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» Cinematour Forum   » Cinemas in the News   » Customer Service Soapbox

Author Topic: Customer Service Soapbox
Paul P. Meyers
New Member

Posts: 42
From: Detroit, MI
Registered: Aug 2003

 - posted August 03, 2004 12:29 PM      Profile for Paul P. Meyers   Email Paul P. Meyers         Edit/Delete Post 
While I see the point in the following story I also think the writer is putting himself on a self-serving soapbox condemming Landmark for what I see as a trivial matter that Landmark according to the alledegedly grieviously wronged customer attended to her satisfaction. The writer also did not mention or consider how many other people were in line that would also want special treatment if someone ahead of them was given it and what problems tht might cause. I also find it mucho ironic that the film the customer was going to see was about people struggling with a real life and death problem. And to use the overworked cliche "Kafkaesque" as well.


The Right Ticket to Show Good Sense

By John Kelly
Tuesday, July 27, 2004; Page C10, The Washington Post

Lean forward, children, and I will share with you a chilling tale, the story of a woman who just wanted to revel in our wonderful capitalistic system but was thwarted at every turn.

Last spring, Susannah Challis of Rockville wanted to take her 11-year-old daughter, Meah, to see a movie. They decided on "Touching the Void" (which you will recall is the gripping true story of two climbers and their perilous journey up the side of a Peruvian mountain).

They went to the Landmark Theatre in Bethesda, parked in a pay lot and strolled over to the cinema with plenty of time to purchase two tickets by credit card for the 1:45 showing.

"The box office clerk swiped my card, checked the machine a couple of times and then announced that the credit card verification system was not working," Susannah wrote in a letter to me.

Susannah doesn't carry a lot of cash and didn't have enough that day to buy two tickets. She offered to write a check, but the clerk said no, suggesting instead that Susannah go to a nearby ATM. That's what she did, but when she got to the part where it said it would charge her account $2 for the honor of spitting out a little folding money, Susannah balked.

"The only reason I had come to this ATM was that the credit card verification system was down at the theater," she said. "And I knew that the theater would not take $2 off the price of our tickets."

Then began the sort of Kafkaesque scene upon which newspaper columnists depend. The movie was about to start. The theater's credit card system was still down. They wouldn't take a check. They wouldn't write down Susannah's credit card number and punch it in later. They wouldn't let her go into the theater, see the movie, then pay on the way out, when they expected the computer to be back up.

Susannah and Meah left the theater, paid for their parking and drove home in a funk (well, actually, a Honda).

I must say my first reaction upon hearing this story was rather hard-hearted, along the lines of "Who needs the ulcer? Pay the two bucks, lady. You'll live longer." But when I outlined the scenario to My Lovely Wife during our daily morning stroll, she convinced me of the error of my ways.

While it might not be true that the customer is always right, she said, this is clearly a case where the theater was wrong. And if we don't stick up for ourselves and protest these petty indignities, how are the fine people at Landmark Theatres ever to learn?

So I called up Landmark manager Tony Bond to hear his side of the story. Tony wasn't there the day Susannah had her little episode, but he knew the details, having read them in something called the manager's log (which apparently is similar to the Captain's Log in "Star Trek").

Tony said the real culprit was MCI, whose DSL line was on the fritz. Perhaps, I said, but that's slight consolation to Susannah. Couldn't the clerk have written down her credit card number?

"We're not just going to write the credit card number down and be responsible for it," Tony said, noting that an unscrupulous employee could use that information for his own evil ends.

Ah. Howzabout a check? "No, absolutely not. We have no way of verifying a check."

Okay. So why not let her go in and pay on the way out, or come out during the movie and pay, which she offered to do?

No dice. "We don't allow people to go into an auditorium and see a movie for free and hope that they'll pay afterwards."

I'm going to type this slowly in the hope that Tony will read it slowly: It doesn't matter if she doesn't pay. You're going to show the movie anyway. It is what economists call a sunk cost.

One might fear that a suburban mother and her preteen daughter are really the pointy tip of a ticket-scamming crime wave, and that letting them in without paying will open the floodgates of other mother-daughter scofflaws, but that probably isn't going to happen.

