What Happened to Courteous Customer Service?

I recently had what was arguably my worst customer service experience.  Long story short, store employees at a big box store refused to allow me to purchase beer and cider because my not-quite-21-year-old was with me. While this refusal was not life-altering for me (though after a long day I was looking forward to putting my feet up next to my husband and sipping a hard cider), the negativity has lingered.

After spending well over an hour in said store, filling what I commented upon entering said store was a LARGE cart with groceries, toiletries and the random stuff one picks up in a department store, we went to the checkout, only to find the self-check was the only line open. We were tired and disappointed at the inconvenience and questioned whether it would all fit on the bagging scale, but we went ahead and by piling bags up, managed to fit almost everything.

Last of all were a couple six packs which of course needed human approval to purchase. When I asked for said approval, the woman working self-check out, (who had just finished taking security tags from some of our items while we were finishing scanning) said that all members of party needed to produce ID. When I asked why, since I was the one making the purchase and would be the one to consume it, I was asked if I would like her to ask her manager. I said yes and she did (over a walkie talkie, saying a legal guardian wanted to make an alcohol purchase). His answer was “No!” followed by static.

A bit flabbergasted, I protested, to be told that “He explained why,” with a shake of the walkie. When I said no he didn’t, she asked if she should call him up to talk to me and did so, saying “I have a customer up here,” she paused and looked at me pointedly, “yelling at me.” She then went on to tell me it was state law and if I was going to shop in the state I should learn the law. When asked to show us the law, she told us to look it up on the website. (I later did and it’s not there.)

The manager arrived and of course what I had to say was irrelevant. I mentioned that I had shopped in this store before, with my daughter and never had an issue. I questioned the apparent fact that a parent cannot make an alcohol purchase when shopping with their child. The response was: “Only with obviously young children.”

Since they were not going to make this sale, I asked to have it removed so I could pay and leave. The manager then typed in numbers on the screen and voided my order. When asked by the cashier, he insisted he didn’t void it, only put in his code, but it was gone. There was no apology and apparently no way to retrieve the data. He quickly disappeared and I was sent to a register where my cart full of bags had to be scanned and bagged again, by two employees who appeared from nowhere.

While I question how a manager can void an order without knowing how or why and then walk away leaving others to deal with it, I was particularly offended by the attitude in enforcing this ridiculous policy. (Further investigation indicates that this “policy” at this store is at the cashier’s discretion.) Perhaps I should let this go, but it comes down to principles (and those who know me know that my principles do sometimes cause me trouble). While the fact I could not purchase alcohol on that visit is inconsequential, the fact that I was denied the right to make said purchase is an issue. It calls into question my integrity as well as my parenting.

How does it make sense that parents of young children can purchase alcohol, but not those who have teens or young adults? Are they suggesting that because my kids are older, I am supplying them with alcohol (which is illegal and as I have written before, also unhealthy)? Do we have to leave older kids home when we shop? Or do we need to make multiple trips – one for groceries (when the older kids, who consume most of the food, can choose what they want and help with this tedious process), then a return trip for adult beverages? Doesn’t this defeat the purpose of selling both in one store? In most stores, items on display in the aisles (there were several large displays promoting these items) are those the store WANTS to sell. Why make it so difficult for adults of legal age to buy them?

The other and possibly bigger issue I have is the lack of courtesy seen here and in so many other places today. I worked retail and food service jobs when I was young and was taught “the customer is always right.” Even when they weren’t, being polite and courteous was expected if you wanted to keep your job. Answering questions and helping customers was part of the job. If you didn’t know the answer, you found out. If what they wanted wasn’t possible, you said I’m sorry and if they were difficult, you passed them to a manager (who oftentimes was even more solicitous). Making an effort to start trouble is unnecessary and frankly unacceptable.

Courtesy isn’t extinct, but it is endangered. Too many people simply don’t care and make no effort to hide it. In this case, there appeared to be a malicious glee in forbidding a purchase. While it is true that those in service jobs aren’t making enough money, a bad attitude loses customers (and money). A smile and a polite, friendly attitude can make the difference. A customer can leave disappointed, but they shouldn’t leave angry.

The silver lining here (because in my mind there always should be one) is that good customer service is that much more apparent. My next retail experience was much better, so much so that I contacted the company to tell them. Happily, they responded that this employee would be recognized.

I plan to do more of this and encourage you to do the same. When you are happy with service, (especially if someone goes out of their way for you) go beyond a thank you – let that employer know they have an employee they need to hold onto. Hopefully that employee will receive praise or, as is the case with some retailers, even tangible rewards for good customer service. As long as higher-ups allow rudeness, there is little we can do to stop it, but we can recognize polite and professional attitudes and point out that this is the behavior we want to see. Moving forward, I’ll be looking for the good.

What the World Needs Now Is More Kindness

Today is World Kindness Day. Begun by the World Kindness Movement (a coalition of organizations promoting kindness throughout the world) in 1998, the goal of the day is to promote a kinder world. Organizations and schools plan a variety of events such as handing out cards and flowers, organizing flashmobs or even a giant group hug. It is a day to set aside differences and unite in the common goal of being kind.

