Saturday, October 31, 2009

From the Bowels of Hades...

If you're going to read this, go get a cup of coffee or something. Maybe two. Tell the family you're going to be away for a while. Take a sick day from work.

All right, so maybe I'm exaggerating a little. But you're gonna need some spare time, cause this thing clocked in at 16 pages in Microsoft Word.

Wow, I think I just heard the sound of fifty people clicking the back button on their browsers. Don't worry, it's OK. I don't blame you. Writing this was more of a chance for me to vent than anything else. If you don't read it, I won't hate you. Not for too long, anyway. :)

But if you're still with me, then tighten your seat belt. Things are going to get bumpy.
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My District Manager - The Prince of Darkness

Well, here it is. The story of a man who, by his own words, was "born to make money." This is a man who, despite the fact that his children's sports teams do not keep score so as to preserve the fun of the game, will tally the score himself and then tell his children after the game that they lost and therefore shouldn't have bothered playing. This is a man who only smiles when he tells you how horrible you are at your job despite any and all accomplishments you've got under your belt. When you perform well, you failed to perform like a god. When you perform poorly, no one on the planet could've done worse. Suggestions of positive reinforcement bounce off of him like common sense tossed at a customer. And like a cockroach in your home, you just never know when he's going to show up and ruin your day.

Obviously, for the sake of my job I'm not going to use my district manager's real name. So for this post, we'll just call him Bill Lumberg.

My first encounter with Bill was, oddly enough, for my second interview with the company. I was being hired as head of the office department, and all department heads were required to interview with the DM for the job. His office wasn't located in the store I was going to be working in, so I went to his store for the interview. It went smoothly. He seemed like a nice guy, quite personable and friendly. He gave me the whole speech about customer service and making sure people are taken care of, but the majority of the interview focused on what I'd need to do to get the office department back into shape since the store had been without a department head for so long.

My strongest points have always been organizational. Things like getting reports done, sending out paperwork, researching discrepancies, organizing and setting up displays, and managing inventory were tasks that I was able to do better than anyone else. In fact, I was pretty sure I could perform just about any job better than anyone else which the exception of one: Sales. I've never been good at sales. I don't like to push people into a purchase or use assumptive language to try to manipulate inflated sales out of people. And when I tried to do it to avoid being yelled at, I sucked at it. And I told Bill all of that in my interview. I said that I had no problem helping customers and I'd certainly try to "maximize each sale," but I could never guarantee I'd be able to hit any sort of "goals" as far as sales numbers went. Bill seemed OK with that - the majority of my job would be keeping the department clean and the planograms up to date.

After about a 20 minute talk, he shook my hand and sent me on my way. The general manager of the store called me a day or two later to offer me the job, and obviously, I took it. Now, at this point, I had nine years of retail behind me, most of which I spent as manager of one department or another. At my previous job, CompUSA, I had run the front end, the upgrades counter, inventory control, and merchandising on floor. So I came with high recommendations. When CompUSA closed down, two of the managers who closed my store with me went over to my current company as well. They were nice enough to pass along good words about me to the HR department because they knew full well I could do the job I was being hired for.

I suppose Bill trusted their judgment, because he went ahead and hired me based on all that. I knew I could do the job given the chance, and when they gave me the ball, I was prepared to run with it.

Once I was in the store, I got right to work. The displays were old and outdated and most needed to be completely reorganized and set to show all the current product we had in stock along with current prices. I had four and a half aisles that I was responsible for, each about 80 feet long with product on both sides set to a company - mandated planogram. Every product had to go in it's precisely correct place in accordance with the planograms in order for us to be in compliance. And at the same time as I was setting all that up, I had to help customers and play spare cashier. I spent about half of every shift on register because our main cashier kept calling out sick. Then she quit, and I spent 90% of every shift up there for a few weeks.

Anyway, within my first month of working there, Bill visited a number of times. The managers would get kinda antsy with him around and I wasn't sure why because he'd seemed like an OK guy in my interview. He didn't interact with me too much during his first couple of visits. Just small talk about how I was liking the job and so on. But somewhere around my fourth week, he gave up on the pleasantries.

He was walking the store with our GM, going through my aisles and pointing out things that were wrong. Now, to that point, the GM had been totally happy with my work and had nothing but good things to say about me. But while she and Bill were looking at the snack display, I was working in an area nearby. I was called over by Bill, and the following ensued:

Bill: "How's it going?"

Me: "Things are good. What's up?"

Bill: *Points to the display* "Is this set to planogram?"

Looking back, I now know that he was fully aware that it wasn't set to planogram. Bill's biggest "teaching tool" is to ask rhetorical questions to prove his point. It's obnoxious and belittling and it makes me want to punch him in the head.

But at this point, I had only been in the store for a few weeks. It would've been physically impossible for me to go through every single planogram in my department and reset them that quickly. There was a chance it was already set correctly as there were a couple areas here and there that didn't need to be reworked. I hadn't gotten to this display yet, so I honestly didn't know whether it was set or not. On top of that, a huge portion of my time had been spent on register, so that slowed my progress quite a bit.

Me: "I don't know, Bill."

Bill: "You don't know? I'm sorry, I thought this was YOUR department."

Me: "It is. I just haven't gotten through all the planograms yet." At this point, I was still trying to use common sense with him, foolishly expecting he'd understand. He didn't.

Bill: *Points at some pretzels on the top shelf* "Is that supposed to be there?"

Me: "I don't know, Bill." Didn't I just say I hadn't done the planogram? "I can go print the planogram if you'd like."

Bill: "Please."

So I went and printed it up. During the whole thing, my GM kept trying to get words in, but Bill wasn't having it. She understood. She knew I'd been working hard. She knew I was in the process of turning the department around. Bill, however, apparently thought I was a magician or something. To this day I sometimes wonder if he knows there's no such thing as magic.

When I returned with the printout, Bill took it and looked it over.

Bill: "I see." Sarcasm was getting clearer in his voice. "So they aren't supposed to be there."

Me: *Looking at the planogram* "No, it looks like they've been moved down to the second shelf now." Yes, you read correctly. That was the minor change he was giving me crap over.

Bill: "Right. So maybe you'll want to update that."

Needless to say, I didn't really like Bill anymore after that. After he left, my GM pulled me aside and told me not to take it seriously and that I was doing a great job. But I did take it seriously because I honestly wanted to show him that he'd hired the right guy. Plus, two of my friends from CompUSA had vouched for me so that I could get the job, and I wasn't going to make them look like fools by performing like a schmuck.

And I did NOT want to have another conversation like that with Bill.

Another month goes by, and I managed to avoid Bill's critical eye during his routine visits. Meanwhile, the department was really starting to shine. My list of things to do each day was dwindling, and keeping up with things became easier and easier the more changes and updates I made. Before long, everything was up to date, shelves were full, prices were updated, display bins were packed, and it was smooth sailing. And after one of Bill's visits, I asked our GM what he had to say about the store. She told me that he really couldn't find anything to complain about in my department.

Ah, victory.

But not too long after that, my job position was eliminated. That's like the umpteenth time in my retail career that the position I happen to be flourishing in has been eliminated. But there was a new position being created, a "Customer Service Lead," and my GM wanted me to take that. It was either take that or be cut down to part time and have my pay reduced by four dollars an hour. I didn't really have much of a choice. But I did strike the bargain with my GM that if I was going to take the job, I wanted a guarantee of Saturdays off. I'd work any other hours they wanted me to, but Saturdays would be my off day. She said she'd run it by Bill but she didn't think it was a problem. He approved it, and so I accepted the position.