Besides, the goodwill that comes from being flexible in this case outweighs the badwill that comes from being called a rigid martinet in the pages of a major daily newspaper.

Tony said that since Susannah's last visit to the theater, an ATM has been installed in the lobby, and one of those manual, paper-based credit card machines that goes chunk-chunk has been purchased. And after my call, Tony spoke with Susannah and offered her two complimentary tickets. She feels the matter has been resolved satisfactorily.

Still, is it any wonder that many people these days would rather stay in and watch a DVD, read a book, steam clean the basement carpet or give the cat a suppository than go out to the movies?

A Verse Reaction

It's not every day I get mail from Portugal, so I eagerly ripped open the envelope bearing the exotic postmark "Murtosa." In it was a letter from Michael Bry. He explained that his sister lives in Bethesda and sends him The Post's crossword puzzle. "Sometimes their backs catch my attention, and so I could read part of your two-part cicada series," he wrote.

These were the poems that readers submitted in honor of Brood X. Michael was especially impressed by the sonnet composed by our winner, Conrad Berger. "Such noble form for such humble subject celebrates the aesthetic brotherhood of all living things," Michael wrote.

I couldn't have said it better myself.

I'm here for you. Not literally, of course, but in a figurative sense. Send e-mail to Or write me at 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.

- end of story -

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Eric Hooper

Posts: 107
From: Santa Clara, CA
Registered: Apr 2003

 - posted August 05, 2004 12:18 PM      Profile for Eric Hooper   Email Eric Hooper         Edit/Delete Post 
OK, at first I was on the theatres side. It's not their fault the credit card machine isn't working, and no, they don't show movies for free.

But, when it comes to a service oriented presentation like a movie theatre, (vs. let's say a corner market), when things go wrong, accomodations MUST be made for the visiting patrons. Put yourself in the customer's shoes. They traveled to your theatre to see the movie. Something wasn't working, and the theatre did nothing to offer any other solution. That is purely horrible customer service. It's like a slap in the face and it's degrading.

Unfortunately these days, people in customer service type jobs are not there because they want to be. Most do not know how to think outside the box and truly offer customer service. Even more concerning is the big corporate chains who train employees to act like robots and follow protocol. I hate it when I ask for something not on the menu or to change something and the person behind the counter looks at me like a deer in the headlights. Then you hear them say 'does not compute does not compute' and their head starts spinning and sparks and smoke start coming out and they blow up.

Bottom line:
Don't make it hard for people to spend $$ at your theatre. It's the worst thing you can do, because maybe they won't necessairly tell you, but you will see it with smaller revenues and non-returning customers.

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Mark Lensenmayer
New Member

Posts: 27
From: Columbus, OH
Registered: Feb 2003

 - posted August 06, 2004 08:13 PM      Profile for Mark Lensenmayer   Email Mark Lensenmayer         Edit/Delete Post 
If I have even the slightest bad experience at a theatre, I just don't return. Letters don't really work, and managers usually just shrug and walk on, in my experience (if I can even fine one.)

I stopped attending a Cinemark theatre due to the film breaking, and then being told that I shouldn't be concerned. I also stopped going to the only local Regal theatre due to dim projection.

I have too many good theatres around me to put up with poor treatment. I won't spend my money at a theatre that is dirty or has poor presentation.

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Daniel Fuentz

Posts: 212
From: Cleveland, Ohio
Registered: Mar 2003

 - posted August 10, 2004 01:04 AM      Profile for Daniel Fuentz   Email Daniel Fuentz         Edit/Delete Post 
I am with you on the not going back part. One of the Regal locations here was actually doing construction in the booth while films were being shown to paying customers! I had to go out twice and complain to get the hammering to stop, and then the manager was like "Oh, they're installing a new slide projector." as if I was supposed to say "OH! That makes hammering during the movie TOTALLY acceptable!" Needless to say, I have not set foot in that theater and have been wishing it a slow, painful death. [Smile] (It was pretty much a dump anyway)

However, I got great results when I complained to a Cinemark about the cleaning lights being turned on during the credits to a show. I had a few emails back and forth with the manager at that location and he seemed to be genuinely concerned with problems at his theater and the staff's indifference. I have been back to that theater a couple times since, and while there were other things that needed fixing, they did not turn on the cleaning lights anymore. [Smile]

