Tuesday, February 21, 2006

 

Repeat offenders and their counterparts.

Businesses with the worst overall service (in my experience):

Kangaroo stores/The Pantry (they also operate under other names)
Courtesy Mart, Wilson NC
Wilco-Hess
KFC
Wal-Mart
Food Lion
Philly's
Wendy's, N. Wesleyan Blvd, Rocky Mount. (v-e-r-y s-l-o-w service)
Time-Warner cable
Sprint local and Sprint cellular
Burger King, Rocky Mt.
Bank of America

And now, businesses that consistently treat customers very well:

Hardee's
Quizno's
Mayflower Seafood
Handy Mart, Forest Hills Rd, Wilson
Progressive Insurance Co.
Captain D's
Target
Chik-Fil-A, Berkeley Mall, Goldsboro
Office Depot
Radio Shack, Parkwood Mall, Wilson
Starbucks

Hit or miss (inconsistent service)

Joe Muggs coffee (Books-A-Million)
McDonald's
Great American Cookies, Rocky Mount NC

 

First post this month

Okay, yes, I'm still eating at fast food restaurants. I've just been too busy to blog.

A few quick notes:
A recent visit to McDonald's on Hwy 301 in Wilson, was once again disappointing. Long wait times for everyone there. Employees outnumbered customers. One lady asked where her Filet-O-Fish was, and discovered it had been ready for a while, but no one bothered to give it to her. I had to request my drink cup, which was finally handed to me only half full of ice. I requested more ice, but had to wait several minutes to get it. I asked a dining room employee if the restaurant had a manager, and he replied, "yeah, but she don't manage".

A visit to the McDonald's on N. Wesleyan Blvd in Rocky Mount resulted in me paying for a double Quarter Pounder combo, and receiving a double Quarter Pounder box, that contained a regular single Quarter Pounder. This is the second time this particular restaurant has put the wrong burger in the box. On my next visit I complained to the assistant manager, who didn't apologize for the incident nor offer to reimburse me. I was ready to write off this restaurant for good, when she handed me my order and told me she had given me an extra breakfast burrito to make up for my burger trouble. This simple act, plus her smile, saved me as her customer.

I visited the Hardee's on N. Wesleyan Blvd in Rocky Mount (location near the old Tarrytown Mall). No problems at all. Friendly service and fresh food. I'll be back.

Captain D's in Goldsboro continues to be a stand-out amongst fast food restaurants. The manager is careful to hire friendly people, and the food is consistently good.

Sometime back I had a problem with not being waited on at the McDonald's on Ward Blvd in Wilson. I complained to McDonald's corporate, which sent the complaint to franchisee Dixon Foods. Dixon Foods has still not bothered to contact me about the incident. Until they do, I'll assume they just don't care.

That's it for now. I've been playing it safe this month and not venturing out to very many new restaurants or stores. I plan to expand my selections in March.

Friday, January 27, 2006

 

Why is there so much bad service down here?

It's the management, or lack of. I've met many nice people in service establishments, and several clueless types who could become good employees, but it's obvious that the management is weak in a great many businesses. The unemployment rate is high all over eastern North Carolina, so replacement workers could be found, but bad employees are allowed to keep their jobs while potentially better people keep filling out applications and waiting for the phone call that never comes.
Some thoughts:
1. Managers need to be visible and available, especially in fast food restaurants. Alot of fast food places have high school students on the front line and at the drive through, and without good supervision the service dissolves into a scene of horseplay, gossip, and ignored customers.
2. Keep the bad employees out of public view. If a cashier hates her job or just acts indifferent, give her the job of sweeping the parking lot, not interacting with customers.
3. Keep it racially and sexually balanced: a diverse work crew will help your bottom line in the long term. I know of a cookie store in a mall where the black female manager will only hire black female employees, and then she complains about how she can't get good help. She needs to open her eyes and try hiring a more diverse crew. It's a common problem: black managers often only hire black employees, which isn't necessarily a bad thing other than being racist. White managers can be guilty of excluding blacks, but in my 25 years of working in retail, I've seen that white managers tend to be more open to hiring all races (perhaps out of fear of being accused of discriminating) than black or Asian managers. I once had a Phillipino manager who would only hire Phillipino cashiers, depite my suggestions that she consider other people. So my bottom line suggestion is, in the name of better customer service, racism from all sides needs to stop and the best people need to be hired, regardless of race or sex.
4. Get a sense of urgency: yes, things move very slowly around here. But the rest of the world is moving fast, changing fast. Get on board, or get left out. Filter that down to a burger joint, and it means I might get my quarter pounder in less than 5 minutes.

