Adventures in Customer Service

(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.


15 Responses to “Adventures in Customer Service”

  1. Jayne Says:

    Grrrrrr…. there is NOTHING that irks me more than poor customer service! I think you should call the store, ask for the manager and tell them exactly what transpired. They need to know in order to rein her in and to keep from losing other valuable customers because they have this one mean biddy at the register! I’ve learned not to punish the store for people like her, unless I don’t get a good resolution to my complaint. I’ve called more than one store to let management know about my bad experience there, and most all of the time, they had no clue, and are SO appreciative of the call. Do it, Beth! Call them and let them know… who knows, you might just end up with a whopping gift certificate to spend there! Bully on her! Wish I’d been there with you. SHE’D have been the one with the red face!!! TAWANDA!

  2. Benjamin Says:

    Haha, those pictures are very funny! So is your description.

    If you will remember, point #1 in my Capitalist Manifesto:

    All stores that do not willingly offer beneficial coupons to the Thrifty should be boycotted!

    Sorry you had to go through that :-[

  3. southernlady64 Says:

    I, too, just get furious over poor customer service and some crazy clerk or employee that acts like they own the place and they are losing money out of their own pocket. It takes very little effort to be nice to someone. I would not call the manager, I would call the owner of the company or the CEO or find out who he is and send him a copy of your post. I agree with Jayne in that she would have crawled under the counter when I got through with her. So sorry this happened to you.

  4. eemilla Says:

    I would certainly call the manager of the store and depending on that response contact the corporate office; the other people in line probably understood it was the busybody. Good luck!

  5. Martha Says:

    You didn’t do anything wrong, Beth. Don’t let this miserable old bat get to you. And you shouldn’t stop here. You should do two things: 1) Get her name and call her manager. If she is the manager, call whoever is HER boss. And complain. And if her boss doesn’t treat your fairly, then call his boss. Keep climbing up the ladder until you get the respect you deserve. She had no right to treat you this way. 2) Call the company that gave you the discount coupon and explain to them that XYZ store is not honouring their discounts. In fact, they are giving customers a terrible time about it. I don’t know where this will get you, but you have to make sure that this woman that completely stepped out of line gets the message. I’ve worked in customer service and never in a million years treated someone anywhere near this badly. Even if the customer was an idiot.

    I have the same temperament as you. I’m terribly shy, mild mannered, overly polite and basically passive. But. Push me a little too hard and I get very peeved off. Then I complain. It’s hard for a personality like mine, and it basically leaves me shaken and exhausted, but I’m sick and tired of these types of miserable people treating customers this way.

    I’m sorry you had to deal with this. It’s really hard for someone like you who is shy and prefers not to be noticed. I know how that feels.

    Oh, and when you do climb up the ladder in that store and complain, make sure you stress that you will NEVER step foot in there again. And that you’ll share this experience with everyone you know, and everyone you encounter, so no one else ever deals with this. You may find yourself with a whole lot of coupons or goodies from this store if you get loud enough 🙂

  6. Bonnie Jacobs Says:

    I wish to help with the part that Martha suggested: “…that you’ll share this experience with everyone you know.” Here’s my email address so you can send me the name of the store so I’ll avoid going there, too, as your reinforcement. My email … emerging DOT paradigm AT yahoo DOT com. I’m with you on this. Thanks for writing this post.

  7. june Says:

    I know Beth…it amazes me too how in this economy there could be even one instance of bad customer service…but there is. All I can think to figure it out is that the times are stressing these folks out too and they don’t have the emotional IQ not to displace their anxiety on to others. Still not an excuse … they need to be held accountable. Perhaps they’ll learn from it…or perhaps they’ll get more bitter and become more nasty and then lose their job and become more bitter and more nasty and, and….Guess the bottom line is they’re out there and we just have to do what WE have to do to live among them. Part of that is to report the incident. If it happens again, stop shopping there and tell them why.

  8. wesley Says:

    …ditto to everyone else. And here’s another suggestion: if you aren’t comfortable calling the store, a letter is still legitimate in this day and age. yes, you never know if they will throw it away but at least you will know that you made your experience known.

    On a positive note, I think it’s good to praise those who give you good customer service. On the Wednesday before Christmas I went to the Ingles in Waynesville to buy supplies for Christmas dinner. We had had snow and lots of people were finally out and about for the first time after being stuck. Add that to the regular Christmas grocery rush and you know the store was very very busy. I had a long list and needed some help locating a couple of things. Stockers were busy on every aisle loading up from trucks that had been delayed due to the earlier snow. And every single person I encountered who worked there that day was helpful and cheerful and pleasant. Some even went out of their way to help me and were polite about it. I asked one man to help me find tahini and even though he didn’t know what it was he said “oh we’ll find it” and he did!
    After going through the checkout, where even the teenage girl was nice and helpful and the bagger happily loaded up my brought-from-home bags and piled them high into my cart, I wheeled right over to the customer service desk and asked for the manager. The customer service gal stopped and looked at me and I could see the big “uh oh” in her head. I heard the cautious tone in her voice when she said “She would like to speak with the manager.”
    He came down out of the customer service booth to be on the same level with me (another plus) and I told him about my experience. I asked him to pass my compliments on to his staff that they were all doing a great job and it was noticed.
    The relief in him was visible and he smiled and thanked me and asked if he could help me carry my stuff to the car. I declined.
    Now I don’t feel so guilty about going out of my way to shop there once in a while. They’ve earned my business.

