So, here’s a thing that just happened; I was told by the GM of the movie theater I frequent that “if we aren’t meeting your standards, perhaps it’s time for you to find another theater.” This was in response to my (semi regular) complaint that their employees do nothing to address the issue of patrons talking during the playing of any given movie, and when I asked for a refund last week, their shift manager – according to the assistant manager – “refused” to come out and speak with me. That was the AM’s actual word, not mine. When I said to the GM “I don’t think it’s an unreasonable standard to ask that you enforce a rule of no talking. There’s even a thing you play on screen that says ‘put your phones away and no talking’ before every movie.” He repeated to me, “We are obviously not meeting your standards, and I cannot continue to try.”Okay, let’s look at this more closely. In these current times, customer service has become a thing. Why is that? Unarguably it is because of social media – the very tool that I am now using to tell my story. We the customers have the power to record audio and video, to go online and type at the top of our lungs, to deluge the pages of the offending company with angry complaints and demands of resolution. We are a litigious society that expects all offenses to carry a hefty price tag when we are wronged.
I’m actually not such a fan of this power, because as with anything else it has become an abuse. The complaints aren’t always true or accurate and with videos we only see snippets of reality – I know how that works because I used to do sport video. Not everything is as appears on camera. In that, I won’t make a snap judgment against a company or anyone at all based on this. I’ve also put in time working in retail, hospitality, research and I’ve been a business owner as well as I come from a small business family. I understand what it’s like to be behind the counter, beholden to a company creed, to be the employee who is right but the customer is “always” more so, and to be shut down as a customer trying to get to the bottom of a problem. At my first job in a prominent, independent fast food place, some guy came up to me completely irate that his footlong hot dog was not 12” long. It was, according to him, about 4 inches short. In the face of his anger, being all of 17 and new to this dealing with such people for $3.35/hr, I could only stand and stare before telling the owner’s son that he needed to deal with it. Since then, when I complain to any public establishment, I ask myself is this a footlong complaint? and that guides me in how to handle it.
My typical MO is to seek out a manager, take them aside so as not to cause a scene in front of other customers, and explain my issue. I will usually throw in “hey, I’ve been in your/their shoes, I get it” and explain that I’m coming to them rather than filling a generic corporate complaint at their website because corporations go by numbers, whereas most managers are willing to address things on a local level and the response is generally favorable, plus they can see I’m not just out to get something for free. I will never eat an entire meal and then ask for my money back. And when I may have behaved badly such as telling someone in a movie theater to shut the f*&$ up, I will ‘fess up to that too.This is my background to why I feel customer service is of utmost importance. The customer is, in fact, not always right but hands get tied and mistakes happen and I look at it as if anyone wants my money, we both need to have reasonable expectations of standards and go from there.
Now here’s why I go to the movies as often as I do and why I frequent the same theater – at minimum, once a week, sometimes twice if hubby and I are having a date night. I have a serious condition that can best be described as an allergy to the sun. It’s rare to have it be as severe as what I experience. When the Cinemark chain took over our local theater, I found they offered series of classic movies, a different one each week. At the time, I was also going through some deep trauma and had become riddled with anxiety issues. I found a place to hide away from the world for two hours in the middle of my week at a discounted price. I hadn’t attended movies very much at all in the previous decade as a sort of protest to rising costs to pay for computer generated movies I never wanted to see. As I was dealing with the stresses of my life, and my health was worsening, this became a highlight for me. As I fell into a deeper depression, it actually became somewhat of a tether, a string to keep me attached to my life because you see, I had purchased the tickets in advance as a series. I had to show up to the following week.This is what we call a lifeline, when dealing with depression. For some, it’s having a pet to take care of, for some it’s a personal obligation that keeps us from jumping off of a bridge. For me, not only did I create a routine of being places I might actually be missed, I also created obligations to get me through another day or a week or a year when I could look that far ahead. These movies weren’t just my tether, they gave me one more thing to talk about on my social media and among friends. They kept me from isolation.
I'm explaining this not to get anyone's pity, but as a reminder that things aren't always as they seem on the surface.
To be told, after years of showing up and buying my tickets and investing in concessions even when I didn’t necessarily want or couldn’t afford the overpriced popcorn but giving it away to friends later because I knew this was where the movie house made their profit… to be told that a manager refused to speak with me and that my expectations of service were unreasonable – well, this put me in a bit of a tailspin of discouragement.Is this a footlong complaint? It is now.
Routines are important to me, and frankly I like this theater over the two other local options because unlike one of those, it is kept clean and unlike the other, the staff is more friendly and caring. I will no longer say that about the management, but the ticket takers and the popcorn shovelers and the cashiers are always ready with a smile despite what they are subjected to on any given day.I’ve given my money and my loyalty and my positive remarks on my media feeds, and this is what I was given in return. There is, of course, more to the story (see below) but that statement is, for me, what it boils down to. And it’s disappointing at best. Here’s hoping that Cinemark will somehow meet me in the middle and really listen to a customer.
UPDATE: I wanted to follow up with this because I believe we should recognize when companies do good just as much, if not more, when they don't. I did contact the corporate offices of Cinemark at the time of this posting. I worked my way through the chain until I was placed in contact with Michael Wegner, Region Leader. Mike and I had some candid conversations about customer service and the policies of the popular chain. He then put me in charge of the new GM at my location of choice and speaking with him went much better than with the previous manager. In the end, Cinemark stepped up to the plate and made a generous donation of movie passes to be featured in my annual Toys For Tots event (learn more here: The Bay Area Collective). I am encouraged by their efforts and thankful for their giving spirit. We all have the power to make things just a little bit better when we work together.