Annoying customers

Everybody has them. How do you deal with those unruly few who make you want to walk out of your business and never come back?

Danielle Kazemzadeh, owner of Shahrazad House of Kabobs on Holly Street, said her pet peeve is customers who refuse to read the menu, or who read it and then ask something like, "Is the beef kabob made with chicken?"

Heidi Schiller
   Let’s face it — customers can be annoying.
   As much as business owners depend on their patronage, customers inevitably do things that drive owners crazy.
   Whether it’s mistaking your restaurant’s ethnicity, treating you like a servant or constantly changing plans on you, some customers just don’t get it.
   Luckily, most business owners insist 99.9 percent of their clientele are saints. The following business owners discuss the other 0.1 percent.

Gyro woes
   Danielle Kazemzadeh, 28, made one small mistake when she opened Shahrazad House of Kabobs and spent copious hours designing her menu.
   She didn’t realize that many customers refuse to read menus.
   “Nobody reads anymore,” she said.
   Despite her efforts to make sure her Persian restaurant’s menu was simple and accessible, with large print and thorough menu descriptions, some of her customers tend to completely ignore the menu and ask her about prices, combinations and ingredients.
   “Somebody pointed to the word “beef” once, and asked me if it was chicken,” Kazemzadeh said.
   Customers will occasionally ask what a combo meal entails despite the fact it is explained in 24-point type at the top of the menu.
   “They’re like, ‘What’s a combo?’” she said. “I point to where it says, right there — ‘It’s a salad, rice and a drink for only a buck-twenty more.’ I find that it’s a lost fundamental — reading.”
   The problem occurs every few customers.
   “I think people want everything told to them, they don’t want to read,” she said. “I honestly thought I made a very simple and easy-to-understand menu.”
   Some customers also had difficulty pronouncing and understanding the Persian words on the menu, even though each item featured a photo above the printed description. Many customers would only order gyros, because they were familiar with the term, instead of Kazemzadeh’s kabob specialties with names like “joojeh,” which means chicken.
   “I got rid of all the Persian words on the menu,” she said. “And now I sell a lot more chicken.”
   One of her biggest pet peeves is when customers mistake her Persian restaurant for a Greek one.
   “’What a great Greek restaurant,’ they’ll say. I’ll say, ‘We’re Persian,’ and they’ll say, ‘What’s the difference?’” she said.
   Then she replies, “Oh, art, history, culture, geography. Location, location, location.”
   She thinks people make this mistake because Shahrazad sells gyros, a dual Middle Eastern and Greek specialty, and because Greek food is accessible and Americanized, whereas many customers are unfamiliar with Persian food.
   But the comments can be offensive, especially because Kazemzadeh is half Persian — her father, a part owner of the business, was born in Tehran, Iran.
   Kazemzadeh has only completely lost her cool once, during a busy dinner rush. A customer had ordered falafel, and became rowdy when his meal didn’t come with Tahini sauce, even though the menu clearly states the dish is not served with it.
   The customer argued with her about the issue and demanded a menu.
   “My server and I just looked at each other and were like ‘Aah,’” Kazemzadeh said with a frustrated groan.
   However, most of her customers — 99 percent of them — are great, she said. And the best ones, by far, outweigh the worst.
   One of her favorites, a Persian man, routinely compliments her food, she said. She is also grateful when customers want to try all of the different menu items instead of just sticking to the traditional gyros.
   “Good customers make it all worth while,” Kazemzadeh said. “We have really, really good regulars.”

Dust spots and permanent stains
   Janet Riley, 53, has two graduate degrees — in film and in student personnel administration — and is a world traveler. She decided to start her own cleaning business, Apple Blossom Cleaning, which focuses on using environmentally friendly products, because it allowed her to be her own boss and the ability to work independently while getting some exercise.
   But some of her clients in the past 10 years have been unable to get past seeing her as a servant, she said.
   “Some people have a condescending attitude and treat me like a servant, or they’ll have a demeaning attitude. Sometimes there is a stigma attached to the business of cleaning,” she said. “But I thoroughly enjoy what I do.”
   She said that some clients stereotype house cleaners as people who are on welfare and need to clean just to scrape by, but Riley said her business has been very enjoyable and successful.
   She said that on occasion, she has chosen to discontinue business relations with these types of clients, but insists that most of her customers are very respectful.
   Customers who are overly picky also drive her bonkers, she said.
   “They think they are the experts when obviously, if they are hiring me, I’m the expert,” she said. “I know what I’m doing and know what to use on any particular problem.”
   For example, some clients become obsessed with a particular floor stain that has been there for years even though the rest of the house may be covered in dust, she said.
   Some are fixated on a particular part of the house, like window blinds, and want Riley to spend several hours or all day working on them. Other times, Riley will have worked hard all day, the house will look immaculate, and they will say, ‘Oh, there’s a speck of dust on that blind,’ she said.
   “We all have our things, it’s human nature,” she said. “Some people are picky about bathrooms or fine wooden furniture … If it seems sometimes there is one particular space in the house they are fussy about, it’s fine. But when it becomes an obsession, it’s not,” she said. “Things that I think need way more attention, they don’t — like the bathroom — and some are more interested in having their fine china dusted every week.”
   In her decade of experience cleaning homes, Riley said, this type of pickiness and obsession is rare, and on those occasions she draws the line, telling her clients she would be best employed cleaning the house the way she sees fit.
   Two other annoying habits are customers’ children or pets racing across a freshly mopped floor, or when her clients follow her around.
   “I don’t know why (they do). Maybe they are trying to learn Apple Blossom cleaning secrets,” she chuckled.
   Riley, like Kazemzadeh, said that she loves the vast majority of her customers.
   Some of them, she said, give her large bouquets of flowers from their gardens.
   “One of the reasons I’m in this business is because I’ve been able to meet so many neat people. Ninety-nine percent are great,” she said. “I love my job, I love my customers, and occasionally you will get these annoying ones. But I’ve had to pick my brain over the last 10 years to think of annoying things.”

Incompetent new homeowners
   Mike Coogan, owner of General Plumbing Co. Inc., has considered raising his fee for them, specifically for clients who are new homeowners with no construction experience.
   The amount of time, hassle and expense to work with customers who are unfamiliar with the construction business can be a challenge, he said. They tend to spend too much time squabbling over things like fixtures and other minor issues.
   “It’s total incompetence on the homeowner’s part,” he said.
   Coogan’s company has been around for more than 20 years and has provided plumbing services for the Hotel Bellwether and Anthony’s Restaurant, as well as custom and expensive “spec” homes.
   New homeowners almost always change the house’s design once it is partially complete, which is “quite aggravating” for Coogan. He said this happens frequently, and the clients usually don’t want to pay for the extra time and effort Coogan puts in adjusting the plumbing systems.
   “We usually have to just suck it up and eat it,” he said.
   Coogan said he suspects homeowners have a picture in their head of what the home design will look like, but then they see it partially built and want to change it.
   “Usually for the worse, in my opinion,” he said.
   One of the things his clients can do to outweigh their back-and-forth decision-making is pay up.
   “Paying bills on time is a pretty great feeling,” he said. “That can go a long way in soothing the hurt.”




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