I don’t think the world has even been in more need of kindness than it is today. We need to look beyond ourselves. See all people as world citizens. Search for our commonalities. Let go of the past, not hold onto feuds, especially those between our ancestors. We need to be joiners, not dividers.

While setting aside a day to be kind, the goal should be to carry the concept over beyond the day. We need to make a conscious effort to not fall back in to the same patterns, but to continue to be kind. Is important that we see others as having equal value and potential.

Kind acts can be big or small. Some groups are planning large events such as handing out small gifts like candy or flowers to thousands of people, organizing a giant group hug or flash bob dance. Schools may participate by planning group activities involving service or donations or making note of good deeds performed. Those looking for organized efforts can contact a member organization of World Kindness USA, a non-profit organization works to support and encourage kindness in the United States through cooperation with organizations and community groups, local governments and even individuals.

Some suggestions to spread kindness today and every day:

  • smile at someone
  • give a sincere compliment
  • say hello
  • provide assistance or support
  • avoid gossiping, making negative comments
  • pay it forward (feed a meter, pay for the next person at the drive through or toll)
  • let someone go ahead of you in line
  • recognize good service (some companies reward employees  for customer comments)
  • send a “thinking of you” card
  • pick up trash
  • donate gently worn items you no longer need
  • forgive someone (or yourself)
  • visit sick or elderly who can’t get out

Whatever the method, the result is the same. Acts of kindness made people feel good, both the givers and the receivers. Kindness results in people feeling appreciated, understood and loved. Kind acts cost little, but can have great benefits. How are you going to be kind today?

Read the F*@%-ing Story Before You Leave a Comment

IMG_5414Sorry for the profanity, but “Read the Gosh Darn Story…” just wouldn’t get your attention. Headlines are meant to grab your attention and get you to react. After all, the best writing in the world is useless if no one reads it. While commenting on a story is your right, and in many cases is encouraged by the publisher, doing so indiscriminately can make you look bad, and people may judge you as being lazy, foolish or just plain ignorant. Taking things too far can even get you banned from your favorite social media sites.

If something you read touches you, or your immediate response is “Me too!” or for some reason you just love the story, by all means go ahead and comment. From a writer’s perspective, some days these morsels of praise are what keep us going.

It’s okay to set the record straight

On the flip side, if you disagree with something you’ve read and feel the need to say so, go ahead and comment, just remember that it is possible to respectfully disagree. Perhaps something the writer said has hit a nerve and you are offended. While it may be wise to first look at why you are offended and whether that is reasonable, go ahead and comment. If writers are thoughtless or cruel or have their facts wrong, this should be pointed out. Few writers are deliberately offensive and many will appreciate the comment, provided it is given in a polite, respectful manner.

People don’t always agree

Remember that opinion pieces are just that — opinions. Writers know that not everyone will share their opinion. Many welcome the opportunity to hear other opinions. All of us are deeply influenced by our own personal experiences and can learn much from the experiences of others. Again, respectfully disagreeing means your words are more likely to be heard.

Before you leave that comment, first read the piece. Headlines don’t tell all (and in some cases, they tell nothing). Realize that headlines are an editorial decision and in many cases are not chosen by or even run past the writer. The best headlines attract attention and reflect the essence of a story, but those headlines are increasingly rare. Even with a good headline, you don’t really know what the writer is saying without reading the story.

Do more than skim

Really read the story. If you feel strongly enough about the content that you must comment, it is not enough to merely skim. Many things can be lost when one reads quickly, skipping sections. While we are taught in school to make our main point in the first paragraph, that is not how stories are always written. There is also the chance that the story is not what is seems. Maybe it’s fiction (remember the debut of “War of the Worlds”) Sometimes writers use special literary techniques such as satire to make a point. Perhaps you and the writer fully agree on the issue, but the first paragraph made you too angry to get to the place in the piece that this is revealed. If this is the case, maybe you shouldn’t comment (at least not now, you can always go back and comment later). Perhaps it is a reported story and quotes someone. You can’t assume that the writer agrees with the speaker, though if you are reading the whole story, the writer’s opinion generally comes through in the rest of the piece. If you’ve read and understand the point made and feel the need to, go ahead and comment (if you don’t understand at all, that may also be a cause to comment). Again, be respectful.

Look at what others have said

Before you comment, read the other comments. If you have a question, it is likely someone else has asked it. This is a challenge if there are already hundreds of comments, but if it isn’t worth your while to at least skim these, is it worth your while to comment (and perhaps be called out for your lack of diligence)? This has the added benefit of seeing what happens to those who comment without reading the story.

Commenting can add value. Some stories benefit from active engagement. We all have something to share and more to learn. Reading the story before leaving a comment reduces the chance of looking ignorant, thoughtless or mean. It also enables you to make a meaningful contribution to the conversation. But please, first read the story and then, if you need to comment, be kind. Besides being the right thing to do, it’s more likely your voice will be heard. And isn’t that the point of commenting anyway?