Advice: Freeloading Downloaders

Dear Bartender and Priestess,

I am a small business owner. I provide Virtual Assistant services to other small business owners. I love my business and find it incredibly rewarding. I like my clients and the variety of work they offer me. As a support (and thank you) to my clients and as a marketing technique, I’ve written a number of small ebooks. Each one addresses an issue that people in business may encounter and offers a number of ways to deal with that issue.

I get great feedback from my clients about these booklets. It helps them think about what questions they want to ask me if I’m doing something for them, or simply offers them a way to think differently about something they’ve always done.

I’ve also gained several clients this way — often because they were talking to a client and their client said, hey, you know what, XYZ Virtual Assistants has a booklet on that very topic. You should pick it up. They do. They like it, and they will often work with me on a small project to test the working waters.

What’s the problem? Well not those people. What bugs me beyond belief is the people who, whether they’re surfing or have been directed to my site, hate the booklets. Not content to say, “wowza, XYZVA has nothing to offer me, what’s wrong with my friends that they work with her?” Instead they write to excoriate me on the fact that my booklet on something requires people to think for themselves and why yes, it’s true, often suggests that a well qualified Virtual Assistant may well be able to help. It contains contact information.

What galls me is that I’ve received more than one letter, email, phone call from a stranger, berating me, complaining that I didn’t give them enough information in the free download. When I politely (after all, part of my business includes responding to uncomfortable questions) remind them that this was a free booklet and intended to speak generally to a topic, they go nuts.

People persist. They’re rude. They’re demanding. I haven’t lost my cool yet, but I worry!

Do you have any thoughts about how to deal with people who, having gotten a very lovely piece of something for nothing, now insist on belittling the offering and demanding more?

Stupefied at the (Virtual) Office

Dear Stupefied,

BNP: Oh, we feel your pain!

P: What is it with people? You offer a gift (never mind that you have reasons for offering, of course you do), people take the gift and then spend time whining that the gift is not enough and being aghast that you would actually charge for your expertise if they wanted more information. Would that the Bartender and I had no experience of this.

And in between the acceptance of the gift and the complaint, there is never a passing glance at gratitude. Not even a tip-o-the-hat to common courtesy.

It’s really depressing. It’s well past time to bring back both common courtesy and common sense!

B: There’s an unfortunate truth to the notion that if you give a person an inch, they’ll go for a mile. I generally think it’s rooted in that person’s innate desire to have power. You just gave me something; now I am going to make you give me more, even if I have to bully and debase myself to do it. But that’s not your question. Your question skips the why (though sometimes, I can’t help playing the armchair psychologist) and goes straight to “How do I handle this?” Well.

P: I think most people know when they encounter a freebie whether you’re the expert to take them farther. If they didn’t want more, they wouldn’t be trying to get it from you. Why they think they’re entitled to more without paying for it is really beyond me.

My version is people’s being stunned that I charge for doing weddings. “But you work for a church. Why should I pay you? This is my wedding.” “Do you go to my church?” “No.” “Do you contribute to any church?” if “No,” then I don’t work for you, and I need to be paid an honest exchange for the very good work I do. If, “Yes,” perhaps you should have your minister marry you! I, however, still need to be compensated for my time and my expertise. I’m old, um, mature. I have years of experience. You don’t get that for free.

I’ve actually had people spending a whole lot of money on a wedding who think I should marry them for free because “You’ve taken a vow of poverty.” No. I didn’t. Did you take a vow of ripping people off? Sigh. No, I don’t say that, but oh, it rises to mind.

B: Ha ha. A vow of poverty. I wonder if anyone has ever asked that of the Joel Osteens of the world. I often find people are surprised that I want to charge them for writing projects. If they asked me to come to their house and plumb their sewer lines, they’d expect to be charged for my time and effort and expertise. What makes this different?

P: I really think that the only way to deal with these people is to have a set fee for different kinds of work and practiced responses. You may want to have them on your website or FB page. If you have those things set out, there’s no reason to take other people’s silliness seriously. You answer their questions about the information they want as by telling them what that will cost them. It’s perfectly logical that they want more (because your freebie was fabulous) but more must be fairly compensated.

And then I think you really need to hang up the phone or end the email.