The new position was pretty much like a front end manager's job. Make sure the front runs smoothly, get change for the cashiers, do cash pickups for the cashiers, handle customer issues, and help anyone who walked into the building. I had to go to some key holder training class which was a grand waste of time given that I'd been a key holder at CompUSA for the majority of the time I worked there. I was pretty much being trained as the "unofficial" fourth manager in the building and I was supposed to cover the front end so that the rest of the managers would be freed up to help drive sales, perform audits, and so on.

Of course, true to retail tradition, there was no pay raise for taking on all those responsibilities.

What does any of this have to do with Bill Lumberg? You'll soon see.

At first, they told us that our main focus was to be the company rewards program. You know, those little keychain cards that every company has? Yeah, I was in charge of getting sign ups for the rewards program and for increasing the store's overall penetration percentage. So it wasn't up to just me, I had to motivate and train the other associates to try to increase their numbers. Funny, considering how I'd told Bill that convincing customers to take something they didn't want was my only weak point. But whatever. I needed a paycheck, and I wasn't about to give up without even trying.

So for about six months, I did nothing but push our rewards program. My own rewards percentage was already one of the highest in the store, but I needed to get the other employees on board. I held contests using money out of my own pocket, I taught and I nagged and I reminded and the numbers started to rise. We were getting more sign ups. The cashiers were actually trying to get better numbers than each other. I'd created competition and an interest where there had previously been none. It was working. I was succeeding.

The biggest thing that hurt our progress? Bill Lumberg. Every time Bill came into the store, he'd rip us apart for something else. Most of the time his complaints contradicted themselves - often he'd complain about things he'd previously TOLD US TO DO! And, of course, he'd feign innocence. There was no positive reinforcement. We'd made good progress with the rewards program, and all he'd ever have to say was, "What's your current number? Is that the goal? So you're not at company goal? Is that something you should be proud of?" And when I'd try to say, "Look, we're not at goal yet, but we've shown tremendous improvement and promise," he'd simply come back with, "If you're playing a basketball game, and your opponent scores 100 points, it doesn't matter if you score 1 or 99, you still lost the game."

He is, by far, the biggest de-motivator I've ever met in my life.

But I kept on pushing the employees. The girl who worked at night was always asking me what her number was at and bragging about it whenever she was the highest in the store. We were on track to exceed goal; it was only a matter of time.

On Christmas Eve, he showed up to spoil our party. I had gone to use the bathroom, and when I returned to the front he was standing there talking to the manager on duty. He saw me and shouted, "Hey! Look at Mr. Glum over there! C'mon! It's Christmas Eve, you should be excited! You've gotta capitalize on all the sales coming through the door!"

Now, I don't know anyone who would be excited to go to work on Christmas Eve. And having a visit from Bill on Christmas Eve should be considered a crime against the holiday or something.

However, I'd like to point out that I don't think I was looking glum. In fact, I try to act even more upbeat when he shows up just so he won't complain. The problem is that I naturally look like I'm annoyed if I'm not smiling. And I'm not the only one in my family. My sister has it, my mother has it, and it's just the natural look of our faces. I smile more when I'm talking to customers, but I'm not gonna just walk around the store with this big goofy artificial grin on my face looking like a circus clown or something.

Since then, he's routinely complained about my enthusiasm. I'm not a male cheerleader, and I never will be. Sorry, Bill.

No, wait, I'm not sorry.

At any rate, that was at the end of 2008. The beginning of 2009 brought with it one of many giant slaps in the face that Bill would give me this year.

Now remember, my main responsibility aside from running the front end was to push rewards. I had to attend a five hour training class for the job which was hosted by all of the local district managers and the regional HR managers, and the entire thing revolved around the rewards program. They handed out training materials on the subject, all of which I still have in my locker at work. There could be no question what I was supposed to be doing.

So when January came around and Bill pulled me into the office during his first visit of the year, I was blown away by the verbal beating I received. It had ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with rewards.

It was because I wasn't selling enough warranty plans.

In essence, he told me he wasn't sure I was the right person for the job because I wasn't selling enough plans. Funny, I thought my job had been created to free up the sales manager so that he could go help drive that number. I reminded Bill of my initial interview when I had told him that I wasn't very good at selling plans, and he said, "Well let me hear how you sell it."

Having worked at CompUSA for so long, I certainly had a number of options to choose from; they'd taught us hundreds of different "methods." The biggest thing that had always been driven into my head was not to call it a "service plan" because the stigma that goes with that name has a tendency to make people say no right away. A better way to present it was to ask the customer if they'd like to purchase a "protection" plan so that they could "protect their investment." So that's what I said to Bill.

"It's not a protection plan," he said, clearly annoyed. "It's a product replacement plan or service plan."

For the record, I personally think all of these "methods" are a bunch of crap. People should just be asked if they want it, and take the yes or no that follows. What you call it means very little as long as you explain what it does.

"Well, I always thought of it as protecting your investment," I told him, "so that's what I call it."

"No, you're not protecting anything." His mouth twisted particularly tightly around that sentence. "You're either replacing or you're servicing. That's what we do."

Couldn't that be considered protecting your investment?

My GM was in the room for the meeting, and Bill looks at her. "It's no wonder his numbers are crap." He looks back at me. "Your presentation is crap."

As someone who takes his work very seriously and only puts out the best he can, there was no way I could take that other than as a personal insult. Especially when you're talking about someone as subjective as the wording of a sales pitch. "Bill, it was my understanding that my focus was supposed to be rewards. I've sold some plans - more here than I used to at Comp, but my focus has been on getting the rewards number up."

Inside, I was hoping to get some kind of compliment for the progress I'd made on rewards, but by now I knew what kind of man (and I use the term "man" loosely) Bill was. "So you don't think its important if the store makes money?"

I ground my teeth. "That's not what I said, Bill. I simply was under the impression that it wasn't to be MY focus. I thought my job was supposed to free up the sales manager to do that."

We went back and forth for a while. Eventually he told me that there was an inventory control position open in another store and that I should consider taking it. "I don't want to have to come in here and tell you that you can't do this job anymore," he threatened.

I told him I'd have to think about it and walked out of that meeting feeling defeated and helpless. I could do any number of tasks with confidence and I'd do it better than anyone. But my one weakness had set me up for a blindsided attack by a weasel who didn't even have the decency to admit that I'd done well in other areas. My other managers told me that this was just "his way of doing things," but I refused accept that as an excuse. Bill was of the "Management by Intimidation" school of thought, the lazy and cowardly way of doing things. Anyone can look at an employee and say, "Do this or you're fired." But it takes a talented and compassionate individual to really make the effort to bring out the best in people. When you have a child who does poorly in school, you don't verbally bash their skills or knowledge. You work with them, build them up, isolate their weaknesses and focus on eliminating them. You tell them that you know they can do it and that you'll help them in every way you can. That's what a good manager does, too. I've been lucky enough to work with several guys like that during my career, and to Larry, Gordon, Rich, John, Scott, and Mike, I thank you.

