Being one to look for silver linings, I thought to myself when the economy started going south, Well, at least now customer service will improve. After all, with fewer customers, businesses would be falling all over themselves to please the ones they had, right?
And, to some extent, I have found that to be true. In fact, just recently, after I found a large red pepper stem in some frozen stir-fry, I called their customer service number in Tennessee and spoke to a lovely lady there who promptly apologized and sent me nice coupons. You can be sure I’ll buy their product again. Earlier this month, I had the hand pump thing in a large bottle of my favorite lotion fail when I was only a third of the way through. Very frustrating since I’d had the same thing happen with an earlier bottle. So I dialed up customer service and the very kind person who answered seemed quite dismayed to hear my dilemma and sent me a $20 gift certificate to buy more lotion. I will now be their customer for life.
But last week, I had an entirely different experience when I went to a large, well-known chain drugstore to use my lotion gift certificate. Now, I wish I could name the store, but I’ve heard so many horror stories about bloggers being sued for complaining about bad customer service that I’m a little intimidated. Lord knows, the last thing I need in my life right now is a lawsuit.
This store had just recently opened, and they had my lotion on sale (Buy One, Get One 50% Off! said their ad). In fact, I was tickled to realize that with two coupons I had, it would work out exactly so I’d be able to use the entire gift certificate to buy four bottles of lotion, with me only having to pay sales tax.
So, I went to the store, quickly found my lotion (feeling quite pleased with myself) and took the bottles to the counter. The cashier was a nice young man who smiled and said hello. Behind him an older woman was crouched down, stocking the shelves. I asked the cashier if he could please check the price since it hadn’t been listed on the shelf and I wanted to make sure I got the sales price. The minute I said that, the woman who’d been stocking rose up and became very interested in our transaction. I tried to ignore the look of suspicion she was giving me, though I found it puzzling.
She watched closely as the he rang up and bagged my lotion. Then I presented my coupons and gift certificate. That’s when she turned into The Customer Service Gestapo. First of all, she grabbed the gift certificate from the cashier’s hands. Now, I’d certainly understand her wanting to study the document–$20 is a lot of money and naturally, she’d want to make sure it was legitimate. Nothing wrong with that.
But she didn’t just study it, she pored over it, turning it over and over. For a very long time. This was a small piece of paper we’re talking about with very little print on it that should take thirty seconds, tops, to read. There were several people behind me in line waiting, and I began to feel a little embarrassed. Finally, she looked up with a smug and triumphant smile. “You can’t use this for the lotion—it’s not a Johnson and Johnson product. And this gift certificate says it’s only for Johnson and Johnson products.” She was obviously very pleased with herself.
“Umm…the gift certificate has the name of the lotion right there on it,” I said. “Here, I’ll show you…” I tried to point to the place where it clearly listed the name.
She completely ignored me but barked at the cashier to check the bottle. He looked a little irritated himself by now, but reached into the bag, pulled out the lotion, and looked on the back. “Yep. Johnson and Johnson.”
She grabbed the bottle to see for herself. The growing crowd behind me became more restless. I was just hoping they weren’t blaming me for all this.
“Okay,fine,” she snapped. “You can give her $7.99 off.” This was the price for a single bottle. She reached in and rang up a $7.99 coupon.
“$7.99?” I said. “But the gift certificate was for $20 and I have $24 worth of lotion!”
“Oh?” she said, feigning surprise. “Well, I didn’t realize you had more lotion!”
Liar, liar, pants on fire, I thought. You stood there and watched him put all four bottles in the bag, you spiteful witch. Okay, I’m not proud of myself for thinking such rude thoughts, but I’ve got to tell you, I was starting to feel pretty annoyed. And very embarrassed. I’m a shy person who doesn’t like to attract attention and I could feel that my face was burning.
“You do realize that now we’ll have to void this transaction since I rang up the $7.99?” she said to me with an exasperated sigh as though I was at fault and must surely be doing this only to annoy her . “Where’s the register key?” she asked the cashier. It seemed that someone else had the key. Then she said, “Oh great, we don’t have the key! We can’t void it!” She glared at me, as though I was personally responsible and was probably concealing the key in my purse. I glared back. I was now officially peeved.
The funny thing is, my first reaction was actually bafflement. Why was she doing this? Why was she treating me like a criminal? I mean, it’s not like I went in wearing a large coat with twenty hidden pockets. Or a huge purse that rattled suspiciously. I’m a mild-mannered person and I look it. No shifty eyes here. But it soon became apparent that she was trying to badger me into giving up the whole thing, and mild-mannered or not, I don’t like being badgered.
She finally seemed to grasp that she wasn’t going to wear me down, but then told me how “lucky” I was that she was willing to accept my gift certificate. Funny—I didn’t feel lucky. I was so embarrassed that I felt like I was going to cry.
The cashier looked embarrassed, too, and he smiled apologetically as he handed me the bag. I smiled back. It wasn’t his fault.
And it wasn’t his fault that I’ll never set foot in this store again. Later, I wondered again why she treated me like that. Was it because I looked like the low-income person that I am? Was it because I seem mild-mannered and she thought I’d buckle quickly under her bullying? Was it because she is an angry person looking for someone to unload on?
I don’t know. But what I do know is that they’ve lost my business and the many dollars that I likely would have spent there in the future. And they’ve lost my respect for hiring someone who’d treat customers this way. News flash for businesses: Treating your customers like criminals is bad for business. Last I heard, it wasn’t against the law to use a coupon or a gift certificate. Some stores even encourage it.
And news flash for the Gestapo Clerk From Hell: I’m probably not the first person you’ve tried your nonsense on and I won’t be the last. But one of these days, you’re going to unload on the wrong person, and they’re going to unload on you, which is probably what it will take to wipe that smirk off your face. And I reckon you felt real powerful when you were browbeating me. But I have more power than that in my pocketbook and the money there that won’t be spent in your store. You probably don’t care that I’m never coming in your store again. But every customer you lose could mean a future loss of hundreds of dollars for your store. Those hundreds multiplied by more disgruntled customers add up and eventually could translate to job losses. So every customer you treat like you treated me gets your fanny one step closer to being booted out the door.
Which, in my opinion, is exactly where it belongs.