Monday, January 18, 2010

Writing Lessons Via Customer Complaint

I'll do a quick catch up post with some new, fun links here in a bit. But first, I need to vent about something.

So yesterday morning, I'm at the Retail day job and my store manager calls just to check in (he always does) and see how the day is going. After we chat, he says he forgot to mention something when he saw me yesterday--I had a customer complaint. Against me, specifically. And I knew exactly what he was talking about.

In seven and a half years with this Retail company, I've been witness to incidents that end up being reported to customer service by irate customers. And 99% of the time, the customer is irate of their own doing and we truly did do everything we could to appease/help them. Some people just love to bitch. But this is the first time I'd ever had a specific complaint about me.


I tell my manager I think I know what this is about, then proceed to tell him about a Customer who came in two Friday's ago. I remember it clearly, because I was so flabbergasted by this woman that I thought about it for hours afterward. I discussed it with both associates working with me that night, and we were all amazed and confused to be accused of giving "ghetto service" and that we shouldn't "treat people like that."

I still can't figure out what "ghetto service" means, but whatever.

I won't rehash the entire evening. Was the Customer treated badly? Absolutely not. Did she walk into the store and get ignored completely by all three of us? Absolutely not. Could we have been more attentive to her needs as she shopped? Yes, of course. We were doing some merchandise-related tasks that evening and were a little distracted by them, but we weren't hiding. And she wasn't there ten minutes before she told me she'd "never been so ignored in a COMPANY STORE before in my life." Er, huh?

Surprise Brain took over at that point. She wouldn't be more specific about her needs or how she thought she'd been ignored/received back service. She didn't accept any of my apologies (which were completely sincere because, hello, Surprise Brain goes on instinct here and doesn't lie). She said she'd been shopping at COMPANY STORES for years and had never received such terrible service. On her way out the door, she basically said the same thing to the associate who greeted her on her way in.

She left three very boggled people in her wake.

I had a funny feeling I'd hear from this lady again. And my store manager said, after I finished my accounting of events, that what I said was similar to what she said. But oh how perspective distorts things (this feels like it could be turned into a writing lesson, doesn't it?).

Everyone has the right to their opinion. If this Customer felt our service that night didn't meet her standards, fine. That didn't bother me at all. Upon reflection, I think we all (associates and the customer) could have done things differently in order to achieve a more positive outcome. We could have been more attentive to her needs; she could have been more specific about what she wanted from us (according to the email, she came in for a flower arrangement and wasn't assisted as she expected to be, but neither associate mentioned her asking them for help with flowers...what can you do?).

No, what pissed me off about her email is what I'll simply call WTF!. My first WTF! came at the beginning of her email, in which she felt the need to detail her career achievements (she's a doctor and a lawyer, apparently). She also felt the need to tell us how many homes she owned, that she has money, and that her father is a multi-millionaire.

Um, and? I don't give a flying fig if you're worth five bucks or five million, and I don't give a shit if you're a doctor, a lawyer, a star athlete, or the guy who changed my oil last week at Jiffy Lube. Everyone deserves the same amount of respect and consideration, and I don't alter my service standards based on your social status.

((Slight aside: to help a little bit, when I told another associate about the complaint and who was working with me, she said, "What? You're three of the nicest people who work here."))

Next WTF! item - "new employees." I'm assuming here she meant new to her, but in the context of the email, it sounded as if she meant new to the company. Which none of us are. But we are not only new, we are also "rude disrespectful employees."

WTF! item that really pissed me off to the point of being personally offended my own damned self - she felt the need to mention her race, and made comments that implied we assumed that because she was Jamaican/Puerto Rican we looked at her and assumed "I am on welfare and have NEVER been in a [redacted] store." (direct quote)

I do NOT like being accused of being racist. Not one fucking bit, and especially not in such a passive-aggressive manner. Do NOT put those kinds of words into my mouth or that ignorance in my heart. Because it only makes you look like a jerk.

Last WTF! item before the summation: she wants all three of us fired. Part of me feels as if I've reached a pinnacle in my retail career now that someone has requested me fired (I'm still unclear as to why, exactly, because she never does get around to being specific about our offensive actions against her). Don't worry, no one's getting fired over this.

So what have we learned today, class?

When you're writing a letter of complaint, be specific about what it is that occurred in the store. Note specific interactions or offenses, so that it can be understood by both parties what exactly went wrong. Do not include unnecessary backstory--it only clouds the issue at hand and has no relevance to what happened in the store. I have no way of knowing your entire life story when you enter the premises, so I cannot judge you by it (nor would I, even if I knew it). Do not make ignorant assumptions about why you felt you were treated as you were.

