Archive for January, 2010

Adventures in Customer Service

January 27, 2010
(Images from .  Thanks, Jayne, for recommending the link!)
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.


Tune My Heart to Sing Thy Grace

January 21, 2010

(Is it just me, or do you see a hand in this picture I took after The Big Snow of Aught Nine?  I call it “Winter’s Icy Grip.”)

I had a birthday last week, as I have every January for as far back as I can remember.  And as I am prone to do on birthdays (especially as I have gotten older), I pondered and reflected on the year past and the year yet to come.

Like a lot of people who spend too much time thinking about stuff, I tend to get all philosophical this time of year and to think I’m having deep and profound insights when really I’m likely just boring people to tears.  When my kids were living at home, they probably dreaded my pensive ponderings because all that contemplation would often result in Wise Motherly Lectures which would often leave my children looking like caged animals, their eyes darting about, looking for a means of escape.

Really, I should say that Ariel and Benjamin have always been pretty tolerant of my Wise Motherly Lectures, which consisted of pretty much the same admonitions mothers have been giving their children for hundreds of years.  Probably the one thing I said the most to them was to “Be True,” which I think is essential in a world where so much is false.  Be true to yourself, be true to others, be true to God, I’d say.  Along with “Be Positive.”  Don’t spend too much time beating yourself up over mistakes made, but learn from them, make amends for them, and then look ahead.  And always, always I told them to “Be Thankful.”   Be thankful for what you have rather than bemoaning what you don’t.

Even though I like to think that My Endless Fount of Motherly Wisdom influenced my children in some small way, quite likely the very best thing that’s come of my lectures is their effect on MY behavior.   I’ve always been painfully aware that I couldn’t tell them to do something that I wasn’t doing myself.  I needed to walk the talk, to practice what I preach because, as a parent, I think that you’re wasting your breath with a lecture if you’re not living your own words.   

I’ve thought about this for the past few weeks as I’ve found myself slipping into a bit of a funk and engaging in way too much self-pity following our less-than-pleasant experiences over the holidays.  I’ve fretted and worried over all that lost food, all that lost time, and the hospital bills that will soon be in our mailbox.  I’ve whined about the cold weather, then griped about all the mud in our driveway after the cold earth thawed in a rare warm spell.  Not to mention a host of smaller things that make me cranky—auto insurance that went way up for no reason, a computer monitor that died, increasing gas prices…

But I am brought up short when I watch the latest footage from Haiti.  So much devastation, so much loss, so much misery.  Who am I to whine?  I have food, I have shelter, I have a soft bed to fall into at night.  And when Benjamin needed surgery, we had access to the best of medical care (even if it does cost an arm and a leg).  As difficult as it was to see him lying in pain, I had the reassurance of knowing that he was in good hands, both in the physical realm and in the spiritual.

The other night on the news, I watched a report that showed a group of Haitian ladies singing hymns in the middle of all that wreckage.   I was moved by their courage and faith in the midst of so much hardship.  I didn’t recognize the hymn, but the light and spirit shining forth in their faces transcended any language or cultural barriers.

That night, while washing dishes, I found myself singing an old hymn that I hadn’t sung for years, from my childhood in the Baptist church.

“Come thou fount of every blessing
  Tune my heart to sing thy grace.
  Streams of mercy never ceasing
  Call for songs of loudest praise.”

I felt tears spring to my eyes as I thought about those singing Haitians who had lost so much, perhaps including sons and daughters.  And I thought of my own son, so recently in peril, but now back at school and doing well. And my daughter, who’s found her voice as an artist and writer and is as happy as I’ve ever seen her.  And I thought of our refrigerator full of food, our warm house, and even about how blessed I was to have this warm soapy water in a nice clean sink to wash dishes in.

So I’m singing now.  And I’m counting my blessings and thanking God for unceasing streams of mercy.  I pray that my heart will always be tuned to sing His grace.  