B: Yes, you’re in customer service and I understand that you don’t want to fly off the handle, but it is still your business. Be in control of it. You can choose to engage with a problematic freeloader, or, you can end your communication. For the freeloader, they’ll only be happy if you give them something for free. You’re not really risking the loss of a potential customer because this person was never going to pay you anyway. It’s not about the quality of your service. It’s about the quality of the freeloader’s character.

P: Once you go beyond their statement of their wants, your explanation about the price of fulfilling those desires, you’ve begun haggling. You do not need to be defensive. You’re unlikely to convince them — and they’re unlikely to be satisfied customers if you do. There is nothing worse for your sense of humor or your business than an unsatisfied customer. And if they didn’t like what you gave them for free, they’re unlikely to be satisfied with what you’ll give them for money.

If, as they say, neither courtesy nor sense are common, then perhaps it’s always been people’s tendency to see what they can get away with. You, however, do not need to take that personally. You offer what you offer, you charge what you charge for more, and other than that, unless people need a reference to 911, you’re probably done.

B: Practice this phrase: This conversation is now over. That’s it. This conversation is now over. And when you say that, follow it up with, “I am hanging up now/ending this email thread now/asking you to leave my office now.” And stick to it. You don’t need to make that the first thing you say, but it needs to be in your arsenal. Because the thing is, someone who’s going to try and bully you into giving away a piece of your livelihood isn’t going to care about a well-reasoned argument. There’s no “good way” to interact with that person. They’re not calling you so they can hear you; they’re calling you so they can extort you. And you need to understand that difference.

So learn how to tell someone no, practice ending the conversation, draft a stock email or letter to keep on hand to send out politely stating your company’s agenda (Thank you for your interest in XYZVA! As you have seen from our selection of complimentary downloads, we are a full-service virtual assisting company. Our professional services begin at the low fee of $$.00 per month; please see our attached pricing sheet for more information). And then?  Call it a day. If someone persists in verbal or email abuse, make sure it’s documented so you can protect yourself. And continue to nurture the clients you do have and grow your clientele selectively. You’re not obligated to work with every single person who darkens your door, especially if they’ve shown their willingness to be irate and abusive.

P: Is it possible that there are not-for-profits that you might be willing to donate time to? Yes. Is a cold call with a demand for more of what you gave them likely to be the right charity for you to assist — I’d say the odds are small. I’ve created and celebrated rituals for people who have no resources, but they’ve been very special situations and very special people.

B: Remember, being in customer service doesn’t make you someone’s whipping boy, and you’re not in it to be taken advantage of. Be strong. Be firm. Be polite. Be unassailable. And be in charge. Good luck!

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Make ’em a (business) offer they can’t refuse.

Godfather Cocktail

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces Scotch or bourbon
  • 1/2 ounce amaretto

Directions:

Fill a glass about two thirds full of ice. Add whiskey and amaretto. Stir until well chilled, about 20 seconds. Strain into ice-filled rocks glass. Serve.

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Want to know more about The Bartender and The Priestess? Go here!

Thank you for reading. Now go tell all your friends about us. {{{heart hug}}}

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A Restaurant Rant

I just read this excellent article by Amanda Cohen, chef and owner of the NYC restaurant Dirt Candy (get it? It’s a vegetarian restaurant? Dirt Candy? I like it! And after reading her menu, I’m dying to try celeriac ice cream, but I digress…), and I’m with her. She discusses how most restaurant employees honestly do want their patrons to leave happy. It’s true. I did my time in the restaurant biz. For the most part, my objective was to try and make sure customers had a good time. That they liked their food. That the service and overall restaurant experience was positive. That they’d want to come back.

I’d try and hold the perspective that my job in a restaurant wasn’t centered around a battle between Us and Them but rather, it needed to be seen as a healthy and productive working relationship. It didn’t always work, and I wasn’t always perfect at it, but I tried. It’s hard to maintain because you’re basically part dirty grunt/part performance artist, and the surly, tired, my feet hurt, I’m exhausted, I’ve already had to clean vomit, make $2.13 an hour and I’ve still got five hours left on my shift, I’ve got a ton of homework/bills/housework/family concerns that are distracting me, human, non-performer side of a restaurant worker can break through the veneer of pleasantries pretty easily. However. Generally, in response to a customer’s special requests, my answer (and the answers of most of my fellow restaurant peeps, who were often well-intentioned waitstaff and bartenders and hosts and managers who don’t go into that biz because of a relentless desire to stoke the fires of inner rage) was yes. Yes, we can deviate from the menu, yes we can accommodate your allergy, yes we can seat you as soon as possible, yes we can get you that extra whatever on the side.