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David Wodeyla

Posts: 65
From: Natick, MA
Registered: Jun 2004

 - posted August 10, 2004 08:34 AM      Profile for David Wodeyla   Author's Homepage   Email David Wodeyla         Edit/Delete Post 
In my town, it used to be a GCC Framingham with a reputation for top-notch presentation. The old owners started the trend of eliminating the Union from the booth on slow weekdays and weeknights, and the new owners, AMC, probably have extended the payroll savings because on my two most recent visits, I've had to alert a ticket taker to a problem. One time the trailers began out of frame, running at least 5 minutes that way until I asked for the employee to call the booth. Last time, the slides didn't shut down when the film began.
Turning on the cleaning lights is an example of over zealous ushers who want to to a good job, but don't understand the importance of credits to film fans. Kind of like walking away from the TV to go to the refrigerator during a commercial.
Customer service begins with a pride in presentation. When Management runs not only the floor and office, but the booth, it's sign that the industry is in the hands of people who don't understand showmanship.

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Tom Mundell

Posts: 93
From: Silver Spring, MD
Registered: Nov 2003

 - posted August 10, 2004 10:44 AM      Profile for Tom Mundell   Author's Homepage   Email Tom Mundell         Edit/Delete Post 
Interesting that I'm not the only one to notice problems at the Framingham 16 recently, which is sad as their presentation used be outstanding. Things seemed to start going downhill when AMC took over, especially in the past 8-9 months. I've had numerous complaints this year, including picture out of frame and scratched/dusty prints. (Though so far the staff have always waited until everyone left the auditorium before beginning to clean).

I haven't visited the Burlington 10 or Braintree 10 (both ex-GCC theatres) recently; they also used to have top notch presentations, I should see if the same problems have also cropped up there since AMC took over.


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David Wodeyla

Posts: 65
From: Natick, MA
Registered: Jun 2004

 - posted August 10, 2004 12:08 PM      Profile for David Wodeyla   Author's Homepage   Email David Wodeyla         Edit/Delete Post 
The Framingham Manager has many years experience with GCC, and may not be aware of the problems. I'm sure he thinks the presentation is fine. I haven't spoken with him directly, nor any other member of Management, as they're rarely on the floor to chat with patrons, nor observe the flow of people, or do any of the things we did in the "old days". Taking Managers off the floor and putting them in the booth, as well as a few other changes in operations, is one of those details that take away from the experience in the megaplexes in this area. It may not be just an AMC thing either. On the plus side, I went to a Regal Cinema in southern Rhode Island a while ago, and the Manager was at the boxoffice, and available the entire time folks were coming in. The staff was very friendly, making eye contact, and smiling.
You can tell if the presentation is suffering, sometimes, by scratchy institutional snipes. It shows they're not paying attention to cleaning the rollers, and dust is causing film damage. They also keep using the old snipes, month after month, and don't notice the scratches. This was a huge problem in the former (now torn down) Loews in Natick.

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Richard A Stegman Jr

Posts: 267
From: Calimesa,CA
Registered: Jun 2003

 - posted August 12, 2004 12:30 AM      Profile for Richard A Stegman Jr   Email Richard A Stegman Jr         Edit/Delete Post 
you know it's bad when the managers completely ignore your requests,as exidenced in this thread.

I have two more for you.

A drive-in outing to see "Troy" resulted in poor sound. so bad that the only things you can hear were music and sound effects.

our money was refunded,as it was to others who left early.

A more recent trip to see "I,Robot"(in a DTS-equipped theatre)was so loud that my dad and one other person complained to no avail.

My folks haven't gone back to that theatre(UltraStar Fontana 8,which was much better as an Edwards. believe or not)since.

I,on the other hand,am a sucker for $4.00 Tuesdays.

The drive-in situation improved,however.

