by David Sisler

I have worked in retail for the last twelve years (with two years off for good behavior). I have held positions of everything from the last-hired part-timer through manager of a million dollar store. Therefore, I have absolutely no patience for people who treat retail workers shabbily. Equally, I have no patience for retailers who forget that they are customers, too.

It was the latter, clunky clerks, who descended upon me recently.

Three years ago, my sons purchased a VCR. They saved and shopped and secured what they believed to be the best buy. Six days not six weeks, not six months after the extended warranty expired, the machine joined the warranty in product purgatory. Since I was heading in that direction anyway, Mike and Matt asked me if I'd drop it off and see what could be done.

It was while standing at the alleged "customer service" desk that I met the most disagreeable person I have ever faced across a sales counter. Violating every principle of customer service, he repeatedly told me, "No! Nothing can be done! No one can help you!" And smiled his most insincere smile while he did it.

The last straw was when I noticed a motto on his name tag declaring his sympathy for my needs. He assured me he did care, and told me (I lost track of the number of times he said it), "I'm sorry."

I know a car dealer who replaced a blown engine two months after the warranty expired. I know a roofer who reshingled a house, at no charge, one year after completing the job. I know an auto-mechanic who replaced parts for free and did not charge for labor after the warranty expired. And this goof tells me, "I'm sorry."

"That is the truth," I said, my cool lost. "You are." Whereupon I left the store, taking with me the toll-free number to the customer service center.

Once connected with the 800-folks, I waited 25 minutes and hung up. I redialed and tried to leave a message in the voice mail box. I was told it was full. The next day it was still full.

I called back to the store and asked for the general manager of the store. When he came on the line, I recounted my displeasure, blow-by-blow. My teeth were firmly gritted. My brow was set with determination. My fist was squeezing the life out of the telephone receiver. He immediately defused me when he said, "The warranty has indeed expired, but would it be all right with you if we paid for half of the repair?"

I always trained my people to never say "No" to a customer and call for help from someone higher up the scale when a customer's request was beyond their authority. Now why couldn't that first ninny have done that, instead of thrusting his power of non-cooperation on me?

So I took the VCR back to the store, filled out all of the papers and got in line to pay for the repair estimate. The bogey person of non-service struck again.

I have one credit card. I have written, in the place for signature, "Ask For ID." In seven months of using it, six people have. The clerk said, "You'll have to sign this." My son gave the lady his card, which bears his signature on the back. He signed the receipt and she scrutinized his signature. Had I signed my card, would she also have scrutinized my signature? Would that have proven that I was me? Or would a simple glance at my driver's license have proved that I was the card's owner and not a clever forger who could duplicate someone's handwriting?

Hokey smokes, Bullwinkle!

I left there, stopped at the grocery store and picked up a buy-one get-one-free special. The sign said "shoe string potatoes." I picked up two bags of shoe string potatoes located directly under the sign. The scanner did not give me one free. The clerk sent a stock boy who returned with two bags of "crinkle-cut potatoes." One of them was free.

I hate scanners. Please put the prices back on things. I will gladly wait the extra minute it might take for the person at the register to look at the price, clearly printed on the package, and punch the numbers in.

All of this reminds me of the Golden Rule. Like the weather, we talk a lot about it, but do very little about it. No, the Golden Rule does not say, "He who has the gold makes the rules." Jesus said, "If you want to be treated right by folks at the customer service desk, never tell a customer no, never be condescending or rude to a customer, and offer a half price repair charge on a warranty six days out of date, because some day you will be on the other side of the desk."

Actually, Luke wrote it better: "And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise."


Published in the Augusta Chronicle 7/19/97

Copyright 1997 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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