 

Drivers

It's not really a customer service issue, but maybe the way people drive out here has something to do with the culture that creates bad customer service.
Some observations:
1. There are pickup trucks everywhere. It seems every guy out here thinks a truck somehow defines his masculinity. Alot of the trucks have decals of deer antlers in the back windows, which I guess indicates that the truck owner likes killing things, like deer.
2. Cars delivered east of Raleigh apparently don't come equipped with turn signals. No one uses them out here.
3. The left lane is for slow cruising, at least that's how it seems. Apparently no one got the memo that the left lane is actually for faster moving traffic. If you want to make good time, stay in the right lane, where there are less cars. And don't think these "left lane bandits" will move over if you get in close behind them. They might hit the brakes to try and get you to back off, but nothing short of the exit to Wal-Mart will make them leave their cherished left lane.
4. Accelerators are very stiff. Another "down east" quirk is that cars delivered east of Raleigh have very stiff accelerators, so stiff that the driver's can barely press them down hard enough to pull off from stoplights when the lights turn green. Expect a several second delay between the time the light turns green and the forward movement of the car ahead of you.
5. Keep your foot hovering over your brake pedal. You might need to make a panic stop, thanks to the suicidal tendencies of the many people who will see you coming toward them at 70 mph, but they decide to pull out in front of you at the last second. I've had this happen many many times, especially on Hwy 117 in Wayne County. These idiots will pull out in front of you, causing you to make a near panic stop, then they will creep along at 5 mph below the speed limit while staring at you through their rear view mirrors as if they are mad at you for almost hitting them, oblivious to the fact that their unsafe maneuver created the situation.

God bless these country folks for they do not know how stupid they are.

 

Omar's, Golden East Crossing, Rocky Mount

Personally, I just don't like this place. Omar is a nice guy, but the food is only average and the prices are high, compared to other restaurants offering similar fare. On my last visit, even the cashier was joking (and complaining) about the prices, and how business had dropped off after the recent price increases.

If money is no object to you, and you really must have a cheeseburger, try Omar's. Otherwise, there are better options at Golden East Crossing mall.

 

Philly's, Berkeley Mall, Goldsboro NC

Philly's has been called an "Andy's wannabe", due to it's similar food. But since Andy's is nothing to get excited about, being a wannabe is certainly not a good thing. There are differences between the two, and given a choice I'd choose Andy's. Philly's specializes in cheeseburgers and cheesesteaks. Their cheeseburgers used to be really good, but the owner switched to frozen patties from Sam's Club last summer and the quality declined. The cheesesteaks aren't very good either, the main flavor coming from the cheese and not the meat, which seems to have no seasoning or other flavor enhancements. The french fries would be okay if they would salt them when they come out of the grease, but they are delivered plain and bland, and then they never put salt in the bag on take out orders, so you can't even jazz up your spuds later. The crispy chicken filet sandwich is probably the best thing on their menu, other than the hot dogs.
Service is hit or miss. If the owner, Greg, is working, it's pretty safe. If he isn't there, you could be in for a less than satisfying experience.
I haven't looked recently, but for the longest time the seats in the booths were ripped up with lots of stuffing exposed, and his sanitation rating had dropped to the low 90's.
Bottom line: If you're in Berkeley Mall for some reason, and you're really hungry and just can't wait till later to eat, go to Chick-Fil-A or K&W. If they are closed, well, try Philly's.

 

Ruffino's, Golden East Crossing Mall

Ruffino's is a great restaurant. It looks like your typical mall food court eatery, but the service is great and the food is fresh and delicious. Sometimes they over bake the stromboli resulting in a too-tough crust, and I'd like more meat inside to complement the ample cheese, but otherwise, it's good food at a fair price. Their steak and cheese is one of the best I've ever had. If you're in Rocky Mount, it's worth a trip to the mall to eat at Ruffino's.

 

Wilco-Hess

A few month's back I had two incidents at the Wilco-Hess on Hwy 301 in Wilson NC. On two separate visits, the cashier wouldn't turn on the gas pump. I had pulled up, facing the store, and selected "pay inside". There were no signs indicating that I needed to pay first, and the cashiers never got on the intercom requesting that I come inside first. After waiting a few minutes, I left. I emailed their corporate office and after a couple of days, the district manager called me to apologize and he assured me he would work with his people to make sure they knew the proper policy.
The problem ended at that location, but sprang up again at another Wilco-Hess, this time the former Trade Mart on Ward Blvd, near Tarboro St. As before, on two separate visits, the cashier wouldn't turn on the gas pump. The second time, I managed to make eye contact with the cashier, but it didn't help. The pump never came on. I left and bought gas from a competing store. I called the Wilco-Hess corporate office in Winston-Salem to complain, but could only reach voicemail. I left a message and a call-back number, but no response yet. I also filed a complaint on their website, but no response to that either.
Not that their competitors are much better though: When I left Wilco I drove to the next station in the area, a BP ironically named "Courtesy Mart". I say ironic because the cashier was unfriendly bordering on rude. Don't expect a "thank you" if you visit Courtesy Mart. But they don't mind taking your money, and they did at least turn on the gas pump.