After all that, I thought back to when I'd been given the Inventory Control Coordinator position at CompUSA. It was a complex job with a LOT of responsibilities and I didn't think I'd be able to handle it all. I was VERY overwhelmed at first. But I got to a point where I said, "You know what? If someone else can do it, then so can I." And I wound up reducing our shrink (inventory and/or paperwork losses that cost the company money) by 68%. By the time I got laid off because CompUSA decided to eliminate the inventory control job, I'd managed to work out a weekly routine where I could do the number of counts in one week that other stores required two people to do. I settled for nothing but the best out of myself back then, and faced with this sales dilemma that Bill had placed before me, I started to feel the same way.

Taking the other job in the other store as Bill suggested would've been the easy way out. But I wasn't going to take defeat that easily. So I stuck with my job and realigned my focus. Now, I was going to be all about selling. Can you guess what happened?

Yes, I know I sound arrogant. I'm proud of what I've accomplished despite how my job situation continues to spiral downward. Sue me.

For the first four months of this year, my sales numbers doubled and sometimes tripled that of anyone else in our store. And, out of curiosity, I looked back at the previous six months of sales and found that I'd at LEAST doubled what the highest seller of each of those months had brought in. Again, I pushed myself to be the best, and that's what I was.

So when Bill called the store one day looking to talk to our GM and I happened to be the one who answered, he asked how many plans I'd sold that day.

Me: "One so far. I'm averaging two per day, though." Before this, I'd been selling maybe 5-10 a month. Now I was on track to sell 40+ for the month.

Bill: "That's not good enough. You gotta push out 3, 4, 5 per day."

Me: *Grinding my teeth* "I'm working on it, Bill. There are days when I'm getting that many, but the average is 2 per day."

I was so annoyed by that phone call that I considered giving up. I was improving myself with something I'd always been terrible at and it still wasn't enough from him. But I kept going anyway, determined to not only be the best but to set the bar so high that no one else could touch it. By April 22, 2009, I'd brought in 232 plans. I still have the print-out from our system in my desk at home to remind me that I can and will do whatever people think I can't.

So, of course, I was expecting some sort of thanks or appreciation from Bill. And, oddly enough, I eventually got it. Although given the effort I put in and the huge improvement that came from it, I'll admit that I was a bit under-whelmed when he simply said, "Good job," one day as he was walking out the door. I mean, this was my huge weakness! The problem I'd had for years and years at CompUSA! The hurdle I could never get over had finally been conquered after he told me that my sales skills were crap, and all I get is a "Good job?" How about a "Congratulations?" How about an "I knew you could do it!" A handshake? A pat on the back? SOMETHING? Some sort of acknowledgement that you were wrong?

No, instead he decided to give me the second slap in the face. And it was this one that broke my spirit and crushed my resolve.

Another thing our store gets scored on is our customer satisfaction. That number is calculated by the surveys that print up randomly on customers' receipts. A phone number and a website are listed at the top and people are supposed to visit one to leave feedback about their shopping experience. And despite the fact that there are like 20 questions on it, only ONE of those questions determines our overall score - the "Extremely Satisfied" percentage.

There are a hundred reasons why this program is a sham, but I'll just name the biggest ones here. First off, an angry customer is far more likely to leave feedback than a happy customer. Angry people are just itching for a place to whine and try to get associates fired. On the other hand, happy customers leave the store and we don't enter their minds again until the need to stop by for something else. So it's a safe bet that the first 5-10 people who respond to the survey are automatically going to be angry customers. Maybe even more, I dunno.

Then, there's the scoring system. There are five possible answers to each question:

1 = Extremely Dissatisfied
2 = Dissatisfied
3 = Undecided
4 = Satisfied
5 = Extremely Satisfied

Now, you'd think that corporate would take each of the scores received and average them out, right?

Wrong.

Instead, the measure it by how many 5's we get. Anything else is considered a 1. So we could get 50 people giving us 4's and 13 giving us 5's and we'd get a customer satisfaction score of 20% out of 100 because only 20% of respondents gave us 5's. In essence, corporate rates 4's as being on the same level as just giving the customer the finger when they walk in.

Our store usually brings in scores in the lower 60's. I happen to think that's pretty good. However, our store's goal is a 65%. And that brings me to the third thing wrong with this scoring system. Not all stores are measured the same way. While our minimum goal is 65%, another store's goal might be 60%. They claim its based on the volume of the stores, but that doesn't make any sense to me. A percentage is based off of individual performance to begin with. If I have more customers and sell 10 plans out of 20 sales while you have less customers and sell 5 plans out of 10 sales, we still both got plans on 50% of our sales. Just because a store sells more or less during the year shouldn't affect the expected percentage of satisfied customers. It makes no sense and works to our disadvantage.

The last thing I'll mention that's wrong with the system? Tampering. Since starting with the company, I've already seen a number of employees fired for submitting their own customer service surveys - something we're not supposed to do because it affects the legitimacy of the score. Who's to say there aren't others who haven't yet been caught?

Having said all that, Bill came into the store one day to cause more trouble. Whenever he visits, the first thing he does is stand in the front of the store by the entrance and observe the store for about ten minutes or so. During that time, I was going back and forth across the front of the store looking down each aisle to see if anyone needed help. I saw Bill, he saw me, and I headed over to say hello. However, on my way toward him, I saw a customer who needed help, so I stopped short and went back to help her. When I was finished, I headed over to him.

He asked me what our last customer service score had been. In the past, the heat for that number had fallen on the GM's shoulders. Everyone has a hand in customer service, but Bill himself had made it quite clear in our last meeting that I was to focus on sales and so that's what I'd been doing. I had a vague idea of what the latest scores had been, but I didn't remember the exact numbers.

Bill: "Well, what's your goal?"

Me: "65%."

Bill: "Do you think you hit your goal?"

Me: "No, I know we didn't."

Bill: "So how are you going to hit your goal if you don't know what your current scores are?"

Me: "Even if we were hitting our goal, we'd still want to keep improving, so I always just keep in my mind that we need to get better. We've got to approach every customer and offer assistance and walk them to their product."

Bill: "No, you need to keep a scorecard so that you know where you are. How are you ever going to beat the other team if you don't know what the score is?"

I tried to explain to him that this kind of score wasn't quite so cut and dry. It wasn't something that we could track daily, nor was it something that changed daily. The new customer service score comes out once a month. I knew that we hadn't made the goal, so I simply put it in my head that we need to get much better. I think number-cruncher management overcomplicates things. You give an average associate 200 different number goals to beat and they're going to get overwhelmed. Especially when your associates are 17 year old high school students making $8 an hour. They're not going to care enough to put in the effort to hit all the goals you keep beating them over the head with.

But, of course, explaining all of that didn't make a difference to him.

Bill: "You know why you get bad customer service scores? I see it every time I walk into this building. You all walk around looking miserable to be here. No one is happy to be a part of this company, no one seems to like working here, and that comes across to customers."

I was at the end of my fuse. Everything from day 1 had built up inside me and it was time for me to speak my mind. Foolishly, I thought that maybe if I explained to him how we felt about his attitude, he might see how it affects us.

Me: "You don't exactly make it easy for us to be happy, Bill."

Bill: "What do you mean?"

Me: "Every time you come in here all you do is rip us apart for everything we've done wrong and ignore everything that we've done right. We look miserable when you're here BECAUSE you're here."

Bill: "So you give terrible customer service because of me?"

Me: "We don't give terrible customer service. We--"

Bill: "That's not what I'm seeing. That's not what your service scores say. Everything I'm seeing says you give terrible service."

