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All Hail the Queen of Customer Service

Margaret Parker doesn't want to be mean

“I do believe that for the most part businesses want to know where they did something wrong so they can fix it. 
I would believe that 100 percent of businesses feel that way.”
“I do believe that for the most part businesses want to know where they did something wrong so they can fix it. I would believe that 100 percent of businesses feel that way.”

What you need to know about Margaret Parker (besides the fact that this is not her real name) is that when it comes to customer service, she doesn’t play. According to her own estimation, she writes “easily a dozen” letters every year to companies informing them of faulty products, unmet expectations, and customer service infractions. She’s been doing it for 20 years. And she gets results.

One example: two years ago, my husband and I spent a weekend at a Marriott in Del Mar. The first night, we were awakened late at night by what may or may not have been 25 teenage girls playing beer pong in the room next door. The frequent slamming of doors, plus repeated eruptions of shrill laughter, squealing, and triumphant cheers (at earsplitting decibels) made me want to kick some ass. Instead, I waited with my pillow over my head, assuming someone else rooming in our hallway would notify the front desk and shut it down. Turns out that someone was my husband, though I would have been shocked to learn he was the only person who called to complain about the noise. It took at least another hour to yield results, but the next day, the hotel did oblige us with a room-change, and we slept fine.

Still, we’re parents, and the whole point of the weekend was to get away from noise, responsibility, and puerile behavior. Honestly, if we’d been at a party hotel in, say, the Gaslamp, I probably would have considered the problem ours and chalked it up as a mistake in judgment. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I’ve never even had that kind of an experience in Las Vegas hotels, where you assume everyone is there to party.

So, after some deliberation, I did what I always do when I have such a situation. I Parker. She composed an email for us, which we sent to corporate, and the company apologized by way of a one-night refund plus a free night at any comparable Marriott location. (Kid-free weekend number two!)

In recent months, Parker’s letters have yielded a 78-count case of cakes and pies from Tastykake, toys from both Mattel and Melissa and Doug, somewhere around a dozen bags of Rainbow Loom rubber bands from CVS, two McDonald’s Happy Meals for both of her children, snacks and front-of-the-line passes and food for the manta rays at SeaWorld, a $5 Starbucks gift card, coupons for free Ziploc baggies, discount coupons for Perdue chicken, and a backpack from High Sierra. All free.

“I don’t always look for something [for free],” says Parker, a 45-year-old mother of two who lives in Mira Mesa. “But there are instances when I do, depending on the severity of the issue that has occurred. I do believe that for the most part businesses want to know where they did something wrong so they can fix it. I would believe that 100 percent of businesses feel that way.”

Parker admits that in the beginning, her letter-writing began as a way to help her boyfriend, Derek (now her husband) avoid embarrassment.

The two of them were on a date at a now-forgotten restaurant in Pennsylvania, and Parker was unhappy with the service. It was nearly two decades ago, and she doesn’t recall exactly what happened, but she does remember asking to speak with the manager. Derek was uncomfortable with the idea of a confrontation and asked why she felt the need to get the manager. He asked, “Why not just never come back?”

“I said because you’re paying all this money and we need to let the manager know this is not right and give them an opportunity to fix it,” she explains. “He said to me, ‘Instead of causing a scene, why don’t you just write a letter to the company?’ I thought, why would I do that? There’s a manager here. He’s, like, ‘Don’t you think it would be more effective if you wrote a letter?’”

So she did. She can’t recall exactly what came of it, but she assumes it was favorable because she’s still writing letters.

“Had I not received a response, I would have told [Derek], ‘Your idea was stupid. It didn’t work. I knew I should have said something to the manager and our meal probably would have been comped.’”

Of course I had to send a letter.

On a Wednesday afternoon in late May, Parker shows me a manila folder with its tab marked “Customer Service.” Opening it, she reveals a stack of letters written on company letterheads and envelopes marked with familiar logos: McDonald’s, Starbucks, Tastykake, Perdue, Target, Skechers, Reynolds Kitchens.

She spreads the letters on a computer desk in the living room of her Mira Mesa home and explains them to me.

Sponsored
Sponsored

First up: Starbucks, because Derek went into the Starbucks inside the Mira Mesa Barnes & Noble to use a Starbucks gift card but was told they would not accept it.