We saw "Bourne Supremacy"(not bad) & "Chronicles of Riddick"(sucked ass)

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Jim Rankin
(Jim passed away in December 2006)
Posts: 123
From: Milwaukee, WI
Registered: Oct 2003

 - posted August 12, 2004 06:00 AM      Profile for Jim Rankin   Email Jim Rankin         Edit/Delete Post 
Most all of the evils described in these comments can be chalked up to our headlong dash into total greed in our society. This has led to the advance and acceptance of the Conglomerate, which is what now owns most of our cinemas. It is sad to see any semblance of 'showmanship' disappear, but that is only to be expected what with MBA-degreed money grubbers now supposedly being the showmen of today. Don't be too hard though, on the inexperienced staff at most cinemas; most if not all of them are too young to have ever seen anything like showmanship or even good business practice. Nowadays, some know-nothing is hired for as little as possible and pushed into the manager's office, projection room, or box office with little or no training. The money moguls at headquarters, who view only the profit/loss sheets of many 'screens', don't know anything about exhibition and couldn't care less. They merely issue blanket orders of operation to the sad wonks who make up the 'staff' and these souls are given little or no latitude to alter even slightly the cast-in-stone demands of their remote superiors. Since only profit matters to a conglomerate, the patrons don't matter, since the attitude is that the public is a commodity, just like the films, the refreshments, and everything else. Really, it all goes back to one's morality -- or lack thereof -- and morals define manners and all this comes from one's initiation to the nature and will of God. But with most young people now taught the myth of evolution instead of the Bible, we have greedy, amoral businessmen taken as normal, and lack of character or manners in all aspects of life seen as the standard of behavior. Under such conditions, we can hardly expect showmanship, good business practice, or even fellow-feeling. Our cinemas are now just a microcosm of this social decay, which is why I avoid them and their often equally amoral patrons.

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Bill Gabel

Posts: 288
From: New York, NY
Registered: Feb 2003

 - posted August 12, 2004 11:16 AM      Profile for Bill Gabel           Edit/Delete Post 
I worked for GCC in many of their Southern California area theatres as a projectionist. I would go to their theatres to see films because I liked their presentations and I known the operators that ran the booths. One day I went to their Hollywood Galaxy 6 Theatre on Hollywood Blvd.. Everything ran fine with the show, no problems. I worked the theatre before. As the end credits hit the screen. A few ushers started cleaning the theatre during the credits. They had plenty of time since the next show was some 40 minutes away and it was in the middle of the week. After the show I went to the lobby and got one of those GCC comment cards. So I filled it out about the problem and sent it in. The card would go to the home office in Boston and later get sent to the district office in Southern California to the district managers desk and later to the manager of the theatre. Well it made one extra stop with the DM and my manager at my GCC theatre in Sherman Oaks. They both hated me going to one of their district theatres to see a movie. Because I would find things wrong and send in a card to the home office. Everything I found would alway be in the operations downstairs not in the booth area. They stopped calling me into other GCC Theatres on pass, I paid my admission many times.

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David Wodeyla

Posts: 65
From: Natick, MA
Registered: Jun 2004

 - posted August 12, 2004 01:32 PM      Profile for David Wodeyla   Author's Homepage   Email David Wodeyla         Edit/Delete Post 
Veteran Projectionists (Operators, as the veterans prefer to be known, taking pride in a job well done) aren't to blame for most of the presentation problems we're familiar with, but when you throw a Manager or Assistant in the booth to lace up, because you want to save a few bucks on the payroll, you've started a bad trend that exists in most theatre today. Add to that, the efforts made by GCC to rid the Company of everyone over the age of 50, which they did in 1996, by asking over 100 employees to take an early retirement, and you can understand one of the reasons the company went bankrupt and why the results are now becoming evident. I know, because that was the situation I observed first hand, managing the Home Office Theatre in Chestnut Hill for 12 years. So many people in the office and field, with experience were let go, for the sake of lower payroll and insurance and benefit savings. And with the experience, goes customer service skills and showmanship that took years to learn.

[ August 13, 2004, 06:11 AM: Message edited by: David Wodeyla ]

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Eric Hooper

Posts: 107
From: Santa Clara, CA
Registered: Apr 2003

 - posted August 13, 2004 03:15 PM      Profile for Eric Hooper   Email Eric Hooper         Edit/Delete Post 
Unfortunately, movie theatres aren't the only industry who has cut costs this way. Go into any bank or department store. It's all kids working part time with no benefits. You also get the customer service that the company pays for, too. What a discrace things have become.

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