Because you know what assuming does.


Bob Jones said...

Kelly, if that woman wants to find the source of her problems, I would suggest she start with a mirror. I had a similar problem when I worked PT at Crown Books. Some people just live to make others' lives miserable. If she actually is a doctor and lawyer (I can tell you how to check that out if you do not already know), then she should be more mature and intelligent and in full possession of decent people-skills. Sounds like you and your 2 co-workers have her beat in that department. I hope to see you at Farpoint. Howie and I have been asked to do a seminar there.

June Kramin said...

I hate retail & could never do it again - mainly for all those reasons. I wish I could say this woman will be the last like her you'll ever have to deal with. Fat chance though. I always felt everyone should have to do every type of service job - they'd be more respectful to those on the other end. ((hugs))

ReaganStar said...

I have a feeling most of us have had an experience quite like that, mine also being in retail. However mine had to do with someone trying to return clothing.. which is perfectly fine.. except they were filthy and smelled horrible, they actually responded to us stating we could truthfully do a return but if they wanted to contact a manager they could and we also gave them the corporate information regarding the store. The Manager did come down and pretty much told them off in a way. But they did certainly write a complaint just stating that we wouldnt accept the return, with the receipt. Not mentioning the state of the clothing.

Sigh, I have noticed lately though the changes in how fast someone expects service...but think this way... we all want things fast, who hasn't sat at a fast food drive through bitching to themselves about the long wait.. when really we should be thankful we don't have to go make dinner.

There are so many ways to take one thing and describe it so many different ways to get different opinions.

Unknown said...

I work in hospitality, and get that kind of thing all the time. Here's the thing: I treat everyone the same up to a point, then I react to how I'm being treated. If someone wants above par service, they need to be an above par person!

Alexia561 said...

You must be an awesome employee if this is the first customer complaint you've ever received! And what does this woman's race, profession, or bank account have to do with anything?

I've been in customer service way too long, but am still amazed at the behavior of some of our customers. I've lost count of the number of customer complaints I've received because I won't give them a $100 gift card because of some perceived slight.

One of my favorties was when we delivered their package to the wrong address...which is the address they gave us. Guess we were supposed to know that they had moved and accidentally gave us their old address. *sigh*

I agree 100% with Melissa that after a certain point, I will react to the way I'm being treated. Be nice and I will bend over backwards for you. Insult me and call me names, and you get nothing.

June has the right idea - everyone should have to work in the service industry for at least a month. Bet their attitudes would change in a flash!

Melanie Hooyenga said...

Good god! People kill me sometimes. I'm glad you're not letting this get to you.

I was once called a racist because I accidentally put mushrooms on a woman's cheesesteak when she requested it without. Yep -- I'm taking people down one fungi at a time.

Tyhitia Green said...

OMG, Kelly. Retail is something I never worked in. My best friend did and she had some doozies to tell.

That sucks you ran into a jerk who is used to people cowtowing to her and running in fear. And if she had to list her accomplishments she's probably lying or she just thinks she's more important that she really is.

As for my best friend, an older White lady told her that she couldn't assist her because she wasn't White. LOL. My friend loved that one a lot.

I was considering working in a bookstore part time but I have been really thinking about it. :-/

Tyhitia Green said...

**than** not that. Ooops.

Anonymous said...

I once had a customer so purely mean to me, that when after she left, I broke out into tears of frustration. The woman & I had a history & that particular day I was by myself (no manager/assistant manager back up.) Silly me kept trying to enforce company policy in regards to returns & the use of false receipts/switched price tags. She spent 10 minutes yelling at me in front of half a dozen or so other customers. Afterward every customer came up to me & offered their sympathy and/or choice words to describe the woman. One woman in particular told me it was her first time there & she was so pleased with my service that she would only shop while I was on shift. In the 5 years I worked at this (big name) bookstore outlet I garnered a bit of a following. Customers would come in asking for me by name on a recommendation by a friend I had helped previously. One customer brought me baked goods every week another coffee. I was the only employee at that store to receive a perfect score on a Secret Shopper evaluation & I was only a part-time employee. I miss my regulars. I miss diving in to boxes of books every week. I miss discovering new authors, making recommendations & later discussing those books with the customers. I truly miss all of that but I wouldn't go back for the world. Three years out of retail has made me realize how much more crap than good was heaped onto me every shift. I do my very best to treat every sales clerk as nicely as possible & make a special effort to praise good ones.
I agree that everyone should spend time doing retail, food service & cleaning, preferably between High School & college, to gain some perspective & respect.