- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

Keep the Customer Satisfied

Johan Santana knows from customer service. We ask the ace to pitch like an ace, his year away from acedom notwithstanding, and on Saturday he delivered like, well, an ace. Not Johan of the Twins nor Johan of the Trade (let alone Johan of His Finest Hour [1] and several sublime Met moments before and after) but Johan who got done what needed to get done: using his outfielders, putting down bunts, bending without breaking. That’s an ace. That’s Johan with the win he’s been deserving all year, even if we innately understand wins assigned to pitchers are a vestige of simpler box score times and all that really matters are wins earned by teams.

Mike Nickeas and Andres Torres know from customer service. Each delivered the key fourth-inning base hits that gave Johan, themselves and their teammates the W the Mets have been needing all week. Nickeas barely ever hits and Torres has barely yet played, but their timing was spot on and their contributions to a 4-3 victory [2] should be acknowledged.

Daniel Murphy knows from customer service. Four hits in four at-bats, raising his average to .315, suggests he has earned his territory as a regular, whatever position it is he has to spend time manning so he can come to the plate four times a game.

Bobby Parnell and Frank Francisco, for one day, know from customer service. Their mission was not only to protect a one-run advantage and preserve Santana’s diplomatic integrity (how many more times could Johan pretend not to be annoyed by leads blown and decisions evaporated?) but to re-establish the good name of the New York Mets bullpen. Not that it generally rates a name printable in family blogs, but this was going to be the season when a revamped relief corps was going to change perceptions and reputations. Of course that is said every year. It’s never true for more than a couple of weeks. If it can be true for a single Saturday, as it was when Bobby pitched the eighth and Frank took care of business (mostly) in the ninth, then they can respectively take a hold and a save out of petty cash.

Others earning high marks in customer service at Citi Field on Saturday: the guard who checked my bag efficiently and courteously; the guy who frisked me professionally and quickly; the man who scanned my ticket competently and with a hearty “enjoy your afternoon”; the fellow who handed me my Tom Seaver bobblehead (whose dirt-perfect knee was worth the rainy wait [3]); the young lady in the small hobbyists concession in left field Promenade who didn’t know what I was talking about when I asked if there were “team sets,” but sweetly suggested a couple of stores where I could look; the lady at the counter in the main Promenade store who was super friendly as she rang up my team set (the 2012 version, at last [4]) and asked if I needed a yearbook or scorecard; the gentlemen who held the door for me as I left the store; the gent at the Promenade Blue Smoke who provided me with my chicken sandwich sooner than he first thought it would be ready; and the girl who conducted the cash transaction for said sandwich. I’d also salute whoever made sure there were intermittent video visits from Tom Seaver on his bobbleday and whoever thought to salute the highly decorated World War II veteran celebrating his 69th wedding anniversary at the ballpark.

Sometimes what you read about from me after a visit to Citi Field is only the kvetching about how things don’t work. I want to be clear that Saturday a whole bunch of things, as outlined in the previous paragraph, worked fine, thanks to the people whose jobs it was to make them work. That the little details are supposed to function doesn’t mean it’s not appreciated when they do.

But when they don’t…

After my pal Joe and I made certain we were two of the 25,000 to collect our Seavers, I told him I wanted to detour to the advance ticket windows just upstairs from the Rotunda. This was approximately an hour and twenty minutes before first pitch. Both windows were shuttered and dark. One kid kind of hanging around said “the Internet is broken,” while a middle-aged guy, spitting mad, railed against a team that wants to sell tickets but didn’t have a ticket window open, adding that he’d “trade this place to have Shea Stadium back in a minute” (and no, I’m not quoting myself here). OK, I said, maybe we’re a little early, I’ll come back.

We went to our Promenade box seats and contemplated Terry’s lineup before I excused myself to visit a spell with my friends Sharon and Kevin by the World’s Fare Market and then Coop and Ed on the Shea Bridge (celebrating their own wedding anniversary at the ballpark, albeit their second). I said goodbye to those folks and figured, OK, it’s 3:25, surely those advance windows must be open by now. I wound my way back there to find they were still shuttered and dark, but one now had affixed to it a cryptic note to go to Window 33 in the Rotunda for advance tickets.

Back downstairs, I went in search of Window 33, which I found without too much trouble. It was the one with the insanely long line — and it was the one next to Window 34, which was the one with no line whatsoever. Window 34 was the will call window. As I stood and stood and stood in line at Window 33 for more than forty minutes, taking me past first pitch, I never saw more than a dollop of activity at Window 34. Thus, you had two windows, one devoted to a trickle of customers and another to a flood in need of some kind of levee.

