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House Rules: Why Can't People Be Nice??
Rick Archer, March 2005

Everybody knows that customer relations are a key element to the success of a business.

However anybody who has ever spent one day in a customer-service position knows there are certain customers who are pretty tough on the hired help. There are times when customers push, demand, bully, whine, insult, cajole, plead, threaten, and generally misbehave until they get what they want.

One thing that bothers me as the owner of SSQQ is that I know my Hall Monitors and Registrars are occasionally abused in their service position.

Because they are hired to do a job, these people are often treated very discourteously because certain customers sense that the SSQQ employees won't fight back and decide to exploit their helpless position with intimidation. I have had many customers that have disagreed thoroughly with our rules and decided to take out their anger on the Hall Monitor or Registrar who gave them the disappointing news. 

I am reminded of a quotation from
William Lyon Phelps:

"This is the final test of a gentleman:  His respect for those who can be of little or no possible service to him."

I expect all SSQQ students to be polite to my Staff. If you have an argument, spare the Staff and bring your issue to me. Your money goes to me, so I should be the one to take the heat, not my Staff.

Rick Archer

Written by Marla and Rick Archer

Friday, February 11, 2005

As I was driving to work, I received a phone call from my wife Marla who had arrived at the studio 15 minutes earlier to handle Second Week Registration.

At her desk was a woman named Margaret who was furious because the Hall Monitor had not permitted her to enter the Martian Whip class.

I knew this woman because she had taken the previous month's Martian Whip class.  A former Ballroom dance teacher 30 years earlier, she was indeed an excellent dancer.

I knew that Margaret was in her second month of classes here at the studio and probably wasn't familiar with our policies. I also knew she lived very far from the studio and had enlisted a girlfriend to make the trip with her on Sundays. Her friend was in a Beginner Western class on Sunday and Margaret had signed up for this month's Lunar Whip class which met on Sundays and Thursdays.

However tonight was Friday.  

Apparently Margaret's girlfriend wanted to take the parallel Friday Western class and Margaret decided she would come too and take the Martian class offered in a different room the same night.

The Hall Monitor stopped Mary at the door. Margaret's receipt said she had not signed up for Martian Whip this month.

Margaret immediately demanded that she be allowed to take the class anyway since she had taken Martian Whip last month. She told the Hall Monitor she was a former dance instructor and that she could handle the material. Margaret added she had no intention of waiting two hours till her friend's class was over. She said she had driven 60 miles and wasn't in a position to go home. 

Margaret demanded the Hall Monitor make an exception for her.

The Hall Monitor stood her ground and suggested that Margaret simply sign up for the class.  Margaret lost her temper and said she wasn't going to sign for a month of classes just to take this one class tonight.  Margaret said she was willing to pay for one night of classes.  The Hall Monitor replied that our rules forbid signing up for one night of classes because it isn't fair to the "Group" for people to drop in any time it is convenient for the "Individual".

This argument went on for ten minutes. I will simply say from what I was told, the lady argued her position forcefully.

In desperation to resolve the impasse, the Hall Monitor turned to Marla who in turn stood her ground as well. Marla supported the Hall Monitor and said she was not permitted to make an exception. She did offer however to call me on my cell phone.

Once I heard the story, I went ahead and allowed Margaret to take the class at no charge. It was never about the money.

Whether I did the right thing or the wrong thing is another story. The customer was wrong to abuse the Hall Monitor who was in no position to fight back.

Afterwards, the Hall Monitor confronted me.

She said, "This is the second time you have done this to me. You should have seen how smug and satisfied that woman was when she went past me. She sure had a fine time gloating.  That makes twice I have stood up to these people and let them insult me and be ugly to me only to have you turn around and let them in. Both times every voice in the back of my mind wanted to tell them, "You have no right to speak to me that way!  You know what, the next time, I may just say 'what the heck' and wave them through. And then I will quit."

I expect my customers to be nice to my Hall Monitors.

And now we will discuss EXCEPTIONS. For example, if Margaret had simply emailed me in advance, I could have helped her avoid the entire confrontation by sending her an email permission slip.

And here is the good news. After I explained to Margaret how to handle the situation the right way, it was all straightened out.

-----Original Message-----
From: Margaret
Sent: Friday, February 25, 2005 10:34 AM
Subject: class permission ok for tonight

Hi Rick..I sent an email earlier in the week..must be off in la la land, as I am sure you have not received it....anyway, as you suggested, I am asking permission to attend the Martian class tonight. I took that class in January, then switched to your Lunar class for Feb..but can't come on would like to come tonight.