And, of course, I’m praying for the people of Haiti and for all the people who are ministering to their needs there.  You’ve probably already donated, but if you haven’t, the United Methodist Committee on Relief will use 100% of funds donated for Haitian Relief to help the people of Haiti (with none used for administrative costs).  I couldn’t give much, but I was happy to know that every penny I gave would go to ease that terrible suffering.

How beautiful the sound was of those women singing in the face of tragedy!  May God bless them.  And may they always sing their “songs of loudest praise.”

Snow Angels

January 12, 2010

I used to write poems. In fact, it was a poem I wrote in second grade that gave rise to the very first words of encouragement I ever received for my writing. My teacher, the wonderful Mrs. Wagonner, praised me to the point of embarrassment and had me write my poem on a posterboard, which she put up on the wall where all the class could see it. To a kid as hungry for recognition as I was, this was all the incentive I needed to keep writing.

Back then I thought that poems should rhyme, and I’d spend hours trying to fit a rhyming word into a poem, like a puzzle piece that you keep turning around and around to see if it fits. It was years before I realized that the point of a poem is not necessarily the rhyme. But even then, I’d usually find a way to sneak that rhyme in there somewhere.

But it’s been a while since I wrote a poem. I’ve come to realize that perhaps I’m destined to be a writer of prose, not poetry. I don’t even understand most of the poems I see published these days, so I figure the fact that my poems are easily accessible is probably one of many strikes against me.

But I thought I’d put one of my earlier efforts up just to show that once upon a time I loved snow. I welcomed snow. I found it to be magical and wondrous. Partly because in the Raleigh area (where we used to live), it was so rare. But also because, back then, I saw it through the eyes of my young children.

This poem was written the way it happened on that snowy morning except for the fact that I really didn’t run outside in my nightgown in the snow. (What, do you think I’m crazy???) 🙂 But I did sort of run outside in my heart, and I did feel joy and I did feel grateful for the sweet pleasure of watching my children in the snow.

So, along with a few more photos I took of our recent snow event (as the weather people like to call it), here’s my Paean to Snow and Innocence and Wonder:

Snow Angels

Their high voices woke her
Like the chatter of baby birds.
“Mommy, it snowed, it snowed!”
And their excitement stirred
Faint memories of a time
When miracles occurred
On a daily basis.

A flurry and blur of coats and caps
Before they tumble like kittens
Into the freshly-fallen snow
From pockets fall forgotten mittens
To lie like crocuses against the white.
Small footprints mark snow like a letter written
Of thanksgiving and praise to God.

Snowflakes sparkle like glitter
In the bright slant of first light,
Transforming the world with soft crystals.
In the cold warm voices call to invite
Her, still nightgowned, into the silver morning.
She laughs as she runs—a snow angel in flight–
Cleansed and purified by ice.  

Of Blue Snow, Kerosene Cooking, and Doctors That Pass Gas

January 6, 2010

Well, hello there. And Happy New Year! I do hope it’s been a good one so far for you. All I can say is that I hope the rest of 2010 isn’t anything like our first day of it. Which we spent mostly in a hospital after a night of no sleep, making lame jokes to cover our anxiety. We sure didn’t figure on spending New Year’s Day in a curtained room waiting for Benjamin to have surgery. Nope. But…I’m getting ahead of myself.

Really, it would take me several pages to tell you about our “holiday” and who has time for that? So I’ll do it sort of Good News/Bad News/Twitter-like style since I’m working on making my writing more concise and because…well…I really don’t like rehashing bad times.

The Good News is: We had a white Christmas.

The Bad News is: It was only white because we had stale, dirty, left-over snow from an eighteen-inch snow the week before, and it was so horribly cold that it wouldn’t melt.

The Good News is: Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man and Benjamin finally got home safely the day after the Big Snow after spending the night in Benjamin’s dorm room because the roads were too bad to travel. What a beautiful sight it was seeing Benjamin trudging up through the snow from the bottom of our driveway carrying his guitar!

The Bad News is: It was a cold, cold house that greeted them because our electricity had gone out the day before. A smelly house, too, because we had no water for flushes.