It was about this point when he got a cell phone call. He went into the back while I fumed up front. Eventually, I was called to the back office to continue the discussion.

In the back, he gave me a chance to fully explain my frustrations with him. And I did. I told him that his attitude brings people down, kills motivation, and the mere thought that he might come in on any given day has the associates keeping one eye on the door at all times.

Bill: "Who says that?"

Me: "I do."

Bill: "No, you said "we" don't feel like I support you. Who's we."

Me: "The associates of the store."

Bill: *Grabbing a piece of paper and a pen* "OK, like who?"

Me: "I'm not giving you names, Bill."

Bill: "Well, you said "we" so I assumed you meant more than just yourself."

Me: "I did, but whether or not those people want to come forward with their feelings is up to them. I'm not going to volunteer them and I'm certainly not going to let you force me to throw them under the bus."

He kept on me for a bit, trying to get me to transfer is targeting scope to someone else in the store. But I wouldn't do that. I was speaking up for everyone of my own choice - no one had asked me to do it. So I wasn't going to subject them to his wrath without even asking if they'd be OK that I mentioned them. I thought it was despicable that he was trying to manipulate me into giving him more people to yell at. And I knew full well what would've happened, too. Those people who didn't want to speak up for fear of their jobs would deny what I'd said. Then Bill would've come back to me saying I was making it all up because no one confirmed my story. I mean, I could understand why they wouldn't want to say anything, but I felt as though I had to. As you might imagine, that didn't sit too well with Bill.

Bill: "Well, if I can't verify what you're saying, then all I can do is go by what I see."

Me: "What do you mean?"

Bill: "Your attitude. I come into this store time and time again and every time I see you you're not smiling and you're just moping around here like you're just watching the minutes tick by."

Now, in all fairness, that may have been true when I was working the office department. However, as I said before, I'm not going to walk around with a big dopey looking forced grin for no reason. I smile when I help customers - I always have. And every time Bill comes into the store, I make sure that I'm running around helping people. I know I have the reputation he just described so I do everything in my power to shed that appearance.

Me: "That's a bunch of crap. I've been helping people all day long!"

Bill: "You ignored me. What if I'd been a customer?"

That caught me off guard. I had to stop and figure out what he was talking about. Then I realized he was referring to the moment when I'd seen him and was going to say hello but stopped to take care of a customer first.

Me: "There was a customer who needed help so I went and took care of them. I figured that was more important than small talk with you."

Bill: "What if I was a customer?"

Me: "Then I would've helped you."

Bill: "But you didn't. You ignored me and went on your way."

I was so ready to break his nose. I'm not exaggerating.

Me: "But you're not a customer! If you were, I'd have helped you. But you're not!"

Bill: "Sure I'm a customer. We're all customers."

Don't ask me what that meant. I still don't know.

Me: "I don't get it. I just don't understand what you want from me."

Bill: "I want you to smile!"

Me: "I DO SMILE!"

The argument continued. He brought up the service score again. I told him all the reasons I thought it was a flawed system. He told me I was the only one who thought so. I told him it wasn't fair to have the responsibility for a number dumped onto my shoulders that I didn't know was my responsibility, and don't have complete control over. I can tell the associates how to treat customers until I'm blue in the face, but if they don't listen, there's nothing I can do. A real manager would write them up or fire them if they couldn't do their jobs properly after so much time, but I don't have any authority like that. All I can really do is train them to do their jobs and take the beating when they don't. He asked me for names of people I thought needed to be fired. I gave him several because those people were really standing in the way of progress. He claimed that they'd be put on final warning and then be fired. That was months ago. Only one of those people improved. They're all still employed with us.

I avoided Bill like the plague after that. Clearly this man was not reasonable. He reminded me of my seventh grade reading teacher. She had a sign on her classroom wall that read:

Rule #1: The teacher is always right.
Rule #2: If the teach is ever wrong, see rule #1.

That was Bill's mentality. No amount of logic or honesty could reach him. And now I was faced with a challenge that I really had no way of fixing. No amount of my own effort would raise the customer service score of the associates didn't want to cooperate. The store is open seven days a week for thirteen hours a day and 8 on Sunday. I'm only there for a portion of that time. And even if I WAS there for every hour, there's no way I could personally interact with and take care of every customer myself. If the other employees weren't going to do what was necessary to help raise the score and I wasn't going to be given the authority to really enforce those rules then my hands were tied.

So it was at that point that I pretty much gave up trying. Bill had shown me that nothing I accomplished mattered. He put me in the office department and I brought it as close to perfect as it could possibly be. Then he put me in charge of rewards and I turned our percentage around. Next he cried about my sales. So I overcame that barrier to do it better than anyone else. At no point did the pressure ease up. At no point did I earn any amount of respect from the man. At no point did my efforts yield any sort of appreciation for my hard work with the company. Instead, I was constantly beaten down. Nothing I accomplished mattered to him regardless of how huge of an accomplishment it was. Every time we talked he just tore me down further, threatening my job and asking why I even worked there. People told me that's just his management style, but that's completely unacceptable to me. His style didn't do anything to motivate me. I was motivated out of my own desire to be the best.

All he taught me was that it didn't matter how hard I worked or how much I achieved. I was going to get my beatings regardless of what I did, so why bother killing myself anymore?

I gave up. And I'm not ashamed to admit it.

So for the last several months, I've really just shown up to work to pick up a paycheck. My sales numbers went to crap, and I honestly don't care. I proved to myself that I can do it. That's really all I wanted out of the whole thing. With the exception of the service score, everything they've placed in front of me I've been able to do better than anyone else. And if Bill would give me the power to write-up and or fire people who stand in the way of the service score, I guarantee I'd have the best score in the district. But without complete control over the number, no one could really do much more than what I've done. It's like telling a person to fix a car without changing the parts that are broken.

A couple weeks ago, Bill showed up with a representative from the company that handles our service plan claims. I didn't know they were there at first. I was in the front of the store, and I asked a lady near one of the displays if I could help her find anything. She said, "No, thank you," and headed on her way. As she walked away, I saw Bill standing not too far away looking right at me. No matter how much I wanted to give him the finger and walk away, I knew I had to be polite and shake his hand and say hello.

While doing that, the lady I'd approached came back over and stood next to Bill. I hadn't realized she was with him until that point, and after an awkward moment of silence, he introduced her and told me who she was.

And for the next hour, she proceeded to rip me in half about my sales numbers. She kept telling me she didn't have faith in me to lead by example to get the rest of the front end staff selling. I wanted to go off on her about how well I'd done earlier in the year, but I really didn't feel like getting into it. I just let her ramble on and nodded occasionally to make it look like I cared. Eventually, Bill piped up and said, "You were on fire earlier this year. What happened?" I wanted to tell him that he'd killed any and all motivation I had, but I was smart enough to know that nothing I said would get through to him.

While he was there, he also complained to my boss that I helped a customer "start to finish." Yes, he complained that I DID help them start to finish. Apparently, I'm supposed to hand off customers to the department associates rather than help them through the whole sale.

Yet, at the same time, I'm supposed to be selling all these plans and signing up all these rewards customers. How is that supposed to happen if I've gotta hand off all my customers to other associates? What is it exactly that I'm supposed to do??

