I’m Not Your Buddy: When Customer Service Goes Too Far

image credit: wesh.com

Fact #1:  Oregon is one of the only two states in the nation that prohibits regular gasoline consumers from pumping their own gas (the other is New Jersey).

Fact #2:  Gas attendants who manage the pumps in light of Fact #1 are the second most unique characters in the state (behind the homeless coffee snobs, of course).

Fact #3:  I grew up in Minnesota and I’ve traveled across most of the nation by car, so I’m no stranger to self-service gas pumps.

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The gauge read less than an eighth tank full. When I stopped by the gas station after work yesterday, I stood at the pump to enter my payment information. A middle-aged mustachioed gas attendant shouted from three pumps down, instructing me to step away from the pump. I shot an inquisitive glance and casually informed him that I was merely swiping my credit card so that he could pump gas for my car as soon as he was freed from the other customers’ attention.

When the attendant made it to my car, I was scolded for “screwing things up for me, buddy,” by entered the payment information. Mind you, I did not even remove my car’s gas cap or reach for the pump’s handle. I could be wrong, but I’m quite confident I did nothing even close to illegal. To be overly protective, the attendant built a rule-fence around the law-fence to ensure it wouldn’t be crossed. The guy was the Pharisee of gas attendants.

I’m Not Your “Buddy”

As he proceeded to enter my payment information and pump gas into my car, he insisted on referring to me as his “buddy” at the end of every sentence. I don’t appreciate the overuse of the term literally, but he literally called me “buddy” at the end of each phrase and question. It may be his energetic attitude, or his mindless default, or his nervous tick, or any number of reasons.

Could I cut the guy a break? Sure. Is it possible he had no time in such a busy shift servicing a ceaseless stream of vehicles? Absolutely. Am I reading too much into this situation? I have an analytical bent, so it’s likely. But this got me thinking about what good customer service should look like.

When Customer Service Goes Too Far

This interaction with the gas attendant told me five things:

  1. He did not trust me as his customer.
  2. He communicated superiority rather than assistance.
  3. His constant reference to me as his “buddy” overstepped polite customer service interaction. It was tacky. And creepy.
  4. Calling me a pet name like “buddy” after scolding me translates to diminutive, parent-child treatment.
  5. He was more concerned about me “screwing things up” in his system than he was about providing professional service.
This experience left a strange impression. It was customer service gone too far.

My point is not to use this platform to merely point fingers and complain, but to call to question how customer service should look. Isn’t business about providing the best product and service to customers, while providing value and making money?

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Can customer service go too far? For those of you who work in customer service or run a business, how do you see this?

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2 responses to “I’m Not Your Buddy: When Customer Service Goes Too Far

  1. I always get frustrated when I do something out of wanting to be helpful, and I am scolded for it. That’s when I think intentions should count for something.

    Although, I have met many very nice gas station attendants. If it’s a woman, I am left wondering if this economy forced her to leave her position as a stay at home mom and get a job to help support her family, and then my heart is heavy for her. How hard it must be for her stand out in the heat and the cold and serve people who may or may not even treat her like a human being.

    How hard it must be for them to preform a service, that, for me is VERY helpful. To not have to haul all of my kids into a store saves me close to 15 minutes of time. I appreciate the service they provide, but I think it must be a very hard one to do. There’s not much notoriety in it. Or much pride.

    How hard it must be for them.

    I know it’s not what your question was, but this is what goes through my mind every single time I get my gas pumped.

    How entirely unimportant they must feel.

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