Hope to hear from you asap, I will have to leave for Houston no later than 4:00 pm. thanks, Margaret in Liberty

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Friday, February 25, 2005 3:26 PM
From: Rick Archer
To: Margaret
Subject: RE: class permission ok for tonight exception

You are absolutely welcome to attend tonight. Please show this to the Hall Monitor and enjoy your class. Rick Archer

Rudeness Illustration Two: The Customer From Hell

(Rick Archer's Note:
Saturday is usually my day off. I was sitting at home working on the computer when I heard the SSQQ phone ring at 4:25 pm. Normally we don't answer the phone on Saturdays, but since I was sitting there I decided to be helpful.

I immediately had to pull the phone away from my hell to handle the yelling. It was an irate Hispanic woman on the other end who immediately began to complain that she didn't know where my dance studio was. I asked her to calm down and proceeded to give her directions. Instead she cut me off to complain that she had driven over to the Leisure Learning building on Richmond.

I explained her dance class was with SSQQ and she would have to drive over to our studio. I gave her directions from the LLU building to SSQQ. She asked me to repeat them. Then she complained again that she didn't have any directions. She asked me to repeat the directions for a third time, but by then I had lost my patience with her inability to listen. I blurted out for the third time "SSQQ is located on Bissonnet just one block outside Loop 610. I gotta go."

After I heard Marla's story which you will read below, I was convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt this was the same exasperated woman I had spoken to on the phone.)

The Customer From Hell
Written by Marla Archer

Saturday, March 5, 2005

Working the Saturday registration segment, as a Registrar you get used to the long lines and fast pace, but this Saturday was different. I felt a sense of calm; maybe it was the calm before the storm. We had four registrars working, and we were processing the students at a quick clip. There were no lengthy lines, yet we had already registered over 174 students, and it was only 4:35 pm.

In the background, I could hear Sandy in a very stern voice stating, "NO CHILDREN ALLOWED! NO CHILDREN ALLOWED!" As I had my head and hands buried at the computer, I didn't look up. I heard a conversation going on at the desk next to me, but still kept processing students as fast as I could, trying to get them into their classes. The next woman standing in front of me was definitely put out about something. She proceeded to tell me that she had registered for Salsa Merengue through Leisure Learning and had paid with her credit card. She was very upset because she said she drove to the LLU offices only to find out that her class was being taught at SSQQ. She proceeded to tell me that she had to stop at a restaurant to look up the address for the studio because nowhere in the LLU catalog did it state SSQQ's address, nor did it state that children were not allowed in the studio.

Her biggest complaint was that her two children, ages 6 and 13 (I am guessing their ages), were not going to be allowed to join her in the classroom. I told her that there were over 100 ADULTS at play through those doors and children were not allowed in. I offered to let the children wait on the sofa in Room 6 while she and her husband took the class. There was no class being taught in Room 6 today. Her husband just cowered off to the side and clung to the wall several feet in the distance, while she argued her position.

She continued on for the next 10 minutes. She demanded a refund, additional cash, compensation for the time and gas she spent driving to LLU and the restaurant, plus her aggravation involved in not understanding the LLU catalog. I told her I was sorry about not being able to find the studio more easily, however this was a Leisure Learning catalog, published and printed solely by them. She would have to address her concerns with them. I also told her I would pass on the information about the address. She continued to complain that she was missing her class. Now fifteen minutes had passed. I told her that she was welcome to get a refund, but she would have to get it from Leisure Learning. They had her money. She asked to speak to someone with more authority. At this moment, my patience was wearing thin and the tension was beginning to show in my voice. I told her that I was the owner's wife, and I was following the house rules and I wasn't going to argue about the rules any longer. She smugly stated that she wasn't arguing, I was. She consulted with her husband and five minutes later (twenty five minutes in total), they seated the two children on the sofa and proceeded to their class, or so we thought. At 5:10 pm, her daughter came to the desk and said she had to speak to her mother. Her mother had an emergency phone call. Tammy told the child that she would find her mother and give the cell phone to her.

As Tammy entered Room 2, Zydeco, she noticed the woman and her husband were taking that class. Tammy told them that they were in the wrong class, and handed the woman her phone.

At 5:15 the woman and her husband exited the Zydeco class, and proceeded to tell me in an almost unintelligible manner how I lacked good customer service. I told her in a very calm voice, how sorry I was that she didn't like her class, and that LLU will refund her money. In a huff, she stated that the dance class wasn't professional at all as I stated and that there was absolutely no reason why her children shouldn't have been allowed in with her. She obviously didn't "get it". The woman just stood in front of me and stared at me for the next few minutes. Her closing words were, "your class wasn't very good, anyway. This entire place is very unprofessional!".

