I have a long practice of writing letters to various companies and businesses. Generally it revolves around a complaint, but I have tried to maintain a balance by also sending letters of praise (hence the label on the file folder in which I keep them: “Letters of Praise & Complaint”). I’m intrigued by the possibilities that the exchange can open. It’s my own version of a petri dish, a lab experiment where I observe what happens.
Most commercial transactions run smoothly, so that I have no further cause to think about it. But when something goes wrong, there is a rare opportunity for the establishment to address the problem suitably and with good cheer, thereby forging a positive bond with a customer that can last a lifetime.
The following letter was sent to The Spaghetti Shop at the Wilton Mall more than two decades ago, and I never received a reply. No longer holding my breath, I may have erred in not sending the letter to their corporate headquarters, but this was a local matter so I thought a direct route would be the most effective. This establishment at the mall is no longer there. (The mall itself is now operating at less than full occupancy, with birds in the rafters, and I’ve not set foot in it for many years.)
The Spaghetti Shop
Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
6 Sept 96
Dear Sir or Madam,
I had occasion to stop by your establishment, and was extremely disappointed by what happened when I tried to use a coupon I had from the Entertainment book. After placing our order and presenting the coupon I was informed that only one of the items could receive the 50% discount. Since it didn’t say this on the coupon, only saying there was a five dollar limit (meaning a ten dollar order), I was surprised. However, I could have accepted that. What I could not accept was the little note written on a file card which was then shown to me. (It had been moved and was laying on top of the cash register.) My concern is with the fact that the problem is blamed on a “computer error.” The issue with the coupon is not a computer error and I highly resent the utilization of such an excuse. It was a human error – whether it was a human working for the coupon book or a human working for the Spaghetti Shop – a human made this mistake, not a computer. Somebody typed in the information and somebody proofed or didn’t proof it. Calling it a “computer error” plays directly into a decline of manners and responsibility in our society. The excuse you utilized is a way of shrugging your shoulders as if to say, “Computers – who knows what they’ll do next? Golly, we’re all victims of computers, aren’t we?” Frankly, I find it very unbecoming that you’d choose this route rather than taking responsibility for the situation yourself. If it was your mistake, make good on it; if it was the Entertainment book’s mistake, make them accountable.
It’s not the money involved, it’s the lack of ethical responsibility that troubles me. I didn’t purchase food from your establishment then, nor do I plan to in the future. However, should you care to comment on this, I await your response, and I’d also welcome the opportunity to reconsider my perceptions of your company.
This week I searched online and found The Spaghetti Shop in New Albany, Indiana and Springfield, Illinois. Among the comments was one highly critical post by someone who said they’d frequented a Louisville location until it closed, so it’s possible this franchise is slowly fading away.
In revisiting this old letter I see the continuity in my concerns. I value the social contract, the expectations for manners and for personal responsibility. I routinely wince at failures in this realm. When, as is more often, people treat each other fairly and with kindness, I feel good about life in general.
I am still open to receiving a belated explanation (preferably not utilizing letters cut out of magazines).
Artist David Greenberger lives in Greenwich, NY. His latest CD of monologues & music is My Thoughts Approximately. www.davidgreenberger.com @davidbg