“He was looking around, like, ‘This is a Starbucks. This is a Starbucks gift card. You have on a Starbucks smock. You’re wearing a Starbucks pin that has your name on it. I’m clearly at Starbucks. I don’t understand.’ [The employee] was saying that they don’t take gift cards because they’re in a Barnes & Noble or something. That didn’t sit well with me,” Parker says. “So, of course I had to send a letter.”

She had sent her complaint by email and now pulls up the thread and reads part of the response to me:

“Thank you for contacting us. I’m sorry it seems that the store you visited is not yet set up to redeem digital rewards and benefits. I understand how disappointing this was for you. I know I would be upset if I could not redeem my card at my local store.”

In addition to the email, they sent a $5 gift card by mail.

And then there was the time Parker took her children to McDonald’s after seeing an advertisement that the Happy Meals toys would be Shopkins. (To anyone who is not the parent of young children: Shopkins are a BFD, seriously.) When they arrived at a Scripps Ranch McDonald’s, they were told they did not have Shopkins toys.

“They didn’t say, ‘We don’t have them because of X, Y, and Z.’ They just said, ‘We don’t have them.’ So I had to ask them, ‘Are they coming tomorrow?’ They said, ‘We just don’t have them. We don’t know when we’re going to get them.’”

Parker told her children to choose another toy from the display case, but the toys they chose were out of stock. So they chose another. The children were happy enough with the toys, but then their Happy Meals were served in bags instead of the boxes.

“For a family that doesn’t normally go to McDonald’s, this was another big deal,” Parker says. “We couldn’t get the Happy Meal toy we wanted. We couldn’t get our alternate Happy Meal toy, and now you don’t have a Happy Meal box? So, needless to say, I called.”

She called corporate headquarters and got a woman on the phone. The woman apologized for Parker’s experience and asked which specific Shopkins toys her children would like. Within a couple of weeks, Parker received the toys in the mail and, later, an apology letter and coupons for two free Happy Meals.

Land Rover customer service

So, what’s the big deal with customer service? Why does Margaret Parker care so much, and why doesn’t she just grumble about her bad experiences or leave a mean review on Yelp like everyone else?

Let’s start with why she cares so much. There are two reasons. One: “I’m spending money at your store or I chose you. I chose your establishment. I could have gone anywhere. I could have gone online. I got in my car. I fought for a parking spot to come shop in your store or to go to your restaurant or to take your class or whatever the business is,” she says. “When you give poor customer service, you are treating [people] poorly.”

Two: she learned the specifics of what makes great customer service great, and once that happened, she couldn’t shake it. In her mid-to-late 20s, Parker worked for Land Rover North America as a customer-service specialist, answering phones and listening to customer complaints. The way she tells it, their customer service training was “intense.”

“They taught us exactly how to talk to them. They told us to use their name, to let them speak, don’t interrupt, offer some sort of suggestion,” she says. “I think a lot of my customer-service expectations came from working for that company. They have a very high standard of customer service. So I figured, hey, if I go into McDonald’s, I want the same customer service as if I just bought a Range Rover and it’s been that way every place I go, every place I shop, and business that I do online.”

The importance of customer service was again reinforced when, around the time of her Land Rover days, Parker also worked as a secret shopper, assessing the service and adherence to policy at various companies.

“For example, at Hollywood Video, I would go into the store, and I had specific tasks that I had to do. Rent a video, buy an item at the counter that’s not a video, like a candy or popcorn, and then there were certain things I had to look for to see if the employee did. Did they greet me? Did they ask if I wanted to buy popcorn or candy or something along with my video? Did they thank me?” she explains. “And then I had to type up a report and include my receipt so that they could see I actually did it.”

Parker loved that work, but she didn’t stay with it; it didn’t pay much ($5 to $8 per transaction, she estimates). And most often, when she was faced with the choice between secret shopping and spending time with her new guy (Derek, whom she would later marry), she chose the guy. But her voice takes on a wistful tone when she thinks about how much she enjoyed the secret shopping.

“I would love to do that again,” she says. “I think it would be fun to go and assess customer service at businesses. But that’s just a pipe dream.”

Well, getting paid to do it might be the pipe dream. The file folder on her desk is evidence that she’ll keep doing it whether she gets paid or not.

But pipe dream or no, Parker thinks it’s a good idea to keep her identity a secret – just in case her dreams come true. You can’t be a secret shopper if they see you coming or know who you are.

