Monday, July 5, 2010

Dear Disaffected Youth,

Yes, I am talking to you, you with the sullen face and spotty customer service skills. You, who will not look me in the eye when you hand me my receipt. If you hate your job that much, would you just get a new one, for fuck's sake?

Listen, I did my time in retail in high school and college. I started working in retail when the minimum wage was $3.35. Would you like to know how much I made? $3.50 an hour. A whopping $.15 over the lowest wage one could possibly make. I worked at a clothing store called Show Off. And you know what? I didn't hate it. My co-workers were fun and we all got along (well, except for that odd Jamaican girl who stood in the fitting room all day and drew pictures on scrap paper). It really was not a bad gig. Sure, some of the customers could be surly. Women would pull tricks like taking a blouse into the fitting room, smearing it with their own make-up, and then demanding a discount on that item. Even if a customer was rude to me, I never returned the rudeness. If I had, not only would I have gotten in trouble with my boss, but I'm pretty sure my mother would've kicked my ass if she found out. I was raised to be cordial to people, to put money in someone's hand rather than tossing it on the counter, and above all to make regular use of societal niceties like "please, thank you, and excuse me." It doesn't seem that hard.

Lately, I have had the misfortune to run into a lot of young people in the retail and service industries who haven't mastered basic etiquette. What I typically do in those situations is to kill them with kindness. I refuse to feed into the negative energy. I had two bad run-ins within the last three days, though, and I'm losing faith.

On Friday, I decided to take a lunch (I normally eat at my desk). I stopped in a local sandwich shop (not a chain restaurant). I ordered a toasted veggie sandwich. I also grabbed a bag of chips and a diet soda. The cashier seemed to be having a bad day/week/life, did not say hello, and acted as though taking my order was somehow hastening her death, but I was as polite as I know how to be. I sat down with my chips and waited for my sandwich, which seemed to take an inordinately long time. Finally, Miss Cheerful brought the sandwich to my table, set down the red plastic basket, and walked away without a word. I took a bite. "Wait, that's not Swiss cheese," I thought to myself. I opened the sandwich. Yeah, ham and cheese. I walked up to the cash register.

"Listen, I'm a vegetarian and you just served me a ham and cheese."

Without looking at me, she took the basket, turned, and handed it through the window to the kitchen. Then she mumbled something about getting me a new sandwich.

I went and sat back down at my table. The more I thought about it, the angrier I got. I don't think I ate any of the ham, but still . . . what if I had a deadly allergy or something? This situation just seemed inexcusable to me. I waited a while longer and walked back up to the cash register. The cashier would not acknowledge me, so I walked towards a woman who was standing in the kitchen doorway. "Listen, I need to talk to somebody," I said. "I am a vegetarian and I was just served a ham and cheese sandwich."

"She made a mistake. I'm making you a new sandwich right now."

"It's not so much the mistake as the rudeness," I replied. "No one has apologized in any way. It's a little frustrating."

"Well, I am sorry, "she said, in a way that made it clear that she was not.

I turned on my heel and told the cashier I just needed a refund. So, I got my $4.69 and drove back to the office, fuming all the way. You know, I really don't think I'm an intolerant person. If someone had just said, "We are so sorry! We'll get you the right sandwich right away," I would not have been nearly as angry. The sandwich should have been free while they were at it, but I would have settled for a sincere apology.

Incident number two occurred today. I was at a department store with my daughter. I spotted some black capri pants on a rack that had a "60% off" sign on top. I tried them on and voila, I needed to have them. Yes, I have about ten pairs of black pants already but never mind about that.

I took them to the nearest register. There were two girls behind the desk and neither acknowledged me. They were complaining to each other about how they had been scheduled for a long day and that there weren't enough associates to cover them for breaks. Finally, one of them walked away and the other proceeded to ring me up. I noticed that the digital display indicated that the retail price of the pants was $40.00. The tag clearly listed $36.00 as the original price. I pointed this out to her.

She shrugged. "I don't know. I really couldn't tell you."

"Well, the pants are $36.00, so the total should be 60% off that amount. Do you need me to go to a service desk or something like that?"

"This is the service desk. You know, sometimes we change all the tags and maybe the system just didn't get updated." Then she said the next part very slowly: "Do. You. Get. That?"

Oh no, she di'int. I felt a surge of anger that started behind my face somewhere and caused my jaw to clench. My daughter was behind me, sitting in a rented mall stroller shaped like a yellow taxi. "I'm in the cash cab!" she was singing to herself. I was keenly aware of her presence and didn't want to say anything that would shatter her innocence prematurely. I turned back to the cashier.

"I have a college degree and can handle basic math," I responded. (My degree is in English and the truth is that sometimes basic math does escape me, but in this case I was fully capable of calculating the difference between $40 and $36).

I leveled my gaze at the youthful cashier. "How do I go about getting the price adjusted." I didn't really phrase it like a question, since it wasn't.

She huffed and puffed and sighed loudly and overrode the total. She all but threw the bag at me. My first inclination was to head out to the parking lot and key every car, just to make sure I got hers. However, I instead circled the store in search of an authoritative looking employee or a main customer service desk. I found neither. Instead, I waited until I got home and submitted a complaint through the department store's web site.

What I'd really like to do is to send my mother to kick some ass.


Lisa said...

At least you filed a complaint which is more than most do thus allowing that kind of stuff to keep happeneing to everyone.

Susie said...

To hell in a handbasket--that's where customer service is headed. I'm with ya 100%--and it's shameful to me that managers continue to employee "sales people" who have such poor customer service skills. I had the exact pricing issue recently, but a little old lady was at the register. Guess what? Same explanation, but she happily changed the price once she understood how to do it. Sigh.

Steph K said...

Good Lord! I'm annoyed on your behalf.

I'm dying to know which store(s) you were at so I can potentially avoid them.

FWIW-I was at Sear's today and had great service with both a return and a new purchase.

Just Lisa said...


I know I would have to suffer serious disciplinary action if I was ever caught acting like either one of those people! You were right to speak up!

Mama Llama Ding Dong said...

You have confirmed what I have believed to be the truth for many years and that is customer service truly is a lost art in our society.
There is really no excuse for rudeness, in my honest opinion. It's not like the price adjustment is coming out of their own pockets, right?!

Kim said...

Customer service is so bad lately that I have started to email companies on the rare occasion that I receive excellent customer service. It takes a lot for someone to impress me but when they do I let the company know about it...just like I let them know about it when they have idiots working for them.

I once had a Gap employee try to charge me $4.00 for an even exchange because the item was no longer on sale and he did not want to override something in the register. He was also busy flirting with his girlfriend. That earned me a $50 gift card from Gap.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. I also think that customers need to treat retail staff like human beings and get off of their phones before they approach a desk or counter. When I see customers ignoring staff waiting on them while gabbing on their phone right in front of them I can't help but think that no wonder the cashier is surly.