Friday, November 20, 2009

I'm a Customer!

One of the first crazy customers I encountered at my current job had one of the biggest temper tantrums I'd ever seen literally over nothing. Apparently, people think they should be taken for their word. I can only assume these people have never worked retail, because if they had then they'd know not to take any customers at their word. That's how we wound up with a returned laptop that wound up being just a bunch of books in a laptop box, old ink cartridges returned in the box of the new, and other similar things. You can't assume anyone is being honest because THAT'S when you get taken.

Most stores now have strict policies against returning open computer programs and/or video games. They will exchange them for the same item if the one you purchase is defective, but no refunds will be given. It didn't always use to be that way. Back when I started my first job, we returned software as long as it was within 30 days of purchase. We had to stop that, however, once CD-Writers became popular. As soon as people saw another chance to do something dishonest, they leapt all over it, and adopted what I've come to call the "Burn 'em and Return 'em" practice. Essentially, you buy a game or a computer program, make a copy of it using the CD-Writer in your computer, then return it for a refund. Now you have the program for free. And back when CD-Writers started getting big, EVERYONE was doing just that. In response, stores put return policies prohibiting the refund of any opened software. Best Buy, Staples, Gamestop, and just about anywhere else that sells these products will not allow you to return them once opened for the above reasons.

So when this lady came in to return QuickBooks software (a $300 value), I began my usual routine of inspecting the box. Often, people will try to peel and reseal the box just so perfectly so that anyone who took a quick glance at it would never know it was open. I've caught a number of people trying to do that. The biggest tell-tale sign that such a thing has happened will be hairs or finger prints on the sticky side of the seal. If it was a new seal, it would be clear and smooth.

I had barely picked up the box when the lady says, "It's fine." Thank you for telling me. I'm still going to look. The dishonest ones will tell me it's fine, too.

So I look at the top seal, and it is clearly brand new. "I'll take a refund," she says. She's quite an impatient and grumpy lady, looking at me as though I jumped up on the counter and shouted, "THEIF! THIS WOMAN IS A HORRIBLE THEIF!!"

I ignore her and look at the bottom seal. It doesn't exactly look as though it was removed, but there was some fuzz stuck around the edges of it. "What was the reason for the return?" I ask. It's a pretty standard question.

She gives me a look like I'm asking why we walk to get places. "Because I don't want it?" she says with her snippy little tone. "Is that good enough for you?"

Now, I'm taking my time. I'd have made sure the whole process went quickly if not for her attitude. Now she can wait. So I keep looking at the seal, trying to decide if it was opened or not. It really didn't look like it had been. I tried to peel up the edge where the fuzz was, and it was solidly adhered to the box. Nope, she hadn't opened it.

"I didn't open it," she says through a snarl. "Why would I lie to you? It's not opened. Get your manager if you don't believe me - he'll tell you to put through my return. I didn't open it."

I narrowed my eyes and shifted my gaze from the box to the woman. "I never said you did, Ma'am."

It is important to note here that I was at the first register with her at the time, but returns are usually taken care of at the service counter. Since there was a transaction going on there that was taking quite a while, I had called her over to help her out. However, by this point in our conversation, the service desk was free, and I had a line of people waiting for checkout. So I looked behind me to the guy who was running the desk and said, "Hey, could you put through this return real quick so I can get some of these people out of here? It's unopened, no problems."

"Sure," he says.

She grunts angrily and walks over to his counter, which was literally no more than five steps away. I go back to ringing people up, and he processes the return. I'm scanning some items for a smaller woman when he finishes, and the lady turns to leave. As she's walking past, she leans next to my ear and goes, "I don't care for your attitude, by the way."

The closest thing to attitude I had given her was when my eyes narrowed out of anger and frustration with her behavior. "I'm sorry?" I said as she headed for the exit.

"You heard me," she says, getting louder as she stopped by the exit. "I don't need your smart-guy attitude."