What about Yelp?

“I think sometimes when people post a review on Yelp, it has the possibility of being mean and hurtful. Whether or not they have that intention, it comes across that way, and I don’t want to do that,” she says. “When I write a letter, I don’t want to be mean or bad-talk the company. I’m looking for a response. With Yelp, I don’t believe you should expect a response.”

Grammatical errors and other pet peeves

Of all the letters she sends and calls she makes, Parker says that 99 percent of the time she receives a response. And of those responses, 95 percent are satisfactory.

When I ask for an example of a not-so-satisfactory response, she pulls a letter from the folder and waves it.

“I had an issue with Skechers,” she says.

Last September, she purchased a pair of Skecher’s shoes at Target for one of her children. They were light-up shoes, and when she got them home, one of the shoes didn’t light up. She went to her neighborhood Target to exchange them, but they were unable to help her find the size she needed, even after checking other locations. So she wrote to Skechers by email. The response she received read:

“I am sorry to hear you had troubles with a pair of light shoes. Unfortunately I’m unable to locate inventory for shoes that are purchased through Target. I suggest working working [sic] with the original retailer regarding the returns of the defective item. I apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you.”

Parker reads me the letter, then gripes, “I already told you in my letter that I contacted Target, so I already worked with Target, which is what you told me to do and you did not offer me any solution. To me that seemed like you really don’t care if my children wear your shoes or not. So, I was a little disappointed by that response.”

After a beat, she adds, “And it was grammatically incorrect and had spelling errors in it.”

Grammatical errors are one of Parker’s pet peeves when it comes to the business of customer service. Some of her other customer-service pet peeves include “When I walk into a business and an associate looks at me but doesn’t acknowledge me. Argh!...

“When I am interrupted on the phone by a customer-service rep while I am talking....

“When I am called ‘ma’am’ by a customer-service rep even though my account is pulled up in front of you and you clearly know my name....

“When an item is priced incorrectly and you don’t honor it, saying, ‘Oh, that’s from last week’s sale,’ or, ‘Oh, someone put that in the wrong spot.’ Ummm, not my fault!”

The latter refers to an incident that took place at a Mira Mesa CVS in January when she found boxes of Rainbow Loom rubber bands on a shelf marked 75 percent off. “My kids are very much into [Rainbow Loom],” she says, “and when I got up to the register, she said, ‘Oh, no, these are not 75 percent off.’ So I was, like, ‘Well, there’s tons of them over there.’ It wasn’t like there were maybe one or two that got misplaced. She said, ‘Well, I’m sorry, they’re not supposed to be there.’ And she went over and moved the boxes to where they should have been. Good customer service is to honor this price. She did not do that, so I sent an email to CVS.”

She received a response from CVS customer relations within two days: first a phone call that she missed and then a follow-up email that included an apology and the name of a CVS associate who would be waiting for Parker with a full refund of her money.

It’s good for business

Does Parker think she’s hard to please?

“Not at all,” she says. “I don’t think I am. Now, if you ask my husband or other people….” She laughs. “I just think I still have Land Rover North America customer service in my mind whenever I step into a business,” she says.

The way she sees it, when she writes a letter to a company, it’s good for their business.

“If I bought something and it broke, or if I went into a store and I was charged incorrectly for something and you didn’t fix it, or if I was treated poorly or something like that, then I feel the company should be made aware of that,” she says. “I believe [businesses] want us to bring these shortcomings to their attention so that they can, one, be aware and fix it; and, two, offer an apology for what happened to you, with that apology being a reimbursement or a gift card of some sort so that you’ll become a repeat customer.”

To that end, she makes it a point to let companies know when she has received excellent customer service as well. Recent examples include letters written to her phone company and her credit-card company.

“With the credit-card company guy, he didn’t give me anything or do anything for me. It was just a pleasant experience. I had some questions, I didn’t understand some things. He was very patient. He was kind. He wasn’t condescending. I didn’t feel rushed. He was just very polite, very nice, very helpful, sincere,” she says.

She sent a letter and received a thank you in response but wishes she could know more about the effect it had on the employee himself.

“When I send these types of letters, I don’t really know what happens. Do they go to the employee and say, ‘Hey, George, excellent job. We got this letter from a customer and right on’? Unfortunately, I don’t know if that ever happens.”