Update on Wilco-Hess: the district manager called me and apologized for the incident, and said he would deal with it immediately. But I haven't been back since. There are too many other choices out there.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

 

Parker's Barbecue

This place is a Wilson NC landmark. On Sunday's, people are lined up 20 or 30 feet out the door waiting for a table. The food is some of my favorite. I don't think you will find better fried chicken anywhere on this planet. Service is fast and efficient, although the all male waitstaff sometimes comes across as being in too much of a hurry. Don't expect your waiter to linger at your table any longer than it takes to scribble your order onto his paper pad.

In the back, where the take-out department can be found, expect lines, cooled in the summer by huge fans. Again, service is fast, but don't expect a greeting or a thank you. You're not likely to get anything but a quote for the total due, and a bag of food. Fortunately for Parker's, the food you get will make you smile, even if the cashiers don't.

 

KFC

I'm surprised Colonel Sanders isn't rolling over in his grave, considering what has become of his restaurants. I doubt he would approve of his image being used in a cartoon depicting him dancing or rapping. And I'm pretty sure he would be appalled by the food and the service. In fact, after he sold the chain, sometime before his death the Colonel criticized KFC, stating that the mashed potatoes were like paste and that even the cole slaw had been ruined.

In their defense, KFC has improved some over the past couple of years. They have more menu items to choose from, and they've finally begun offering some lower priced options. One item I like is popcorn chicken, but only if it's fresh, which it rarely is.

The KFC restaurants in eastern North Carolina are the worst I've seen. I don't know who owns them, although at least one franchise owner is based in Greenville. I sent in a comment card once describing a negative experience at their Goldsboro location, but they never responded.

In general, the cashiers at KFC (and most other fast food restaurants) are your typical "don't want to be here" types. I've tried joking with some of them, only to get a blank stare in response. It's kinda like trying to have a conversation with a toaster.

At the Goldsboro (Berkeley Blvd) KFC, on two separate visits I ordered chicken livers, only to reach my destination and find out I'd gotten gizzards. The first time they replaced my meal. The second time they offered nothing and I demanded a refund, which I got. I have not gone back.

At the Wilson (Tarboro St) KFC, the service is okay but not great. Once I actually got fresh popcorn chicken. The other visits, the chicken had been under the heat lamp too long. I do like their potato wedges, though.

At the Rocky Mount (Hwy 301) KFC, the cashier rattled off his greeting so fast it was like a recording on high speed. He took my order, then took the order for the people behind me, before getting my food boxed up. Strange. I guess he thought I had some free time. The popcorn chicken was not fresh, as usual.

At the Wilson (Hwy 301 N) KFC, the cashier was devoid of personality but the service was fast. The ice tea urn had no lid on it, so flies or anything else could easily land it. The booths had ripped upholstery. In general, this restaurant looked like the owners don't really care about it.

If you wonder why I keep ordering popcorn chicken, it's because I'm on the road alot, and often eat in the car while driving. "Finger food" just works better in that situation. Trying to tear chicken off a bone while moving at 70 mph is a bit messy.

There are worse restaurants than KFC, but I think YUM! brands needs to find someone else to run their units in eastern NC. Things could be much better.

 

McDonald's on Ward Blvd (near Big Lots)

I've returned to this location several times since my previous post when I couldn't get any service. The return visits have been acceptable, but not award winning. One visit, a cashier was putting on lip gloss while standing at her cash register. When she was finished, she waited on the people who had just come in the door, rather than me, even though I had been standing in the line next to hers for a couple of minutes. McDonald's needs to train their cashiers that they should wait on customers in the order that they arrive at the restaurant. Can you imagine being in the drive thru and they take the order for the car in front of you, and then take the order for the car behind you, but ignore you?

Other than the above, the food has been okay and the service moderately friendly, but it usually takes a few minutes to get the food. It really seems to depend on which crew is working in the restaurant on a particular day.

 

Update on McDonald's in Wilson

I know I said I'd never go back to the McDonald's on Hwy 301 North, but I broke down and did it anyway. The restaurant is still shabby looking, but on this visit, the service was fast and pleasant. I was surprised, actually. I was the only customer in line, but I've been the only customer in line at other McDonald's and been unable to get any service at all, so today I was pleased.