I came to the conclusion a long time ago that this company has no idea what they want to do with this customer service position they stuck me in. I get told I'm not supposed to ring register, then get yelled at by Bill if I don't jump on when there's a line. I'm supposed to stay up front, but I'm supposed to walk every customer to the product they're looking for. I'm supposed to get change, do cash pickups, make sure checkout lines do not get too long, and resolve customer disputes at the front end, yet when I mentioned to Bill that I had been in charge of the front end of CompUSA and had a lot of experience in that area, he scolded me and said that I'm not "in charge" of the front end. I'm supposed to sell plans without ringing or finishing sales. I'm not supposed to process website orders for people because it takes up too much of my time. I have the only freakin' job in the store where going above and beyond the limitations of my position will get me chewed out!! How am I ever supposed to shine that way!?

The day following Bill's visit, he had the nerve to complain to my GM that I didn't offer help to the warranty representative when she was in the store posing as a customer.

That pretty much confirmed to me what I'd always suspected to be true. His problem with me has little-to-nothing to do with my work ethic. For whatever reason, he just doesn't like me. Maybe it's because I stood up to him. Maybe it's because I'm foolish enough to speak my mind. I don't know, but whatever the case, for him to stoop to the level of making up lies to build a case against me shows that he just wants me gone. And yesterday, after a year and a half in the position, my GM informed me that he has a problem with me having Saturdays off. I told her that we had agreed to it when I was given the position and that it had been cleared with him. She suggested the possibility that he might be picking on it now because our numbers suck and that he might not have said anything before because we were doing better. I wouldn't put that kind of crap past him for a moment. "Sure, I'll stick to the terms of our deal as long as it works to my advantage. However, I'll change it if I feel like trying to blackmail you into leaving."

What bothers me most about the Saturday thing is not only the fact that he cleared it when I was given the job, but also the idea that he expects me to have 100% complete open availability. I already work garbage mid-shifts which leave me with very little time to do anything else with my days. I also work Sundays when the sales manager does in accordance with company policy.

On top of all that, I have the responsibilities of a manger. I am called for key holder calls and customer disputes. It's my job to train and "coach" the other associates on how to do their jobs. I have numbers to meet.

And I remind you - I got no pay raise for this position.

What if I was still going to school at nights? What if I worked another job? This position doesn't pay enough for me to pay rent on an apartment in New Jersey, so they can't be expecting that I'm living on this money alone. That means that the only people who can really work this position are those who don't really have any aspirations outside of this company. In short, the position was created for people who live and bleed for the company. Sorry, that ain't me. Never will be, either.

And that brings us to today. Why am I still with this company? Well, my fiance and I are looking to move out of the state when we get married, and my job is a worldwide fortune 100 company. It would be a LOT easier to move out of the state if I can just transfer to another store wherever we move to rather than have to find a new job out there.

But at this rate, it doesn't look like that's going to happen that way. I'm going to fight them tooth and nail for my Saturdays - it's my only thing I can really look forward to every week. If they threaten to fire me over it, I might just have to let them. I've been researching the idea of starting a business with my fiance anyway. Maybe we'll go ahead and do that. Or maybe I'll end up at another large retail chain. I hear Costco is supposed to be a nice place to work. No warranties to worry about, at least. :)

If you've read this whole thing, I thank you for listening to the ramblings of a man fed up with the retail industry. And maybe next time you see that guy walking around your local K-Mart with a glum look on his face, you'll think twice before just assuming that he's a lazy bum who doesn't want to do any work. There is often much more going on right in front of you than you realize. Customers aren't our only source of frustration.

Thanks again for reading. Now go outside.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

From One Customer to Another...

This one comes from my own experience as a shopper at Walmart. I was standing in the candy aisle looking up and down the shelves to see if they had bags of Tootsie Pops. There were a couple of other people in the aisle, but as anyone who's been to a Walmart knows, the aisles usually give plenty of space.

So while looking at a particular section of the candy, this grumpy lookin old lady pushes her cart up in front of us. I mean, we were standing maybe three feet away from the shelves, and this lady wedges herself between us and the shelves as though we weren't even there. At first I thought she might simply be trying to get past us and was too lazy to walk around, but she stops right in front of us and proceeds to slowly look over the candy on the shelves as though nothing was wrong. She picks up a pack of candy, then drops it back on the shelf. Picks up another one, but no that doesn't look good either. Finally she picks up two other kinds of candy and drops them into her cart. I expect she'll move along now.

Nope.

She inches forward and stops again, still directly wedged between us and the candy. I could've walked away and waited for her to leave, but why? We were there first, we clearly weren't finished browsing, and she was being terribly inconsiderate. Then, after looking over the shelves again, she actually looks back at the two of us with this annoyed look almost as if to say, "Hey, you wanna get out of my way here?" But I wasn't budging. Finally, after a couple more minutes, she decided not to pick anything else up and went on her way.

The "Me First" mentality strikes again.

Shopping tip of the day for 10/24/09: Whether you're spending $50 or $500, you're no more important than anyone else. We have to treat everyone politely and fairly, so don't expect the royal treatment just because you can afford something really expensive.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Sorry I Asked

As I think I've mentioned before, a good portion of my job could be described as "Glorified Greeter." I'm supposed to say hello to people who enter the store and ask them if they need help. Then I find the right associate to help them and return to the front.

So when a man came into the store the other day, I asked him if he needed help with anything. He informed me that he needed to get some pictures printed off of his "laser disc."

"Laser disc?" I asked. I was sure he meant a regular CD, but I have come across some people that use random old pieces of technology and I have no idea if there are laser disc burners out there or not.

"Well, a CD," he says.

Ok then. "They can do that at the copy department," I said, pointing him in the right direction. He says thank you and heads off. Following him comes a woman and her daughter in need of a graphing calculator. Well, those calculators are kept in a storage room behind the copy department. So I head over there, and on my way the first guy comes back toward me.

"You know, I really don't appreciate you offering me help over there when I need it over here."

...What? He's now walking alongside me as I give him a confused look. "I'm sorry?"

He points at the girl in the copy department. "She's the only one over there, there are two people ahead of me, and you're offering me help over there!" he says, motioning toward the front door. "What good does that do me when I need help over here?"

Now, before anyone says anything about having more employees available, I'm going to say the same thing that I say to everyone. Our payroll limit is not in our control. Corporate has cut our payroll budget so short that one night last week our store was left with two managers (because they're salaried so one had to stay all night to make up for the lack of other employees) and one copy department employee. We had three people to run the entire store that night because the district manager called and said to send everyone home to save payroll dollars even if it meant the general manager was all alone. No amount of logic can get through this guy's thick skull - you'd want to knock his teeth down his throat if you met him. So no matter what the GM said to convince him otherwise, he just responded with his usual verbal Band-aid. "Make it happen."

Point is, having extra people on hand is not an option.

So when this guy comes complaining to me that there's only one person in the copy department, I wanted to say, "You're lucky you got that." Instead, I politely tried to explain that we'd have more people over there if we could, but we don't have the budget for it. Then I said, "My job is to assist people on the floor, and her job is to assist people with their printing jobs."

"Yeah, but don't you see what I'm saying?" he goes on as if I'm stupid. "I need help over here, and you're offering help over there. Something's wrong with this picture!!"

Those close to me know the details of what's been going on at my job lately, but I'll just sum it up by saying that I'm close to getting up and walking out. The amount of money I make is not worth the abuse brought upon us by our demon of a district manager, and I hope he somehow reads this one day to know exactly what he does to people. Maybe I'll make a post about him here - managers like him are another horrible aspect of the retail industry, though I imagine they exist in every type of business. Regardless, as I'm listening to this customer complain to me because I offered to help him, I found my tongue was a bit more free than perhaps it should've been.