As I stood and stood and stood, I learned (because someone asked one of those green-jacketed gentlemen whose sole assignment seemed to be keeping the hordes from storming the Delta Club) that the kid who said “the Internet is broken” more or less had it right. There was some kind of outage upstairs, which I suppose happens. On Saturday of all days, I truly empathized because I woke up to no electricity in my building, the product of a power failure that lasted all morning and hasn’t been fully resolved yet. Of course I don’t service 30,000 people nor charge admission to my home, but one’s computer access being even temporarily compromised is a hassle that can hobble anyone’s best-laid plans.

That’s the extent of my empathy for the Mets, however, because it became clear to me as I stood and stood and stood that the Mets — a commercial enterprise catering to a large number of customers — had enacted only the barest of contingency plans. What could have they done better? These things crossed my mind during the period of standing and standing and standing:

• Dispatch a responsible representative to the line once it became apparent there was a line to explain what happened. Quell the grumbling (believe me, there was grumbling). Say, in essence, we had a bit of bad luck, we’re really sorry, we so appreciate your patience and your patronage. Remember: these were people who had tickets to the game that was about to start lining up to secure tickets to another game, maybe more. These are your most loyal customers. Engage them. One never thinks to look to airlines for examples of customer service, but do as they have been known to do when a long check-in line develops and have someone ascertain what each customer needs; maybe some of the folks in line don’t know they can handle their transaction at a kiosk or somewhere else. Or let it be known this window will be open after the game (the green-jacketed guy didn’t know, but someone should have made the decision that on a Saturday afternoon with 30,000 in the house that the window should stay open longer than usual).

• Note who is most likely to use an advance ticket window. There were a lot of seniors standing in line. Without necessarily stereotyping, that makes sense. It’s a demographic that came of age before computers were commonplace. The first instinct of someone on the older end of the fan spectrum is probably, through experience, go to the window, buy a ticket. (Others in line were exchanging rainchecks, redeeming gift cards or wanting to avoid greedy service fees.) So if you see your older customers, particularly those standing and standing and standing with canes — and there were at least a couple of those — how about bringing over a few chairs? How about making it so they’re handed a number and can be called to the window when it’s their turn? How about pulling a few of the unnecessary greeters from the perimeter of Mets Plaza and having them stand for those who were physically burdened by standing for forty bleeping minutes?

• I recognize the need for a dedicated will call window, but having one long line at one window (manned by one hard-working individual) and having no line at another window mocked everybody who stood and stood and stood. Put both windows to advance ticket use. Set up a card table with another greeter to take the will call tickets and have that person hand them to somebody on the inside (it’s not that deep a transaction) and suddenly you’ve halved the problem.

• Set up a television monitor in that area of the Rotunda so anybody who has to wait can follow the game if it’s already started. I wanted to see every Johan Santana pitch, but once I put a half-hour into waiting, I wasn’t going to quit the line. Nor was anybody else, including the gentleman in front of me who expressed astonishment that he was getting close to the actual window — and, he noted, he’s a season-ticket holder “and my representative is going to hear about this.”

This was horrendous customer service. This was about as bad as blatant rudeness (and nobody on either side of the window was noticeably rude to anybody on the other side). This was obliviousness. This was the sense of abandonment that’s customer service at its worst, something that seems to be the default setting for the Mets, whatever stadium they call home.

I’m trying to figure out why the Mets operate like this; why there doesn’t seem to be a prevailing ethos that demands supervisors roll up their sleeves and pitch in to do what it takes in a situation like I encountered (and have encountered before); or why there doesn’t seem to be a contingency plan in place for when simple things go noticeably wrong (was this the first time the field level ticket windows’ Internet connection went down?); or why the organization is more concerned with appearing to be interested in customer service than actually serving its customers. Fan-friendliness isn’t accomplished by sending someone in a windbreaker to the curb to say “Welcome to Citi Field.” It’s achieved by making you welcome every step of your stay.

I rail at such shortcomings, yet I conducted my transaction, meaning I’d guaranteed I’d be back for another game. And I bought those cards. And I bought that sandwich. And I took my seat in the second inning and I cheered Johan and everybody else while wearing the Mets jacket I bought in 2000 and the Mets t-shirt I bought in 2008, and when it was over, I picked up the Mets sports bag I was handed for having attended in 2004, satisfied by the Mets win and by my possession of a bobblehead doll celebrating the player who’s been my favorite Met since 1969.

I’m a great Mets customer and a great Mets fan, but from this side of the window, I’m the most pathetic consumer imaginable.