Michelle, a manager at Carolina Cinemas, is my new customer service star. (They’re everywhere!)
Me and three of my seven roommates from Lotus Lodge, along with one of their boyfriends, were in a very good mood, headed to the movies.
None of us do this very often, so it was a big treat. And we like each other and don’t get together as often as we would like, so we were very animated in the car riding there. None of us knew much about Birdman – just that it had won several Oscars exactly one week ago and that it stars Michael Keaton, whom several us like quite a lot. (“How about Beetlejuice?!” Several of us raved about that movie – agreeing that it was wacko in all the right ways. “Yeah, and The Dream Team!?” I stumped them with that one – nobody else had seen it. I informed them that it’s a very good, very funny movie.)
Things quickly went south when we arrived at the theater. The kid selling tickets had two pieces of bad news for us. We had arrived right on time, 1:50, and he said that the show was actually scheduled for 2:30. How could that be? Three of us had seen the time in two different online places, including the Carolina Cinemas website. He had no answer, except to add that in addition the 2:30 showing was already sold out.
We indulged in several varieties of being bummed out. For whatever reason, I was mostly able to quickly refocus on what else we might see. I asked the kid, where are your movies and times listed? “Usually on that TV screen over there by the concessions, but it’s turned off because the movie times were wrong.” By that time, two of our members had pulled up the list of films on their phones. The only one that any of us had any enthusiasm about was a Kevin Costner film, McFarland USA – and only me, because I had seen and liked the trailer two weeks before.
The kid was able to tell us when the movie came on – also around 2:30. I asked to speak with a manager. He called one and said she would be right up. My friends all look quizzical: “Why a manager?” “They’ve jerked us all around – I want a discount on our tickets.” This seemed a novel notion to all four of them, but to me when a business jerks you around, they are usually very ready to somehow make it right to keep you as a loyal customer. I routinely send food back when I don’t like it – or have even complained about it after eating it, especially if they ask if everything was OK. I’ll say, “No, actually….” I almost always get the food replaced, taken off the bill, etc. And i find that if you make your complaint assertive but friendly – not defensive, just like you know in advance that they will want to make things right with you – the vibe almost never gets bad. (OK, there have been exceptions – and those are mostly places that i never then do go back.)
Michelle showed up pretty quickly. Watching her brisk step and air of authority as she walked across the lobby, a couple of us said simultaneously, “Looks like a manager”. Tall, olive-complexioned, attractive, maybe 30, she picked us out right away as the customers with a beef and came up to us very graciously – giving no indication of any defensiveness or that she thought this might be a difficult encounter. If I were to read her body language, which I do pretty instinctively, she planned for this to be a good conversation with a positive outcome.
“Hi, what’s going on?” I took the lead, explaining how we had been jerked around. One little bit of logic had not occurred to me (or any of us, I think) and which Michelle, if she had thought of it, had the graciousness not to point out. As we had gotten caught up in our bummed-outedness, we never thought: “If the movie started at the time we planned, we still were too late – it was sold out. Bad planning on our part, with a movie that won a bunch of Oscars one week before.” So we had not thought that and Michelle showed no sign of having thought that.
I wrapped up my presentation by saying, “So we’re wishing that we could get discounted tickets for McFarland USA”. Michelle said, “I have no way to give you discounted tickets. What I can do is to give you free passes for a movie now or in the future.” She was so friendly about it all that you would swear she enjoyed giving away free passes – and maybe she does. I had said that several of us were devoted customers – though in fact it was only me, and not so much lately.
Michelle also explained to us why the times had gotten screwed-up. On Sunday mornings they rent out one of their theaters to a church group and that group had been very late getting out of there today. She got all kind of inclusive in telling us about it: “It’s the second time it’s happened – we have to figure out what to do about it.” She was making us part of the team.
She even parlayed a little joke by me into a much funnier line. I said, with a poker face, “So do we need to be prepared for some serious spiritual energy in there?” “You always need to be prepared to encounter some serious spiritual energy, everywhere.” Whether she really believes that (which would be very cool) or was just playing with me, either way it was a wonderful comeback and totally cracked me up.
She also went on to say that everyone she has talked to about McFarland has really liked it – including several of their staff.
Well, we loved the movie. Oh, several of us loved it – I don’t know about all. But we mostly all agreed that for the genre – go-for-it, feel good movies – they pretty much got it right. Only one of the five of us did not volunteer that they got teary-eyed in places (and she didn’t deny it, just didn’t comment beyond saying she liked the movie). For myself, I actually shed tears at several points. My emotions are way near the surface when I’m manic, as I am today.
I got big points from my cohort about my negotiating with Michelle and we all went home happy – and beginning to make our plans to see Birdman. (I talked with my friend Lynn later in the afternoon and she said that life had spared us by bumping us to this other movie and that I’d be better off skipping Birdman altogether. I trust Lynn’s judgment, though it doesn’t always mesh with mine. We’ll see.)