"Well, I was simply trying to be helpful," I told him with a glare. "Next time I'll be sure to keep my mouth shut."

Now, normally, you can't talk to customers like that. But I was at a point of such frustration given everything going on in my life that I really didn't care if he called my district manager right there and then.

As I disappeared into the storage room to get the woman's calculator, he shouted, "You know what? That might actually work!"

For the record, none of my feelings about my job extend to our store managers. They're a good team of people with good heads on their shoulders. The problem is that their boss (the district manager) could be compared to a stupid yet more heartless version of Darth Vader. The guy has zero people skills, and rather than help solve the problems we have, he simply feeds us the aforementioned inspirational lesson; "Make it happen." Like I said - verbal Band-aid.

Yeah, I think I'm gonna have to type out a post strictly about him.

Shopping tip of the day for 10/23/09: No, we don't have any pink network routers. Not everything in the world comes in assorted colors.

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*Band-aid and Band-aid related products are owned and trademarked by Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies, Inc.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The State of Retail Business

I think I've finally discovered why I have so much trouble fitting into a retail job. For that matter, it also explains why I fear that I'll never be able to find a job where I truly fit in with the company.

Because I disagree with the ethics of American business.

Perhaps that's too broad of a statement. Or perhaps not. I haven't worked in every type of business out there, so I can't say for sure. But I've worked retail, and I think I've got enough years behind me to understand the premise behind big box retailers.

The purpose of any business is to turn a profit. That's completely understandable. But it's the methods by which these profits are obtained that I have problems with. Let's say you are interested in purchasing a digital camcorder and are just starting to check out prices, brands, models, and features. You enter a store to take a look at some displays. You have no intention of buying just yet; you simply want to get some information.

This is what a big box executive expects of your experience. Keep in mind that this is how he WANTS his store employees to perform. I'm well aware that this isn't always how they work. I know I don't.

You walk into the store. As soon as you enter, an employee greets you. "What can I help you find today?" he asks.

You tell him you're looking into purchasing a camcorder and just want to browse for now.

"Let me show you where they are," he says, motioning for you to follow him. Regardless of your earlier statement that you just want to browse, he asks questions. "What kind of camcorder were you looking for?"

"I'm not sure yet," you tell him. "I'm just looking for now."

You both arrive at the display and he launches into his schtick. "Well, the kind of camera you'll need will depend on what you're going to be doing with it. This kind does this, that kind does that, blah blah etc etc." You get the idea.

To make a long story short, you tell him what you want the camera for, he suggests a model, and you decide to take it regardless of the fact that you haven't really had a chance to see what else is out there. Why? I don't know, but again, we're talking about what an executive expects should happen every time.

And now the sales pitch for all the added extras begins. "Do you have a case? You'll need one of them. How about screen cleaners? I'll go ahead and add those to your cart. Here's a lens cleaning brush that you'll need. And flash drive to transport your movies. Here's an extra battery. And a battery charger. You know what? Why don't you go ahead and buy another - you can never have too many charged batteries waiting to be used. And here are our special lens filters for different types of lighting situations. And speaking of lighting, here's an attachable light for the camcorder. Did I mention we have a wide angle lens available? I'll go ahead and throw that in, too."

Then comes the finale.

"Our technology service plan will protect your camcorder from any wear and tear that might occur. I'll go ahead and sign you up for that."

And you, apparently too stupid to think for yourself, have said yes to each and every thing the salesperson has suggested. By the time you leave, you've got four bags full of stuff, and you don't even know what half of it is. On top of that, your credit card is near maxed. Still, you're somehow a happy shopper who will return to that store time and time again.

What a crock.

OK, so you can clearly see that I disagree with this "vision" for retail sales. But this is honestly and truly how big box companies expect each and every sale to play out. On top of that, the seemingly bloodthirsty salesperson likely knew full well that you didn't need all that crap and for that matter wasn't even sure it was the right camera for you. But he got the sale, the add-ons, and the warranty plan, and for that he'll get a "good job" when he tells his boss. And that's it. No commission - that money is best left in the exec's pocket.

Everything about that example is everything I hate about this business. Aside from the stupid customers I write about, I hate the assumption that "the customer came in for SOMETHING, so it's our job to make sure they buy it." It's not as simple all that. If I ask a customer if they need help and they say they are just browsing, I'm supposed to prod and push and ask questions and make suggestions until the person is walking out with something in their hands.

That "bloodthirsty" salesman? Yeah, he probably couldn't care less about your purchase. He was just doing what he had to do to get his boss off his back for a couple hours. THAT'S the only real motivation of retail - to NOT get yelled at. I don't know the exact number, but I'm willing to bet that anywhere from 90 to 95% of retail store employees only work there to collect a paycheck. But corporate thinks we live and bleed for the company. If you don't, why work here? You want your job to have meaning, right? You want to enjoy what you do, right?

That whole conversation above was a carefully "crafted" way of forcing you to either continue with the conversation/sale or be rude and tell the guy to buzz off. Most people will allow the conversation to continue to avoid being rude despite what they're actually thinking about the whole thing. The idea is that if the salesman is able to keep the conversation going toward a conclusion (the conclusion being a purchase) then it ensures more sales for the company.

The add-on conversation that I typed out there wasn't all that far from reality. We're pretty much told to "assume" the customer wants these things. The idea here is to make the customer almost question their own objections. "Well, if HE is so confident I need it, then I guess I do." We're supposed to keep going on that until the customer says no, and then we're supposed to "overcome objections." In other words, push and push.

Sound pretty sleazy?

It is.

Here's my ideal shopping situation.

Again, same scenario. You've decided to purchase a camera and have headed out to the store to check out prices and specifications.

As you enter, an employee greets you with a smile and a hello. "Anything I can help you with?" (There's a big difference already. The question "Anything I can help you with" puts the decision in YOUR hands. No pressure. The executive's version, "What can I help you find?" makes the assumption that you want/need help finding something and almost tries to force you into the sales dialogue.)

You say you're looking into purchasing a camcorder and that you just want to get an idea of what's out there. The employee leads you to them.

"Do you have any questions that I can answer or would you simply like to browse?" he asks. (Again, huge difference. The control is in the customer's hands. You have all the right to ask for help, but there's no pressure being put on you at all.)

"No thanks," you tell the associate. "I'll just take a look for myself."

"By all means," he says with a smile. "If you decide you'd like some help, Robert is right over there." He points down the aisle to a young man who is stocking shelves. "This is his department, and he knows all about the cameras."

You thank the associate and he heads off, leaving you to look at, fiddle with, and test out the camcorders for yourself. After a bit of looking, you come up with a few questions. You head over to where Robert is working and ask if he might be able to help you out. He is happy to answer your questions and gives you some great information.

"Thanks," you say, "I appreciate the help."

But Robert has another helpful piece of advice. "If it would help your research, you might want to check out our website. It makes it very easy to compare the specifications of different models to decide which is right for you." (Not only did he not push you to buy anything you weren't sure about, he gave a good suggestion to help you in your research.)

You thank him and leave the store, feeling like you've got a good start on your research.

I think the differences are clear. Where retail stores these days are all about pressing you into a sale (despite how much they'd claim the opposite), my idea of how stores SHOULD run leaves the customer with no pressure while at the same time having associates there to help them if necessary.