She cites several examples of stellar customer service at SeaWorld, where “when there is something wrong, they make it right,” and American Airlines, where they made an exception to the “non-refundable means non-refundable” rule by exchanging her unused non-refundable ticket for transportation vouchers she could use toward future travel on their airline.

A dream job

Derek, whose fear of embarrassment started the whole letter-writing thing, has since become a letter-writer himself. Recently, he triumphed with coupons for free Slurpees and a letter from 7-Eleven apologizing for the inconvenience he suffered when the coupon on their app didn’t scan.

Not only has he taken up the cause of customer rights in his own way, but he also encourages his wife to take it even further.

“He has told me on numerous occasions that I should turn my passion for customer service into a business,” Parker says. “[He] wants me to start a customer-service podcast, which I would love to do, but who in the world would listen to me talk about customer service?”

She pauses and gets that wistful look in her eye again.

“But, oh, what a dream job that would be,” she says.

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“I do believe that for the most part businesses want to know where they did something wrong so they can fix it. 
I would believe that 100 percent of businesses feel that way.”
“I do believe that for the most part businesses want to know where they did something wrong so they can fix it. I would believe that 100 percent of businesses feel that way.”

What you need to know about Margaret Parker (besides the fact that this is not her real name) is that when it comes to customer service, she doesn’t play. According to her own estimation, she writes “easily a dozen” letters every year to companies informing them of faulty products, unmet expectations, and customer service infractions. She’s been doing it for 20 years. And she gets results.

One example: two years ago, my husband and I spent a weekend at a Marriott in Del Mar. The first night, we were awakened late at night by what may or may not have been 25 teenage girls playing beer pong in the room next door. The frequent slamming of doors, plus repeated eruptions of shrill laughter, squealing, and triumphant cheers (at earsplitting decibels) made me want to kick some ass. Instead, I waited with my pillow over my head, assuming someone else rooming in our hallway would notify the front desk and shut it down. Turns out that someone was my husband, though I would have been shocked to learn he was the only person who called to complain about the noise. It took at least another hour to yield results, but the next day, the hotel did oblige us with a room-change, and we slept fine.

Still, we’re parents, and the whole point of the weekend was to get away from noise, responsibility, and puerile behavior. Honestly, if we’d been at a party hotel in, say, the Gaslamp, I probably would have considered the problem ours and chalked it up as a mistake in judgment. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I’ve never even had that kind of an experience in Las Vegas hotels, where you assume everyone is there to party.

So, after some deliberation, I did what I always do when I have such a situation. I Parker. She composed an email for us, which we sent to corporate, and the company apologized by way of a one-night refund plus a free night at any comparable Marriott location. (Kid-free weekend number two!)

In recent months, Parker’s letters have yielded a 78-count case of cakes and pies from Tastykake, toys from both Mattel and Melissa and Doug, somewhere around a dozen bags of Rainbow Loom rubber bands from CVS, two McDonald’s Happy Meals for both of her children, snacks and front-of-the-line passes and food for the manta rays at SeaWorld, a $5 Starbucks gift card, coupons for free Ziploc baggies, discount coupons for Perdue chicken, and a backpack from High Sierra. All free.

“I don’t always look for something [for free],” says Parker, a 45-year-old mother of two who lives in Mira Mesa. “But there are instances when I do, depending on the severity of the issue that has occurred. I do believe that for the most part businesses want to know where they did something wrong so they can fix it. I would believe that 100 percent of businesses feel that way.”

Parker admits that in the beginning, her letter-writing began as a way to help her boyfriend, Derek (now her husband) avoid embarrassment.

The two of them were on a date at a now-forgotten restaurant in Pennsylvania, and Parker was unhappy with the service. It was nearly two decades ago, and she doesn’t recall exactly what happened, but she does remember asking to speak with the manager. Derek was uncomfortable with the idea of a confrontation and asked why she felt the need to get the manager. He asked, “Why not just never come back?”

“I said because you’re paying all this money and we need to let the manager know this is not right and give them an opportunity to fix it,” she explains. “He said to me, ‘Instead of causing a scene, why don’t you just write a letter to the company?’ I thought, why would I do that? There’s a manager here. He’s, like, ‘Don’t you think it would be more effective if you wrote a letter?’”

So she did. She can’t recall exactly what came of it, but she assumes it was favorable because she’s still writing letters.

