want to be told the truth, nicely, because I take it as a sign of respect that if I'm doing something that bothers someone, they know they can tell me and I will be fair about it and am strong enough to deal with their requests sensibly. I want them to trust me that far and if they don't, then I AM insulted. If I were in any of your employees' shoes and you weren't happy, I'd want you to talk with me about it.

  28. Kate et al, it seems like a lot of us are peas in a pod in this: we deserve good service, are often not rewarded with it because we are kind, then get frustrated by that. Especially since we still want to stand by our original kindness and not get sucked into a vortex of meanness and ire. I like Seana's Ego Ninja!!! I haven't tried that one myself but am gonna tuck that approach in my back pocket!


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