Then with family in tow, she FINALLY left the building.

EXCEPTION: We allowed this woman to keep her children in the building to avoid forcing her to leave and miss her class. However I doubt our leniency was appreciated.

(Rick Archer's Note: After Marla finished this story, I sent a copy of it over to our friends at Leisure Learning. I was concerned this woman would go to their offices and complain about Marla, so I thought it was important that they hear our side of the story too.

On March 17 - two weeks after the incident - I got a call from the Leisure Learning office. A woman named
Nayely Aguirre had demanded a Refund on the grounds that she couldn't find her dance class.

They said this woman's behavior seemed eerily reminiscent of the letter they had received and wondered if it was the same woman.

I asked what class she had registered for.  They said "Beginning Salsa".  I checked our database and did not find that name in Salsa. So I did a general name search.
The name "Nayely Aguirre" popped up under Merengue. I rolled my eyes. First Ms. Aguirre had registered for Beginning Salsa. When she came to the studio, she had no receipt and told Marla to put her in "Merengue". But the Hall Monitor found her and her husband in Zydeco.

I asked what grounds was she using to demand her refund. The Leisure Learning lady said Ms. Aguirre claimed she had never gotten her receipt so she was unable to find her dance class.  I said that was odd. How did Ms. Aguirre plus her husband end up in our database if she never made it to dance class? 

There was silence on the other end of the phone. They didn't understand.

So I repeated myself. "Let me explain. For this woman's name to appear in the database, she had to appear at our dance studio to give us that information. It can't get in the computer any other way. This proves Ms. Aguirre did indeed find our studio for her dance class. In other words, the woman is lying to you. She has no right to a refund.")

Rudeness Illustration Three: One Day We Give in and Allow a Student to Bring His Friends to Class
Rick Archer, February 2005

As anyone in business knows, many organizations succeed or fail based on the quality of its Customer Service.

The number one axiom in Customer Relations has always been "The Customer is Always Right."

However no one has ever come up with an axiom that covers this idea: "How to Decide Which Customer is always right".

As a business owner, I am often forced to make tough choices between sticking up for studio rules or bending the rules to make a customer happy. Now I have a question: "How does making an exception for an individual benefit the students who have already cooperated with the rule?"

One of the oldest SSQQ rules is "No Guests/No Watching Classes".


The last serious challenge to this rule came four years ago in February of 2001. One day a student brought along a guest. The Hall Monitor stopped them both and asked them to respect the rule by not coming in.

The student complained loudly about our refusal to let his friend watch. He refused to take "no" for an answer. He demanded to see the manager. In frustration the Hall Monitor came and got me.

Now I had the privilege of dealing with this customer. As I listened, I became aware that this man was quite persuasive. The gentleman listed several excellent reasons why we should allow his guest to stay. If memory serves, this is what he said:

1. I didn't know about your policy till now.
2. We have come all this way. You will force me to miss my class if my friend cannot stay.
3. Can't you make an exception this one time?
4. After all, one person watching will not make much of a difference.
5. Why don't you ask the students in the class if they would mind?

I replied that I did not intend to publicly ask the students to give permission. I have found that the individuals who object to the watching are also usually too shy to speak up as well. To my reply, the gentleman asked me, "Did you just make this up or do you have actual evidence to this effect?"

I replied that up till now I had based my decision on my instincts. However since he was so insistent, I decided I would indeed pose this gentleman's question to my Staff and Students alike using our March 2001 Email Newsletter.

In March 2001, first I stated the studio's position in the SSQQ Newsletter, and then I added this request:

"Maybe some of our readers would like to explain the reasons why SSQQ should allow "Watching". Or maybe some of our readers would like to agree that "Watching" is not a very good idea. In other words, if you like or don't like the policy, please say something because at the moment one or two people are trying to bring guests to the studio almost every night. They are openly questioning the intelligence of our rule. So what do you think SSQQ should do?"

Fifteen people actually responded with comments. The Silent Majority of 4,000 said nothing. Fourteen responses supported the "No Guest/No Watching" Rule. One person in 4,015 supported getting rid of the rule. I listed each person's answer. If you are curious for more information about this incident, please visit:

TODAY - 2005

A new challenge to our No Guests/No Watching rule came on Sunday, January 23, 2005.

On this day
I was forced once more to choose between enforcing the rule or bending it to make three people happy. Here is what happened:

I was 10 minutes late to class. I knew my co-teacher was covering for me, so I didn't mind taking my time. At 4:40 pm as I walked the sidewalk past Radio Shack, I was puzzled to see three adults standing outside the door to the studio in conference with one another.