There are those who would complain, "But the first example earned the store money while the second version did not."

But they aren't considering the lasting effects here. In the first example, while the customer DID indeed plunk down money, he left the store not even sure what he'd just bought. After a bit of time, he'd surely realize that he'd made an impulsive decision with his purchase and possibly return it. And if, by that time, he was outside the return policy, a battle would ensue. Either way, the experience would have no doubt left him with a sour taste in his mouth in regards to the store. Even if he didn't return it, he still will remember the store as having pushed him into something he really didn't want. And it all happened because that's what the company executives push their employees to do.

On the other hand, the second example showed employees who were happy to help yet were clearly not "bloodthirsty." That would be a place I'd be comfortable to shop in because I would feel like I wouldn't be hassled about buying stuff I don't want and that I'll be getting honest information rather than be talked into buying something expensive just because it's expensive. While the customer didn't walk out with a purchase on that visit, it was an experience that left a lasting impression and would've likely helped to build a customer for life.

When I started at CompUSA, we were the crap store of the region. Everything we did sucked, everyone picked on us as the joke store, our numbers blew, complaints were all over the place, and it was just an unpleasant place to work. Not surprisingly, our manager created a sales culture much like the first example above.

The following year, he left the store, and the man who took his place changed our views. He was all about honesty and taking care of the CUSTOMER, not the company. The reasoning was that if we take care of the customer, the customer will take care of us. And over the course of the next year, we turned the store around. The following Christmas season, we made more money than any other store in the region. Coincidence? I doubt it.

But he was fired shortly thereafter under circumstances that, I feel, were complete BS. But that's a topic for another time. Anyway, when his replacement came in with the old "pushy salesman" tactics, the store went right back down the tube.

See, too many big box organizations are so focused on the day's numbers that they're not considering the future's numbers. That's why the warranty plans are pushed so hard. Everything is about "how can we get more dollars out of each customer?" And warranties are pure profit.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to say that warranties are a bad idea. I usually buy them myself. What I disagree with is how they're worked into a company's business model. It's one thing to offer a service, it's another to push it as a necessity. Here's how I think it happens: Company offers warranty. Some customers buy. Company factors profits into next budget. Suddenly warranty sales are no longer a bonus - now they're a necessity. "Would you be interested in a warranty plan?" suddenly becomes, "I'll go ahead and sign you up for the plan." A company should be able to survive on the PRODUCTS the sell - the reason they opened the store in the first place. Warranty sales should be icing on the cake, an extra source of income that can be used for whatever. It should NEVER be depended on, because as soon as you begin depending on service plan sales, you go from "offering" the sale to "expecting" the sale. That small difference can decide whether or not your customer leaves happy or annoyed.

And that's what I think is wrong with American retail. Instead of letting the customers tell us what they want, we're trying to tell the customers what they want. And the methods of twisting words, misleading statements, and assumptive questions are, in my opinion, unethical and counterproductive.

So then, of course, comes the question, "Why do you work retail, then?"

I've tried getting out, and I'm going to keep trying. But I doubt that will solve the problem. Whether working retail or otherwise, every company deals with customers of some sort. And the trend of hidden fees, extra costs, deceptive language, and unnecessary add-ons continues in many other types of businesses. That's not to say that EVERY company or manager works this way, but it is most certainly the prevalent method of business.

So why did I type all this out?

I really don't know.

What I do know is that I'm no closer to feeling like I'll fit in with current business models.

So maybe it's time for a change...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Another Stupid Question

This one comes from the old list of CompUSA stupid questions.

A guy came in and looked around for a while, browsing through the CD-ROM drives and CD-Writers. At the time, the technology to write data to a CD was still pretty new. The drives themselves were on the shelves behind the counter.

"Can I see that one?" he asks, pointing to one of the CD-writers. I hand it to him, and he examines it for a second before looking at me and asking, "Does this CD-writer work?"

I was tempted to tell him that they were just for pretend like Fisher Price power tools. When I said, "Yes," I expected him to give some sort of explanation for the question. Instead, simply said, "Oh, OK. Thanks."

Did he really think we were selling phony CD writers?

Shopping tip of the day for 10/7/09: If you think you've been overcharged for something, DON'T wait until after your card authorizes to say, "Wait, I think that was cheaper." Watch the prices as they scan and speak up if you think we've made a pricing error. It happens, we know, so don't hesitate to say something. If you wait until it's time for you to sign, then that means your card has already been authorized and charged and now we're going to have to return it and re-buy it at the cheaper price, thus holding up both you and the rest of the people in line.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

They're Called "Instructions"

On Friday we had an elderly couple come into the store and immediately ask for a manager. So I got him for them and went on my way. Over the course of the next hour, I passed by them several times as the manager showed them the phones. I guess they were the type of customers that think they have to speak to a manager to get any kind of service. There are plenty of those out there.

But whatever, I went on my way, helping customers find what they wanted and doing whatever else it is that I do. About an hour later, the manager has finally taken the couple to the register with their selection - a thirty dollar phone COMPLETE WITH ANSWERING MACHINE! OH BOY!

Anyway, he proceeded to ring them up as I passed by, but after about twenty minutes of seeing him up there with them, I began to wonder what was taking so long. So while I was leading another customer over to the folder aisle, I took a glance at the couple. They'd made our manager take the phone out of the box, plug it in, and were trying to make him set it up for them.

Again, as I've mentioned before, we don't know everything about every product made, including the setup procedure. We're going to do exactly what you SHOULD have done - READ THE INSTRUCTIONS.

Finally, after another twenty minutes, he gets them out of the store. A short while later, the phone rings, and an old man asks for the manager by name. It's gotta be them.

I give the call to the manager and he talks with the guy for a while. In the meantime, I go back to helping people. Eventually, I hear a page over the loudspeaker for me to come to the front. The manager, holding the phone in one hand while taking in a different customer's copy order, asks me to go online and try to find out how to set the clock on their stupid phone. So I went to AT&T's website and downloaded the same instruction manual that came IN THE BOX with that phone. Oh, look at that, you have to press the "Clock" button to change the clock. How innovative.

I relay the information to the manager and he finally gets off the phone about ten minutes later.

Another ten minutes go by, and the phone is ringing again. I answer the phone, and this time the guy assumes I'm the manager he dealt with before, because he simply says, "Now it says that it's Sunday. How do I change that?"

I didn't bother trying to tell him who I was. "Did you read the instructions, Sir?"

"The what?"

"There should've been an instruction manual that came with the phone."

"A manual, huh?" he says as though it's a foreign concept. "I just want to change the day so that it's correct. How do I do that?"

I grind my teeth and tell him to hold on. Then I dial the copy department where the manager is. When answers, I say, "Do you want me to just get AT&T's number for this guy? He's on the phone again!"

With a roll of the eyes, the manager tells me not to worry about it and picks up the phone. For the next half hour, he's trying to handle copy orders (our copy department associate that was scheduled at that time is still new so she's not entirely familiar with everything), and handle this guy on the phone. Eventually he got the guy taken care of.

The best part? Right on the second or third page of the manual I downloaded (again, the same one that's in the box) was a big bold message over the top that read, "If you need technical support with this product, please feel free to call our toll-free number!" and it lists the number.