    And the drug store you went to has lost your business–and mine (email me and tell me, okay). You really should let them know, somehow.

    Hugs to you.

  9. Ariel Says:

    I’m sorry you had to go through that. I agree with Benjamin, the accompanying pictures are hilarious. Though your experience was wretched, I’m glad you can see the modicum of humor in it. Because that lady was absolutely ridiculous!

  10. Jeff Says:

    Yes. I agree with all of the comments regarding reporting this incident to someone higher in the food chain. Many years ago, I had a very unpleasant experience at a McDonalds and tried to resolve the matter locally. It didn’t work. I ended up taking it to corporate headquarters in Oak Brook, IL and was “rewarded” with gift coupons, after an interminable amount of time and effort. The sum involved was ridiculously small, but I was one ticked off person and I wasn’t going to let go until I got satisfaction. I took the coupons to an outlet, bought something with them and, to this day, I have NEVER bought another thing from McDonalds. And I won’t ever darken the door of a McDonalds in the future, either. Not even if I’m starving.

    You MUST complain to corporate higher-ups, Beth. If you need help researching the appropriate place to complain, please let me know. I’ll be more than happy to do so and I can provide help with the format of the complaint letter, too.

  11. CountryDew Says:

    Oh dear. You ran into the coupon police. I seem to run into that frequently. They are clerks who think that it is their job to try to catch people who use coupons illicitly. It is as if we’re personally taking that 50 cents away from them. It is is the biggest reason I hate to use coupons.

    I agree with everyone else: report the clerk. But I am glad you bought your lotion.

  12. Sharon Says:

    How about this? You sell the book about the sock dolls and make millions of dollars. The bicked witch is still working at that store, of course. Which you buy with your pocket change. She is allowed to kiss your feet and beg for forgiveness before getting fired.

    Why am I being so mean and revengeful? Because I had to deal with Comcast customer service this week. But that bicked witch had to give it up and let me win. Bwah hah hah!

  13. Debi Kelly Van Cleave Says:

    I don’t have time to read everyone’s responses so forgive me if I repeat what has already been said. People like that feel so bad about themselves, they are so rotten inside, they have to attack someone else. That’s what she was doing. Picking on you. You were an easy target, for some reason. Like how mean, evil people will kick kittens. She thought you were weak. Maybe it did come across, like you said, that you don’t have a lot of money. Maybe you LOOK mild-mannered. Whatever. That witch saw weakness and attacked. I hope you will report her to the higher-ups. In fact, you really need to print out this blog post and send it to them. And send HER a copy too. People like that have no idea they are so mean and rotten. She should know what a witch she is. No one needs this garbage.

    Now she will say she was doing her job. That she cares about the company. But that’s bullcrap. She hurt the company. And that’s the problem with most workers, even in this economy. They do not look at the long-term picture when they’re mean to the customers, when they ignore customers or do shoddy work. It’s a very rare worker who actually thinks ahead and treats the company like it’s his own business and not some bottomless well where the paychecks just keep coming. No wonder my old bosses, when I worked for other people, liked me so much. Because I had that concept. Even when I was twenty-years old. I knew that. Now that I am older and have employed people myself, I’ve learned that workers like I was are rare. Even little things. Like I had a credit with The Roanoke Times. They kept sending me a statement every month with a return envelope. Big waste of money. What did I need a return envelope for? Why did I even need a statement over and over again? Just send the balance and save money. But no one was THINKING. Because no one really cares. Good workers are hard to find. And you’re right–it’s shocking in this economy when people are begging for jobs.

  14. Sweetflutterbys3 Says:

    Oh my gosh, I had the same experience with a nasty employee at a local Subway. She barked and growled at me the entire time and demanded I give her my sandwich order in the exact way she wanted it, like I was supposed to read her mind! I’ll never go back there for sure!

    On the other hand, I had a wonderful experience with this past weekend. I ordered a comforter that ripped in the wash on the first cleaning. I called them and they promised to replace it immediately, without me having to ship the old comforter back. They were so nice to me I wrote the managers there thanking them for the great service. I will go back there to shop!

  15. Ginger Says:

    Call the manager or send him a photocopy of your post!

    What really bothers me is the degrading aspect of your experience. I can feel the humiliation. Humiliation and shame that are not deserved. Ick.

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