Friday, September 11, 2009

Bernie the Agitator

At my last job, we had a customer named Bernard who frequently visited. And every time he came it was to pick a fight about something. Either it was that our sale flyer was misleading or that we didn't have a product in stock or that our people were rude or whatever. He became affectionately known simply as "Bernie."

I have plenty of stories of Bernie's visits to share with you, one of which ended with the police escorting him from the store. Today's, however, is one of the most unbelievable.

The cashier system at my last store worked a bit different than my current. There were people specifically trained for cashier and that was it. That meant that no one from another department could just hop on register to help out. The idea behind this was to assign responsibility for the store's cash to as few people as possible. The less people who had access to it, the less chance there was for a cash shortage. This definitely helped us when trying to track down cashier mistakes, but from a service standpoint, it was a nightmare. Still, it was company mandated procedure, so we had no choice but to go with it.

On top of that, we had the same payroll constrictions and lack of telephone operator that we have at my current job, so there was immense pressure on the customer service cashier. About 80 to 90% of the time, the customer service cashier was the only cashier (no calling for backup), doing purchases, returns, and exchanges. Top that off with answering the phones because the only phone that rang when customers called was the customer service phone, and you've got one stressful and overwhelming situation.

Especially for kids getting paid $7.50 an hour. If they were lucky. Try to get a high school graduate or college student in that kind of position to really care about their job or customers. Some might be up to the challenge. At least until they met Bernie.

I was Front End Manager at the time. Most of the time I was in the cash office filing reports, filling out gift certificate logs, researching chargebacks, sending out check refund request forms, or any number of other things I had to get done. When I could, I'd log into the second register, but that wasn't all that often.

So, now that I've set the scene, here's what happened. I swear to you that this actually happened - I'd never make a story like this up because I'd never expect anyone to believe it.

It was a busy afternoon with a long line at the customer service counter and no available backup cashier because corporate was too cheap to shell out the money for additional cashiers (they actually wanted us to cut back on staff most of the time). The girl at the service desk is doing her best to handle everyone. Bernie enters and immediately gets on line. He's got no product in his hands, just a cell phone. He opens it up and dials. The phone at customer service starts ringing. The cashier, tied up in conversation with her current customer about an exchange, is unable to answer the call.

Between customers, my cashier calls the office to let me know that Bernie was there. Expecting a battle, I came up to the front counter as my cashier finished with the customer just before him.

Bernie shakes his fist in the air like an evil villain cursing the valiant hero for vanquishing him. There was no beating about the bush; he begins shouting right away. "I'm filing a complaint with your corporate department! You people ignore customer phone calls! I've seen it with my own eyes! I just came into the store and called your number and the girl didn't answer! You're all lazy and don't have a care in the world about customers!"

I wasn't interested in faking concern for Bernie's frustration. He knew full well how we all felt about him. "What do you need today?" I muttered.

"Oh, I don't need anything from YOU!" he yells. "I just wanted to let you know that I'm going to be filing a complaint with your corporate office about the horrible service in this store!"

I gave him a flat look. "That's what you came here for?"

"You bet I did!" He sounded so proud. Stupid, but at least he was proud of it.

I nodded with pursed lips. "Have a nice day, Sir."

He screamed at us all the way to the door but we ignored him. I've always wondered if he's got mental problems, and I'm willing to bet he does, but suspecting that never made dealing with him any easier.

The scariest part? My current job is a good 45 minutes to an hour away from that place, but Bernie has visited us at least once that I know of. I warned everyone about him, but he didn't get out of line that day. Sometimes I wonder if he just hated my old company, but whatever the case, I'm just glad he's not a regular in my store now the way he was back then.

Shopping tip of the day for 9/11/09: If a demo model doesn't work, it's safe to assume that other customers broke it. Why is it still out? That's simple, really. An opened product is not worth nearly as much as a sealed one. If companies opened up new machines everytime a customer broke one, they'd never turn a profit on sales. I realize it's difficult sometimes to purchase something you haven't seen in action, but again, we don't really care about whether you purchase the thing or not. What we know is that our corporate office will come down hard on us for breaking the seals on so many expensive products that could've been sold to other customers at full price.

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