But there were other customers watching, now. Other people who hadn't seen her earlier behavior who would, as most customers do, likely assume the employee is automatically at fault of any disagreement between a customer and a retailer. I had to be politically correct to portray the company in the best light that I could for the sake of the rest of the customers.

However, I wasn't going to accept blame for something I didn't do. "I'm not sure what you're referring to, Ma'am, but if something I did offended you, then I apologize."

Now she starts yelling, pointing her finger at me like the lunch ladies in grade school pointed at a kid who was acting out. "You know what you did!" she shouts. "You know! Don't do it again!"

"What did I do, Ma'am?" Mind you, my line of customers is now getting held up.

"Don't give me that! Don't you dare argue with me! I'm a customer!!"

Those last three words were nearly enough to make me quit my job and tell her exactly where she could shove her business. But now the lady who I was ringing up is looking back and forth between me and this nutjob. I didn't want to be the bad guy. I WASN'T the bad guy. "Ma'am, I don't know what I did, but whatever it was, I apologize."

I hadn't even finished the sentence when she yells, "Don't you apologize to me! Don't say a word!" Still pointing at me, almost wagging her finger back and forth like Macho Man Randy Savage. I expected her to leave at that point, given I apparently wasn't allowed to talk. But she just stood there, staring at me, arm extended, finger pointing.

So I turned back to ringing up my customer, giving her a look of confusion to kinda say, "I don't know what she wants from me." In return, the customer made kind of a nervous look almost as if to say, "She's crazy."

"That's right," the nutcase yells. "You don't say another word!"

Enough of this. I'm not going to obey her commands like some dog. "What do you want me to do?" I asked while I bagged my customer's purchase. "You don't want me to apologize, so what do you want from me?"

"You want me to get the manager?" she asked, trying to sound threatening. What am I, four years old? Are you threatening to tell Mommy on me? "I'm a customer," she says again. I kinda wonder if she thought that statement had power over me like kryptonite over Superman.

Regardless, I was done with the whole thing. "Have a nice day, Ma'am," I said, turning back to my customer.

"Don't tell me to have a nice day!" she yells. At this point, the guy at the service desk pages the general manager. I looked back and thanked him. The lady is still going on. "Don't you say anything!"

I handed my customer her bags, but she didn't move. She looked uncomfortable with the idea of having to pass this nutcase on her way out the door. My mind raced to come up with some way of getting this jerk to leave. Being quiet didn't work. Apologizing didn't work. "Have a nice day," I said again, hoping this time she'd just take it and leave.

"Don't do it!" she yells. STILL, she's pointing at me. Maybe she thought she was some sort of witch or something and she was trying out a magic spell on me. I dunno.

Finally, the general manager shows up. Our GM at the time was a short little woman who didn't take crap from customers. "What's the problem, Ma'am?"

"He knows," she said, gesturing toward me. "He's knows the problem."

The manager looks at me. I shrug and say, "She came for a refund, and she's been given it. I don't know what else she wants."

The GM isn't in the mood to mess around. She steps closer to the woman in order to herd her out the door. "Is there something else you needed help with?" she asked.

The crazy lady gave me a long glare before finally saying, "No." Without another word, she left.

My manager looks at me, and I started to talk. "Not really sure what happened," I said. I didn't even get to tell her the story - she just said not to worry about it and walked away.

The amazing part of the story (amazing in a good way) was that about five minutes later, our GM got a phone call from the customer I had been ringing up during the whole scene. She was in her car in the parking lot on her cell phone and called just to make sure that management knew I'd don't nothing wrong and had conducted myself very professionally through the whole thing. That shocked me more than the crazy lady because most people wouldn't go out of their way to do something like that. It really meant a lot to me.

Shopping tip of the day for 11/20/09: The garbage can outside the store is not your personal dumpster. Please do not pull your car up beside it and start unloading all your junk into it so that it overflows all over the ground. A cup of soda or a bag from McDonald's is fine, but take your old school books, bottled-water cartons, and other assorted items to a dumpster.


  1. Geez....some people just give themselves away :P Talk about a guilty conscience!

  2. Kevin,

    You know what you did.