“Had I not received a response, I would have told [Derek], ‘Your idea was stupid. It didn’t work. I knew I should have said something to the manager and our meal probably would have been comped.’”

Of course I had to send a letter.

On a Wednesday afternoon in late May, Parker shows me a manila folder with its tab marked “Customer Service.” Opening it, she reveals a stack of letters written on company letterheads and envelopes marked with familiar logos: McDonald’s, Starbucks, Tastykake, Perdue, Target, Skechers, Reynolds Kitchens.

She spreads the letters on a computer desk in the living room of her Mira Mesa home and explains them to me.

Sponsored
Sponsored

First up: Starbucks, because Derek went into the Starbucks inside the Mira Mesa Barnes & Noble to use a Starbucks gift card but was told they would not accept it.

“He was looking around, like, ‘This is a Starbucks. This is a Starbucks gift card. You have on a Starbucks smock. You’re wearing a Starbucks pin that has your name on it. I’m clearly at Starbucks. I don’t understand.’ [The employee] was saying that they don’t take gift cards because they’re in a Barnes & Noble or something. That didn’t sit well with me,” Parker says. “So, of course I had to send a letter.”

She had sent her complaint by email and now pulls up the thread and reads part of the response to me:

“Thank you for contacting us. I’m sorry it seems that the store you visited is not yet set up to redeem digital rewards and benefits. I understand how disappointing this was for you. I know I would be upset if I could not redeem my card at my local store.”

In addition to the email, they sent a $5 gift card by mail.

And then there was the time Parker took her children to McDonald’s after seeing an advertisement that the Happy Meals toys would be Shopkins. (To anyone who is not the parent of young children: Shopkins are a BFD, seriously.) When they arrived at a Scripps Ranch McDonald’s, they were told they did not have Shopkins toys.

“They didn’t say, ‘We don’t have them because of X, Y, and Z.’ They just said, ‘We don’t have them.’ So I had to ask them, ‘Are they coming tomorrow?’ They said, ‘We just don’t have them. We don’t know when we’re going to get them.’”

Parker told her children to choose another toy from the display case, but the toys they chose were out of stock. So they chose another. The children were happy enough with the toys, but then their Happy Meals were served in bags instead of the boxes.

“For a family that doesn’t normally go to McDonald’s, this was another big deal,” Parker says. “We couldn’t get the Happy Meal toy we wanted. We couldn’t get our alternate Happy Meal toy, and now you don’t have a Happy Meal box? So, needless to say, I called.”

She called corporate headquarters and got a woman on the phone. The woman apologized for Parker’s experience and asked which specific Shopkins toys her children would like. Within a couple of weeks, Parker received the toys in the mail and, later, an apology letter and coupons for two free Happy Meals.

Land Rover customer service

So, what’s the big deal with customer service? Why does Margaret Parker care so much, and why doesn’t she just grumble about her bad experiences or leave a mean review on Yelp like everyone else?

Let’s start with why she cares so much. There are two reasons. One: “I’m spending money at your store or I chose you. I chose your establishment. I could have gone anywhere. I could have gone online. I got in my car. I fought for a parking spot to come shop in your store or to go to your restaurant or to take your class or whatever the business is,” she says. “When you give poor customer service, you are treating [people] poorly.”

Two: she learned the specifics of what makes great customer service great, and once that happened, she couldn’t shake it. In her mid-to-late 20s, Parker worked for Land Rover North America as a customer-service specialist, answering phones and listening to customer complaints. The way she tells it, their customer service training was “intense.”

“They taught us exactly how to talk to them. They told us to use their name, to let them speak, don’t interrupt, offer some sort of suggestion,” she says. “I think a lot of my customer-service expectations came from working for that company. They have a very high standard of customer service. So I figured, hey, if I go into McDonald’s, I want the same customer service as if I just bought a Range Rover and it’s been that way every place I go, every place I shop, and business that I do online.”

The importance of customer service was again reinforced when, around the time of her Land Rover days, Parker also worked as a secret shopper, assessing the service and adherence to policy at various companies.

“For example, at Hollywood Video, I would go into the store, and I had specific tasks that I had to do. Rent a video, buy an item at the counter that’s not a video, like a candy or popcorn, and then there were certain things I had to look for to see if the employee did. Did they greet me? Did they ask if I wanted to buy popcorn or candy or something along with my video? Did they thank me?” she explains. “And then I had to type up a report and include my receipt so that they could see I actually did it.”