The Good News is: Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man had found a kerosene heater earlier in the dumpster and he dragged it out, fixed it, and cleaned it up. We had heat!

The Bad News is: The stores in Weaverville were charging ten dollars a gallon for kerosene. And, believe it or not, there was a long line of cold and desperate people waiting to pay it.

The Good News is: We had plenty to eat because (who knew??) you can cook quite well on top of a kerosene heater. It takes a while, but the slow baking gives things a delightful crispiness.

The Bad News is: We ate a lot (1) because we were trying (futilely) to feel warm and (2) to get all that expensive Christmas food eaten before it went bad because after the third day of no power, we were beginning to suspect that it was going to be a while before it came back on and we were beginning to realize that we’d better eat it before it grew some kind of deadly culture that would kill us before the cold or the toxic kerosene fumes did. We did finally bury some of our food in the giant snow drifts on our back patio, but we were a bit late putting it out because we were in denial and we kept thinking that they’d get that power on any time now.

The Good News is: I’d given Tom an LED headlamp as an early Christmas present a couple of days before, and it was incredibly bright. So we were all able to use his headlamp to read by. And speaking of light, the night of the snowstorm when we were huddled together trying to stay warm, Ariel and I repeatedly saw blue lightning illuminate the sky and snow, looking surreal and lovely and other-worldly and making us feel quite happy despite our dilemma.

The Bad News is: Days Three, Four, and Five of the Great Power Failure of Aught Nine were not nearly as fun as the first two. The novelties of Kerosene Cooking , Snowdrift Food Preservation, and reading by the light of the LED get old quickly.

The Good News is: The power came back on for Christmas Eve! Great jubilance and euphoria ensued! We were too tired to put up a tree or any other decorations, but Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man and Benjamin did fetch my beloved Nativity crèche from the garage and I played Handel’s Messiah while we tenderly put Mary, Joseph, the Shepherd, the Wise Men, and the baby Jesus in their places.

The Bad News is: We were all wiped out from being so long in survival mode and trying to cook and wash and clean that we pretty much just ate the Christmas dinner I cooked and then fell into bed. Also, I was unable to use my computer because my monitor inexplicably died when the power did. We were still reveling, however, in being able to sleep unfettered by five layers of coat, sweater, and blanket.

The Good News is: We had five more days of relative comfort before the next Big Crisis took place. I was busy catching up on my Christmas baking and getting ready for a four-day visit from Cameron, Ariel’s boy friend. I was looking forward to meeting him because Ariel is crazy about him and he’s crazy about her and I was pretty sure I’d like him a lot.

The Bad News is: We had to postpone Cameron’s visit because Benjamin became ill with awful stomach pains on New Year’s Eve Day. I was sick with worry, thinking that I’d poisoned him with my Kerosene Cooking.

The Good News is:  It wasn’t my Kerosene Cooking.

The Bad News is: It was appendicitis. And surgery was imminent. Which was how we ended up in a curtained room in the hospital on New Year’s Day.

The Good News is: The appendix came out with ease, unburst. And Benjamin is getting better by the day. Special thanks to his anesthesiologist, who called himself Bob the Gas Passer and not only answered every question we had, but made us laugh at a time when we badly needed to laugh. Thanks, Dr. Bob.

The Bad News is: I am struggling to regain my usual optimism and my ability to see silver linings. All of this together knocked me for a loop.

The Good News is: Although we’ve had to restrain ourselves a bit so Benjamin won’t bust loose his stitches, we are all still laughing. And we are still hopeful that the rest of 2010 will be much better than the first of it. We are grateful for that hope. And grateful for blue lightning and toilets that flush and water straight from the tap and Christmas cookies and bright lights shining in the darkness. And, yes, we are grateful for the ethereal beauty of the snow and how it renders the ugly beautiful. Praise be.

The Blue Ridge Blue Collar Family joins me in wishing you a year of joy, hope, blessings, and peace. God bless us everyone.