Image from crayonsglueandtyingshoes.blogspot.com

Image from crayonsglueandtyingshoes.blogspot.com

Because that’s how it works.

Because that’s the nature of the job.

I get insanely offended when restaurants aren’t managed, at the very least, decently.

Recently, I was told something wouldn’t be done by a kitchen, for all the wrong reasons. I’m still shocked.

George and I called a local restaurant (for the moment, staying nameless) to order some take-out food. George did the talking. Hi, he said. We’d like dinner A and dinner B, and we’d also like an order of your extra-spicy sauce on the side. The woman taking the order was new, writing everything down with someone watching her to make sure she got all the information she needed for the order. She conferred with the trainer in the background then got back on the line. “I’m sorry.” she said. “I can’t give you that sauce.”

What? We just want an order of it on the side.

Sorry, she said. The chef says it will make the dish you ordered a different dish. He won’t do it.

Fine. Whatever. We were hungry, we’d already mentally committed to dinner from this place. Don’t sell us the sauce. Be that way. We’ll be by to pick it up in 10 minutes.

Twenty minutes later, George came home, full order and extra sauce in hand.

Here’s what happened: when George gave his name, the new waitress wrote it down, and the owner recognized it. Oh, him!, the owner said. He’s a nice guy! And so, they did make George’s order as he requested, which is bad enough. Because for real, just do it in the first place, no?  But then, when George got there, the owner/manager ACTUALLY SAID, “Yeah, when you first called, I thought you were one of these entitled jerks in town so I didn’t want to make it for you. But you know. It’s you. So that’s different.”

Image from imgflip.com

Image from imgflip.com

He didn’t say, “We misunderstood your initial order and said duh when we realized our mistake, here you go.” He didn’t say, “I was having an aneurysm during your phone call. Of course we’ll make this for you.” He didn’t say, “I was temporarily possessed by Satan. Sorry ’bout that.” Instead, he justified his change of heart by winking and nudging, because we’re special. Awwww. Shouldn’t I feel all warm and fuzzy now?

What? No! Hey, manager dude, let me get this straight: you didn’t want to sell us an item that’s on your menu, because you thought we might be dicks? Not because we were being unreasonable or making insane demands, but because you had a bug up your ass? And when you found out who was doing the ordering, you decided to let us in your petty fiefdom of a club? And you’re training new employees to behave this way? Holy. Moly.

Here’s the thing: I don’t want to learn the secret handshake, I don’t want to know the password, and now? I don’t want your food. We ate the food that night and I felt dirty. I just want to be able to order off a menu, without a hassle. You’re in the restaurant biz, you’re going to deal with people EVERY DAY. Some of them will be total pains, some of them will be awesome, but all of them deserve a fair shake at the start of your interactions.  This manager is someone who’s recently talked about being dedicated to growing his business. He’s sure got a funny way of showing it. It’s too bad, really, because I’d prefer to support local businesses, and the food was pretty good. But we haven’t been back since.

I’m still not going to say which restaurant it was, but feel free to circulate this among local folks and restaurant friends. Maybe the owner/manager will see it and recognize himself. Maybe he’s been wondering why we haven’t been in for the last two months. This is why. View this as a huge learning opportunity, and you’re welcome. Other restaurant folks, if you see your own behavior reflected in my story, then take my advice and get over yourselves. If you don’t, then I recommend a job in an accounting office, or perhaps filing books at a library, where human interaction will be kept to a minimum.

T2 disapproves.  Image from tvtropes.org

T2 disapproves.
Image from tvtropes.org

And please, everybody (that includes you, you difficult customers) stop perpetuating the Us vs. Them mentality. It hurts all my brothers and sisters in the service industry. We’re all in this together, folks. Start acting like it.

Meanwhile, At the Restaurant: How to Get the Bartender’s Attention

Having spent an unreasonable amount of time in food service, in several different states in the US, I generally think that I’ve seen most of what can be seen (though I do realize that claiming I’ve seen it all does a grave disservice to “it all”.  But really, people.  I don’t need to know).  Despite the quasi-iconic public concept of the surly bartender who hides in the corner and has to be coaxed out like they’re a mouse and you’ve got a pocket full of cheese, most bartenders do want to offer their customers timely and friendly service in a welcoming atmosphere.  In a tips-based economy, it’s the smartest way to make money.  And in my time in restaurants and bars, I’ve encountered a vast and often confusing array of ways customers deem acceptable to get a bartender’s attention.  In the interest of public service and to help out my bar brethren across this great land, I give you the do’s and don’ts of:

Ta da!