One thing though: the message board outside says you can get a "parait" for only $1.00. Do they mean parfait, or perhaps parrot? I should ask them.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

 

Getting caught up.

To get things started, here are quick summaries of some past customer service problems. Because these happened over the past several months, I won't have the details on dates and times.

1. Subway. Spence Ave, Goldsboro NC. Sub was very expensive, more so than I'd paid in bigger cities. I think I paid close to $8 for a footlong sub and a drink. There was a sign posted stating that they do not give out free water and that customers have to buy bottled water. By North Carolina law, if you sell food, you have to provide water upon request at no charge. I wrote Subway corporate to complain. To date, they have no responded. I have not visited a Subway since.

2. Captain D's, Spence Ave, Goldsboro NC. One of the best fast food restaurants on earth. Captain D's fish is a love/hate kind of thing. I like it alot, other people I know won't eat it. But the service at this particular restaurant is almost always fast and friendly. The one time I had a complaint, the corporate office responded the next day by both email and telephone. This place should be the model for fast food restaurants everywhere.

3. McDonald's, Berkeley Blvd, Goldsboro NC. Usually this one is okay, but one morning I went in to pick up some breakfast, and the manager/cashier was a Hispanic man who spoke very little English. Trying to order a McGriddle with the language barrier was both comical and infuriating. I didn't contact corporate, or the franchise owner, Dixon Foods of Wilson NC.

4. McDonald's, Wesleyan Blvd, Rocky Mount NC. I went inside to order a Quarter Pounder. No one welcomed me or offered to take my order. I was basically ignored while several employees ran around behind the counter doing various tasks, none of which involved taking orders, evidently. I walked out. I contacted McDonald's corporate via web form. It took a few days but I got a generic reply by email, and a day later the franchise owner, BHT Foods of Nashville NC, called me to apologize. The restaurant manager also called and apologized. I went back several times later, but the service was not much better. I was at least waited on, though. I sent BHT a letter letting them know how my follow up visits went, but other than calling me to let me know they got the letter, no other response has been received.

5. McDonald's, Ward Blvd/Hwy 301 N, Wilson NC. I don't know who operates this restaurant, but the franchise owners should be ashamed of themselves. I went on Christmas Eve. The restroom looked like a truck stop rest room from the 70's, it was so old. It looked like nothing had been done to it for decades other than a coat of paint. The entire restaurant looked dated. There was one cashier taking orders and a dozen or more employees running around in the kitchen. It took forever to get my order. There were at least 10 people standing around or leaning on walls and counters waiting for their orders. I won't be back.

6. McDonald's, Raleigh Road, Wilson NC. Finally, a good McDonald's. I was greeted, received my order quickly, and thanked with a smile. And the food was good, or at least as good as McDonald's gets. Franchise owner: Dixon Foods of Wilson NC.

7. McDonald's, Ward Blvd, Wilson NC. (in front of Big Lots) I went inside, there were 3 people waiting for orders. I stood about 6 feet from the counter as there were two cashiers on duty and I didn't know which one to go to. Neither cashier would make eye contact with me, and neither greeted me nor acknowledged my presence in any way. I waited about 4 minutes before walking out. I contacted McDonald's corporate via web form, but have not received a response yet. Franchise owner: Dixon Foods, Wilson NC.

8. Hardee's, Grantham St/Hwy 70 West, Goldsboro NC. Another great restaurant. I've always gotten outstanding service here. They even come around and refill drinks for you. One of the best.

9. Hardee's, Hwy 301, Sharpsburg NC. The food is fine and the employees are friendly, but don't go there if you are in a hurry. They hire alot of retired ladies, and they only do one thing at a time, and that's at a very slow speed. If you're late for a meeting, skip this place as you will not get out of there in less than 5 to 7 minutes. If you have lots of time, the little old ladies will make you feel like their grandkids, though, so it's not all bad.

 

Welcome!

I usually shun blogs, as I don't really care to hear about the mundane events that comprise most people's lives. But after moving to eastern North Carolina and experiencing some of the worst customer service I've ever encountered, I decided to go public with my woes.

This blog will focus on Wilson, Rocky Mount, and Goldsboro NC, three cities I travel between often. There will be posts from other cities and towns as I visit them.

After I go to various retail stores and restaurants, I will then write my comments, good or bad, on this blog. If I have a bad customer experience, which is common, I'll contact the corporate office for the company involved and see how, or even if, they respond. The corporate response will be posted here as well. Everything will be factual, with nothing exagerrated just for dramatic effect.

I hope this blog serves some useful purpose by getting business owners to take action and fix some serious customer service problems. But if they don't, you'll be able to see which companies care about their customers, and which ones you should probably avoid.

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