Shopping tip of the day for 10/6/09: Don't throw your keys at me and expect me to pick through them to find your rewards card. If you want the savings, the least you can do is go through the effort of finding YOUR stupid card for me.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Try 411

So I answer the phone with my usual greeting identifying the store and giving my name, and then I ask what the caller needs help with.

"Yeah, do you have the number for Arrow Fastener on route 46?"

As I usually do when caught off guard, I just kinda sat there for a moment before finally spitting out, "I'm sorry, Sir, what did you need?"

"I need the number for Arrow Fastener on route 46."

I don't know who he thought he was calling, but I politely informed him that he'd called a retail store.

"Oh," he says. OK, so he didn't realize who he'd called. A simple mistake, right? "Well, do you know the number?" he asks.

"Sir, we don't exactly keep a catalogue listing all the phone numbers of other businesses in the area."

"Oh," he says. He sounded genuinely thrown off that we didn't have those numbers there for him. "Well, where do you think I can get it?"

"Did you try calling 411 for information?"

"That's a good idea," he says. "Thanks for your help."

What I want to know is what drove him to dial our number in the first place. Was it a miss-dial? Did he just hit a bunch of numbers to see what happened?

Shopping tip of the day for 10/5/09: Contrary to the accusations of many, retail employees for the most part (and I stress that - FOR THE MOST PART) are not out to get you. If you ask for a particular type of product, and we suggest a specific model, it isn't because it's cheap crap that you'll have to replace in a month thus bringing the store repeat sales. If we decline your return, it isn't because of the color of your skin. If we put something on sale and it sells out, we aren't trying to bait-and-switch you - in fact, in almost all cases we will offer to order it for you or direct you to another of our stores in the area that has it in stock. Whatever the situation, we're not walking around all day coming up with schemes to rip you off at every turn. If I suggest a printer based on your needs, don't accuse me of chosing that one because the cartridges for it are expensive. If we don't carry a pen refill, it's because there are too many pens out there for us to ever be able to carry the refills for each one, not because we're trying to force you into buying entirely brand new pens.

Now, I will say that there are companies and/or associates that will attempt to take advantage of people by various means. Having worked retail for eleven years and seen a lot of employees come and go, I think I can safely say that the percentage of retail workers who fall into that catagory has got to be around 2%. Granted, they say 90% of statistics are made up on the spot, but the point I'm trying to make is that I've come across very FEW people who actually try to take advantage of customers. So I guess I'm requesting that you give us the benefit of the doubt and try not to assume that we're somehow scamming you. When you have that perception, it comes across in your attitude, and that will affect OUR attitudes and make the entire experience worse for everyone involved.

Besides, what do we have to gain by trying to scam you anyway? The majority of retail stores don't pay commission anymore, so what would be our motivation? A more profitable company? Bah, that does nothing for us. It's not like they raise our salaries when the company performs well, so what do we care?

Friday, October 2, 2009

That's What I Said

For whatever reason, many customers think that if a person works in a retail store, they've got the whole catalog of products memorized backward and forward, both current and discontinued items. Along with that, the associate must also have all technical specifications, assembling instructions, and so on memorized so that they can recall any of that information upon request.

Yeah, we don't get paid nearly enough for that kinda crap.

A guy came into the store yesterday looking for a toner cartridge. Of course, he came without any model numbers or any real useful information. I told him I wouldn't be able to give him the right cartridge without some kind of help from him.

"Where are your printers?" he asks. "I'll just show it to you."

Now, I know where this is going, but on the off chance that he does have one of the twenty printers we have in stock and not one of the hundreds that have come and gone from the shelves over the years, I had to humor him. "This way."

We get to the printer aisle, and he points to the first printer he sees. "It's just like this one."

"Just like" that could've meant any number of things. It could be close to the right one, but close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and government work. I had to try to get him to clarify. "Is it just LIKE this one? Or is it actually this one?"

"It's just like this one," he says again, "only mines black."

Yeah, that's a different model. I haven't seen printer models come in different colors since Apple had their multicolored line of printers to match the multicolored iMacs years ago. "Sir, without an exact model number, I can't guarantee I'm giving you the right thing."

"It's this one," he says, patting the machine. "Trust me."

OK then. I get the cartridge for that machine and send him on his way.

Can you guess what happened about an hour later?

Yeah, I get paged to the front of the store, and there he is with his hands spread wide apart. "Dude, you gave me the wrong one!" he says as though I'd been the one assuring HIM that he was right.

"I told you I couldn't guarantee it was right without the model of the printer," I said. He takes me back over to the printer aisle and points at the printer. "Do you have any other models like that one?"

I point to the printer beside it. "This is similar, but it has wireless network connectivity built into it."

"No, that doesn't look like it at all."

It's now dawning on me that this guy has made a second trip back to the store, this time with the wrong cartridge, and he STILL didn't bring a model number. "Did you get the model of your printer before you came back?" I asked him.

Instead of saying, "No, because I'm an idiot," he avoids the question. "I swear it looks like this one," he said, pointing again to the first one.

"If it was this one, then the cartridge I gave you would've worked. It's not this one."

"It is," he says, pulling out his cell phone. "I know it is." He dials a number, and asks the person on the other end, "Whats the model number on the printer? ....... .... Yeah, the number over the digital screen on the front."

Meanwhile, I'm standing there silently screaming, "Why didn't you do this in the first place?!"

To make a long story longer, it was indeed a different model number, and I found him the right cartridge.

Shopping tip of the day for 10/2/09: If I'm wearing a shirt with the store logo on it and a nametag with the store logo on it, there's a pretty good chance I work there.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Action Hero

Not too long ago, I had a japanese man enter the store and attempt to purchase a pack of paper that was on sale. The sale was 500 sheets of paper for $1 after a rebate of $4. So he came in, picked up the paper, came up to the register, and pulled out a couple bucks. I scanned the paper, and it came up as $5.

"Ah, no - dissa papah on sale."

"Yes, Sir," I told him, "It's on sale with a rebate. You mail it in to get the $4 back. The rebate will print up with the receipt and you just send that in."

The man's eyes got real big. No joke, he grabs his money off of the counter and yells, "NO! DIS A TRICK!" and literally RUNS through the exit and out to his car.

I stood there for several minutes just staring at the exit door replaying the whole thing over and over in my mind.

Shopping tip of the day for 10/1/09: Don't take security measures personally. If the buzzer goes off when you're leaving, don't yell out, "I'M NOT STEALING ANYTHING!" We already know that. However, if you do things that could be considered suspicious, we're going to get suspicious. For example, if we see you climbing one of our ladders, we're going to watch you closely until you leave. Opening packages will get more than one eye on you. And if you're trying to wiggle a laptop out of the security bars so you can "see how heavy it is," expect us to be all over you until you leave the building. We know there are plenty of you honest people out there who REALLY DO want to see how heavy the laptop is, but for the number of scams and thefts we've seen over the years, we have to suspect everyone. So like I said, don't take it personally.

Instead, the best way to avoid such suspicions is to ask your question rather than trying to figure it out yourself. I know I've said before that customers ask a lot of stupid questions (and they do), but there ARE a lot of legitimate questions to be asked, too. There's nothing wrong with saying, "Excuse me, is there any way I'd be able to feel how heavy this laptop is?" or asking, "Can I open this to see how big the actual unit is?" Understand that sometimes the answer to your questions might be "no" for a variety of reasons, but again, it's better to ask rather than just take matters into your own hands, thus giving us reason to believe you might be up to no good.