Adventures in retail and beyond

It’s been just over a year since I’ve started working in retail again. I don’t mind retail, much. I’m a people person, so working with a large traffic flow is pretty easy. I tend to smile and stay up beat and do what I can to help a customer have a great experience. This was so easy when I was a cashier.

Customer Service, in retail, can really put a damper on such things though. You can only be yelled at, criticized, and disrespected so much before it really wears on the psyche.

I also have a really hard time understanding how people can treat other people the way that a large portion of customers do. It’s astonishing really.

As an example, on Friday afternoon I had a couple approach the counter with a router that did not work out for them. They approached my counter immediately, instead of waiting at the “please wait here” sign (huge pet-peeve of mine, the sign is there for a reason). The man reaches out, pushes what I was working on away and shoves his router at me.

First impression is not encouraging.

He opens his mouth and out comes angry rambling about how he’s spent thousands of dollars here and our associates promised him the router would work and all he wants to do is skype but he couldn’t because of the “piece of @#$! router we sold him.” (mental “oh crap”)

He then goes on about how he had to get our technicians into his house who then assured him it was the right router, but it’s just a piece of “worthless junk” and we’re just trying to rip him off. But they upgraded his router and now it all works.

Slight pause, “I’m really sorry to hear that, do you need me to return this for you?”

“Damn right you will return it.” Meanwhile his wife is putting her hands on his arm and shoulder trying to get him to back off the counter and be a decent human being. I pitied her, how often does he treat people like this?

I start the transaction, trying very hard to keep on my pleasant face when I get the notice that the router is out of policy. I look closer at the receipt and realize it was purchased in February. Oh no. He’s already sworn once, what will happen when I tell him that technically I can’t return it.

In a split second my mind goes through a checklist.

  • How long out of policy? 8 months
  • What is the item? Router
  • Is it still active stock? Yes
  • Can I give store credit? Totally

“I’m sorry sir, this is quite a bit out of our return policy but I’m happy to give you store credit for it.”

Wife looks hopeful. Guy gets red in the face and starts on a tirade about how stores like ours are just out to rip off people like him. He spends thousands of dollars in our store, how dare we sell him a “piece of @#$! router” and then charge him hundreds of dollars to come out and ….

I was trying desperately not to look like I want to punch him in the face. Also, there were several curse words.

When I get customers like these, I tend to shut up and wait it out. I let them spew until they realize that I am not going to feed their tirade. I let them wind down and then I apologize.

“I’m sorry to hear that, let me call a manager so you can let them know how you feel about this situation. Maybe they will even be able to get your money back.”

What really gets me, in these situations however, is that they have no idea how other customers are seeing them. His wife is completely horrified. At this point she has stopped trying to calm him and has actually backed away to distance herself.

As I wait for the manager, other customers are just staring at us. They look at this guy and others like him with horror or contempt, or on to us with pity.  But the sad fact is, while customers think we only experience this occasionally, I experience it several times a week.

When my manager shows up he immediately started yelling at her and swearing even more.  She calms him down, gets him his money back and apologizes for the inconvenience.  But also tells him that if he continues to use the language he’s using he will be escorted out of the building and asked not to return, regardless of the money he’s spent.  He then tries to apologize as it just makes him so angry when people “try to take advantage of him.”

The sad fact is, no one tried to take advantage of him.  In regards to his router, it was a lack of information on our part to get him the proper router for what he needed.

In retail we can only work with the information we are given. I truly understand that people don’t understand technology, that’s why we are here.  But, what gives a person the right to scream at, cuss at and demean a person who is just trying to help them out?

All I ask is that, as consumers we treat the people behind the counter with some respect. That job is HARD. It’s exhausting to a level I haven’t felt in years. Retail employees are paid so little for all the abuse they take, it’s no wonder they burn out quickly.

I try my absolute hardest to remain cheerful, but there are days, like Friday afternoon, that I just want to yell back and demand to know why I have to give up my rights for considerate interaction because I get paid $9 per hour.


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