Ta da!

THE DON’TS

The Tapper

mwatr01

The Tapper thinks the most effective way to get his drink refilled is to tap his empty glass repeatedly on the bar as though he’s tapping out distress signals in Morse code.  Unless you’re warning me about icebergs dead ahead, this is an inappropriate way to communicate.  I can let you tap all day.  Plus, if you’re that anxious that you need to bang your glass on the bar until you get another drink, then you don’t need another drink, and I would recommend trying some yoga, or perhaps taking up meditation.

The Barker

mwatr02

The Barker thinks that raising his voice above the din of a bar is a surefire way to entice a bartender over.  The Barker doesn’t seem to realize that he is the human equivalent of WRITING IN ALL CAPS and as quickly as I will delete the email written in that manner, so will I dismiss the person who behaves in this manner.  He may express himself in a way that seems callous (Hey, you!) or try to sound charming and/or endearing (Hey, honey, sugarplum, dollface!).  But no matter how you phrase it, he’s still the obnoxious drunk yelling at you from across the bar.  Avoid whenever possible.

The Whistler

mwatr03

Very closely related to The Barker, The Whistler shares the sentiment that making loud noises to attract the bartender is effective.  The problem is, The Whistler chooses the same manner in which he calls his dog in for dinner.  The Whistler doesn’t always necessarily whistle, per se, but he will clear his throat repeatedly or make “Pssst!” sounds.  One memorable time, the owner of the bar I worked in was on duty when a customer tried to attract his attention by making that repeated “psst psst psst” sound you make while trying to convince a cat to come near you.  The owner turned around and, without missing a beat said, “You’d better have some Friskies in your pocket if you’re calling to me that way.”  At least that once, the errant customer grew momentarily embarrassed enough to stammer out an apology before asking for a refill.

The Grabber

mwatr04

If I’m ever back behind the bar, do not–and I mean DO NOT–ever reach all the way across the bar and touch me.  I will wreck you.

And so we come to the end of my general guidelines for DON’T bar behavior.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s a good place to start.  Do note that the “DON’T” behaviors are generally demeaning and/or hostile and/or aggressive.  Use that as your measuring stick for what not to do, and you should be off to a good start.

THE DO’S

The Cash Presenter

mwatr05

Most bartenders, you see, are fairly bright, and understand that being attentive to the people standing or sitting at the bar impacts their tips.  If someone stands at the bar with money in their hands, bartenders will generally investigate such an event because people don’t randomly walk around holding money.  In a bar, it’s a specific signal that means, “I want something and I’m ready to pay.”  Yes, it’s true.  Money talks.

The Discreet Signaler

mwatr0501

You can gesture to your bartender, so long as you’re chill about it.  If your bartender looks like he’s in the middle of a conversation and isn’t likely to end it any time soon, you can gesture.  If you want to get drinks ASAP for yourself and that fine individual you’re successfully chatting up, you can gesture.  Or if you realize you need to leave, you can do the universal “I’m pretending to sign my name” gesture.  Gesturing does, for the most part, imply necessity so don’t go overboard pointing and waving at will!  Then you become the barfly who cried wolf, and your gesturing just becomes a silent extension of The Tapper and nobody needs to cross into hybrid signals because then everyone is unhappy.

The Empty Glass Bearer

mwatr0502

The Empty Glass Bearer is the mellowest of all patrons and has an inherent understanding that a bartender intends to do his job to the best of his abilities.  A bartender who’s even half-paying attention knows that an empty glass requires some sort of attention.  Empty Glass Bearers tend to be easy customers for bartenders to deal with–they’re not overly demanding, they don’t need babysitting, and their lack of aggressive behavior towards the bartender generally means the bartender will like them.  Bars are a great place to have a high-fivin’, belly-bumpin’ good time, but not necessarily with the bartender, who has five or fifteen or sixty other people to manage simultaneously.  Have faith that the bartender will get to you.  While people may think the squeaky wheel gets the grease, when you’re in a bar it’s the quiet glass bearer who gets the best consistent service.

It’s true.

I’d love to hear about other bartender-approach behaviors that I might have forgotten or have blocked from my memory.  Feel free to comment!

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