They stopped me and said I was just the man they wanted to talk to. A gentleman proceeded to explain that he was already enrolled in a class and that he had brought two friends to start classes this week (this was the fourth week of class). The Hall Monitor had already turned these three people away. She had told the three people that students could not start in the third week or fourth week without permission and that watching was not permitted.

So now this group asked me to give them permission. The student immediately gave me the ancient story (shades of deja vu; I know it by heart!!):

1. I didn't know about your policy till now.
2. We have come all this way (Pearland).
3. You will force me to miss my class if my friend cannot stay.
4. Can't you make an exception this one time?
5. After all, one person watching will not make much of a difference.

I asked to see the man's registration slip. I expected it to say "No Watching Permitted" since all of our Walk-in Registration Receipts have the most important rules listed.

Instead he pulled out an "Online Receipt". This is when I found out the hard way that Online Receipts do not have the rules listed. Uh oh. I had never realized before that the Online Receipts do not have the SSQQ rules listed. I had been ready to use that written document to prove that he should have known the rules ahead of time. Now I was in a bind.

Now I had no way of knowing whether the man was breaking a rule he already knew about or whether he had made a mistake through ignorance of the rules. As the owner and the person who makes the rules, I did not want to alienate the current customer or the potential customers. At the same time I also wanted to support the "No Watching" rule in the worst way.

I realize the police say, "Ignorance of the Law is no excuse". The difference is they could care less about keeping your goodwill. This student had made me sincerely believe he did not know about the rule ahead of time. Therefore, because the Online Receipt did not forbid "watching" as I expected it to, I gave in.

I immediately regretted what I had done. When I told the Hall Monitor to let them in, you should have seen the look of disgust on her face. She told me she had argued with these people for ten minutes!! She said they had made her absolutely miserable with their refusal to respect her decision. Now I had turned around and made her look like a fool.

Oh, great. They say a man's wife has more power over him than the State does. Well, add "Hall Monitors" to the list.

I won't do it again. Soon I expect to add the list of rules to the On-Line Receipts so that the Walk-in Receipts and the On-Line receipts both have the "Rules" listed. It is much easier to stand one's ground when you are certain the Rules have been posted correctly.

I made a mistake in this situation. After all, the Hall Monitor had already stood her ground. Now I basically sabotaged her efforts. It isn't much fun to stand up to people. There have been times where students are obnoxious, persistent, rude, and sometimes even ugly. The SSQQ Hall Monitors do their best to greet the customers with a smile, but sometimes they have to stand up to people as well. This is never very much fun, believe me.

So when I turn around and let these three people in after the Hall Monitor had gone to all the trouble to stand up to them and defend the rules, I am pretty sure I lost that Hall Monitor's respect that day.

EXCEPTION: I made an exception for this student because I did not wish to embarrass him in front of his friends. However, I greatly wish people would not put us in this position. A simple Email in Advance would have avoided all of this trouble!

Rudeness Illustration Four:  Turning off Cell Phones

Editor's Note: Although we ask all visitors to SSQQ to turn their cell phones off, judging from the tone of the letter below it is clear not everyone respects our wishes.

-----Original Message-----
From: JohnG
Sent: Thursday, March 10, 2005 2:29 PM
Subject: Banning cell phones in the building!!

I'm going to three different classes a week, and am up there almost every evening, so I'm sure my experience isn't typical. On the other hand, maybe I am picking up on something early that others may only notice later.

As I'm in the classes, I'm noticing that cell phones keep ringing even though it should be well known that they aren't allowed in class time. Worse, people have taken to answering them during the class!

Now, some of the classes are large and the instructors have a choice of stopping to handle the distraction or just giving them "the look" and hoping they hang up quickly. However, we've all seen people yapping in lines at the store, in their cars, and heard them in the next stall in the bathrooms. So, some people will do rude things and just pretend they "aren't doing anything" - if they can...

I suppose my raw nerve in this got exposed in a class the other night when a phone rang while the instructor was calling a pattern (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, shift...) and a guy broke frame from his partner and started talking on his phone right there! We were in room five and the front door was about 20 feet away. I thought, "Surely he's going to go outside?" But, no, he talked for about 20 seconds, hung up, and dashed back to his partner. Then, it rang two more times. Both times he answered it. The last time he wound up walking in circles in the corner by himself as he talked... People!

Now, I don't know if this got handled later. And I do sympathize with the instructors. We've all noted the futility to confronting people in the middle of them doing something wrong. Their feeling is usually that we are now interrupting THEM and they are likely to be unpleasant! Very likely. So, I guess the thing is, if people have them and use them despite commonsense, trouble for someone just has to follow.