Parker loved that work, but she didn’t stay with it; it didn’t pay much ($5 to $8 per transaction, she estimates). And most often, when she was faced with the choice between secret shopping and spending time with her new guy (Derek, whom she would later marry), she chose the guy. But her voice takes on a wistful tone when she thinks about how much she enjoyed the secret shopping.

“I would love to do that again,” she says. “I think it would be fun to go and assess customer service at businesses. But that’s just a pipe dream.”

Well, getting paid to do it might be the pipe dream. The file folder on her desk is evidence that she’ll keep doing it whether she gets paid or not.

But pipe dream or no, Parker thinks it’s a good idea to keep her identity a secret – just in case her dreams come true. You can’t be a secret shopper if they see you coming or know who you are.

What about Yelp?

“I think sometimes when people post a review on Yelp, it has the possibility of being mean and hurtful. Whether or not they have that intention, it comes across that way, and I don’t want to do that,” she says. “When I write a letter, I don’t want to be mean or bad-talk the company. I’m looking for a response. With Yelp, I don’t believe you should expect a response.”

Grammatical errors and other pet peeves

Of all the letters she sends and calls she makes, Parker says that 99 percent of the time she receives a response. And of those responses, 95 percent are satisfactory.

When I ask for an example of a not-so-satisfactory response, she pulls a letter from the folder and waves it.

“I had an issue with Skechers,” she says.

Last September, she purchased a pair of Skecher’s shoes at Target for one of her children. They were light-up shoes, and when she got them home, one of the shoes didn’t light up. She went to her neighborhood Target to exchange them, but they were unable to help her find the size she needed, even after checking other locations. So she wrote to Skechers by email. The response she received read:

“I am sorry to hear you had troubles with a pair of light shoes. Unfortunately I’m unable to locate inventory for shoes that are purchased through Target. I suggest working working [sic] with the original retailer regarding the returns of the defective item. I apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you.”

Parker reads me the letter, then gripes, “I already told you in my letter that I contacted Target, so I already worked with Target, which is what you told me to do and you did not offer me any solution. To me that seemed like you really don’t care if my children wear your shoes or not. So, I was a little disappointed by that response.”

After a beat, she adds, “And it was grammatically incorrect and had spelling errors in it.”

Grammatical errors are one of Parker’s pet peeves when it comes to the business of customer service. Some of her other customer-service pet peeves include “When I walk into a business and an associate looks at me but doesn’t acknowledge me. Argh!...

“When I am interrupted on the phone by a customer-service rep while I am talking....

“When I am called ‘ma’am’ by a customer-service rep even though my account is pulled up in front of you and you clearly know my name....

“When an item is priced incorrectly and you don’t honor it, saying, ‘Oh, that’s from last week’s sale,’ or, ‘Oh, someone put that in the wrong spot.’ Ummm, not my fault!”

The latter refers to an incident that took place at a Mira Mesa CVS in January when she found boxes of Rainbow Loom rubber bands on a shelf marked 75 percent off. “My kids are very much into [Rainbow Loom],” she says, “and when I got up to the register, she said, ‘Oh, no, these are not 75 percent off.’ So I was, like, ‘Well, there’s tons of them over there.’ It wasn’t like there were maybe one or two that got misplaced. She said, ‘Well, I’m sorry, they’re not supposed to be there.’ And she went over and moved the boxes to where they should have been. Good customer service is to honor this price. She did not do that, so I sent an email to CVS.”

She received a response from CVS customer relations within two days: first a phone call that she missed and then a follow-up email that included an apology and the name of a CVS associate who would be waiting for Parker with a full refund of her money.

It’s good for business

Does Parker think she’s hard to please?

“Not at all,” she says. “I don’t think I am. Now, if you ask my husband or other people….” She laughs. “I just think I still have Land Rover North America customer service in my mind whenever I step into a business,” she says.

The way she sees it, when she writes a letter to a company, it’s good for their business.

“If I bought something and it broke, or if I went into a store and I was charged incorrectly for something and you didn’t fix it, or if I was treated poorly or something like that, then I feel the company should be made aware of that,” she says. “I believe [businesses] want us to bring these shortcomings to their attention so that they can, one, be aware and fix it; and, two, offer an apology for what happened to you, with that apology being a reimbursement or a gift card of some sort so that you’ll become a repeat customer.”