I was thinking about this during the week, and began to notice this wasn't going on just during classes. At break, I've been going to practice and many times have started to go to room 1 only to have to negotiate someone standing in the doorway to the big room. (It's a doorWAY people; it doesn't need a doorSTOP.) Incredibly, I have noticed a couple of times that the people standing in the door opening are not just gawking, they are leaning on the door jamb while talking on the phone!

How weird, and how rude, is that?

Plus, several times I have noted in practice that I am going around people sitting in the chairs who have their legs spread out into the dance floor. Why? They're so "into" their phone conversation they forget where they are and what they are doing. I thought that dumb things like that only happened when you were TWD, talking while driving...

But, wait, there's always more. A day or so ago I stopped to talk to one of the Hall Monitors at the front desk for a bit and a guy, talking loudly, comes from room 2 talking into his cell phone. He's so loud he interrupts both of us, already in conversation, but he just keeps going, ("No, man, I told her I'd pick up the car tomorrow. That bitch is so absent minded! Yeah... I know, a fucking space cadet! Ha-ha-ha. What a dumb fuck.... Marty should stay away from her.... I know...! I know... It's not worth it, dude...! Shit no, not me man!) and stops by the bulletin board by the front door and begins flipping through the notices - while he keeps talking!

Ohhhhh.... Sooooo close to being outside where he wouldn't be such a nuisance. And, that elbow... He was walking through the building with his elbow straight out in front and not paying a whole lot of attention to anything. That could be bad in a dance studio, right?

Thinking about all that I have been seeing, and realizing that it's not just rude behavior, it's also costing the rest of some money and may be dangerous to the rest of us (bad attitudes, legs to trip over, elbows to dodge) it seems that it would be best to ban cell phone use in the building. There isn't a phone made these days that doesn't take messages, hasn't a silent ring or buzz, or, can't just be turned off. And, if you need to run your family, your business, or, your life, on a minute-to-minute basis, maybe it's best of if people are at home, at work, or, wherever they clearly need to be and let the rest of us have the peace and quiet, space and safety, instruction and practice time we are paying our time and money for inside SSQQ...

If people can smoke outside, they can talk outside.

How does that hurt anyone who wants to smoke, or, talk, more than they want to dance?


-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Thursday, March 10, 2005 2:47 PM
To: JohnG
Subject: Policy: Banning cell phones in the building

I fully intend to give your letter the exposure it deserves in next monthís Newsletter. I will also add some of my own comments about the rudeness of people who constantly wander through the middle of other classes to get a drink of water or go to the restroom. They think nothing of it even though Break or the end of class is usually no more than ten minutes away.

However I will warn you that the majority of people who will read about your concern or mine are the people who are conscientious to begin with.

The people who ignore the feelings of others with the cell phones and the wandering aimlessly through classes usually donít pay much attention to the Newsletter either.

Rick Archer
SSQQ Dance Studio

Are SSQQ Instructors, Hall Monitors, Registrars ever rude to our students?

The answer?  Not very often, but sometimes. If you are upset, email to

Speaking for myself, I know I have been guilty of being rude and arrogant at various times in my career. I have the learned the hard it isn't easy to be patient, pleasant, and diplomatic every moment of every day. 

A good example occurred on a Monday Night, July 26, 2004. I was exhausted after finishing my dance class. However I did my duty and stayed for Ballroom Practice Night.  I had danced with a dozen women and I was ready to sit down and rest. A woman entered the room and immediately asked me to dance to a Cha Cha song that had just come on.

I wasn't happy about the request, but agreed to dance anyway. The moment I started to dance, I realized she didn't have a clue how to Cha Cha!  Frustrated, I stated the obvious, "You don't know how to Cha Cha, do you?"

She replied with a big smile, "No, I don't. Why don't you teach me!?"

I lost it. I said, "Practice Night is not about teaching, it is about Practicing. I don't feel like teaching."  And I walked away.

I felt bad about what I had done immediately. But the damage was done. I sent the lady this apology the next day:

Rick Archer <> wrote:

"I feel terrible at how rudely I treated you. You have been a gracious friend to me for a long time and deserve to be treated better. I just ran out of steam and lost my patience. I came back to ask you to dance the next song but understandably you had left.

Again, I am sorry."

-----Original Message-----
From: PG
Sent: Tuesday, July 27, 2004 12:13 PM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: Re: please forgive my rudeness

"Apology accepted. See you Thursday in Martian Whip."

People make mistakes. I make mistakes. But fortunately apologies go a long way towards healing the damage.

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