To that end, she makes it a point to let companies know when she has received excellent customer service as well. Recent examples include letters written to her phone company and her credit-card company.

“With the credit-card company guy, he didn’t give me anything or do anything for me. It was just a pleasant experience. I had some questions, I didn’t understand some things. He was very patient. He was kind. He wasn’t condescending. I didn’t feel rushed. He was just very polite, very nice, very helpful, sincere,” she says.

She sent a letter and received a thank you in response but wishes she could know more about the effect it had on the employee himself.

“When I send these types of letters, I don’t really know what happens. Do they go to the employee and say, ‘Hey, George, excellent job. We got this letter from a customer and right on’? Unfortunately, I don’t know if that ever happens.”

She cites several examples of stellar customer service at SeaWorld, where “when there is something wrong, they make it right,” and American Airlines, where they made an exception to the “non-refundable means non-refundable” rule by exchanging her unused non-refundable ticket for transportation vouchers she could use toward future travel on their airline.

A dream job

Derek, whose fear of embarrassment started the whole letter-writing thing, has since become a letter-writer himself. Recently, he triumphed with coupons for free Slurpees and a letter from 7-Eleven apologizing for the inconvenience he suffered when the coupon on their app didn’t scan.

Not only has he taken up the cause of customer rights in his own way, but he also encourages his wife to take it even further.

“He has told me on numerous occasions that I should turn my passion for customer service into a business,” Parker says. “[He] wants me to start a customer-service podcast, which I would love to do, but who in the world would listen to me talk about customer service?”

She pauses and gets that wistful look in her eye again.

“But, oh, what a dream job that would be,” she says.

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I've always experienced excellent customer service from Amazon, where I've shopped for 10 years. I've occasionally returned items, and they pay for return shipping and usually issue the credit before they even receive the returned product. I even got a refund on a defective inflatable mattress, even though the period to return it had expired. And yes, I thanked them. As you said, a happy customer remains a loyal customer.

July 7, 2016

Oh, sweet lord. This is going to be directed at this woman from here on out:

As someone who has worked in customer service himself for over seven years now, please know that when you send in your petty letters, you are harming employees working in these positions, not "improving businesses" like some angelic consumer. Sure, corporate loves to hear tips on how to improve, but if you were truly being as altruistic as you think you are, you would send these tips anonymously instead of expecting freebies for every horrific injustice you may have experienced (ha!). The level of entitlement betrayed throughout every action in your life in this vein - how you so kindly deign to visit the poor businesses lucky enough to be tested under your highness' exacting standards (based on your work at a company that sells cars starting at $36,000 and going up to six figures - no doubt a position where you earned a salary, unlike virtually all customer service agents today, like those McDonald's workers). How dare your children be denied food in BOXES. How will life go on? Meanwhile, there are children in countless countries dying of starvation on a daily basis who would give anything to have access to a dang Happy Meal.

My favorite part is your gripe over how "secret shopping" only paid $5-8 per transaction. You realize that customer service workers make $10 an hour presently to listen to you, and others like you, have a conniption over the lack of Shopkins toys (which their managers likely received zero delivery information on from corporate)? Their "pipe dreams" are probably to not have to listen to you whine for another hour of their lives. Give me a break. If you spent as much time volunteering in your community, or donating your precious money to the array of nonprofits actually helping the world beyond some abstract notion of "customer service" you've built up in your head over the past years of your life, some actual good might have come of it. Please, please, invest your bountiful, self-righteous energy elsewhere after taking a good hard look in the mirror at your own priorities.

July 9, 2016

While you point out the fact that many such reports result in punishment, sometimes severe and all out of proportion to the infraction, too many companies and employees get sloppy and lazy. It sounds as if you might want to find a different line of work.

As an occasional person who registers a complaint, I have to be careful not to come across (at my age) as just another old fart. Some years ago I had occasion to write to the president of Home Depot in regard to the many breakdowns that occurred daily in their stores. I never had any reason to think he actually saw complaint letters, even those addressed to him by name. But I would hear back from the store manager by telephone within a couple weeks. Was it doing any good to complain? Not that I could tell. BTW, I never asked for a credit or a freebie, and was never offered one.

July 10, 2016
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