Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Department Store Confidential, Part 2: What I Said (Aloud) vs. What I Said (Silently)

Every person who has ever worked with the public has a story about what she said to a customer versus what she wanted to say, and I’m no exception. I worked in retail for 13 years, and most of the time I was rather good at smiling politely at the most colossal jackasses. If I occasionally had a hard time suppressing a smirk while dealing with a difficult customer, it’s because I was thinking about an imaginary response to that person that while it would have resulted in my immediate firing, was still MUCH more entertaining than the actual, spoken response.

Part 1: Bring Me My Bra!
When I worked for Nordstrom (maybe they still do this; I don’t know), we occasionally did something called a “handcarry”, which was just a delivery to a customer’s home. Sometimes a handcarry was a courtesy to a customer who couldn’t get to the store; sometimes it was to rectify an error on our part, sometimes it was just to mollify a pain in the ass. This particular handcarry was of the 3rd variety. I was the Manager in Charge (MIC) on a Sunday at the King of Prussia store, and a lady called the lingerie department asking for a particular bra in a particular size. The salesperson found the bra, and offered to hold it for the customer, who promptly began to rant and rave about the fact that she’d been to the store earlier in the week, and we didn’t have it, which was RIDICULOUS and a HUGE INCONVENIENCE, and that there was NO WAY she was driving ALL THE WAY back to the store and that someone needed to bring it to her house TODAY. To her surprise, the salesperson said, sure, we’ll do that…what’s the address? The customer gave her address and when the salesperson asked for directions, she said IT’S ON THE MAIN LINE! IT’S NOT THAT HARD TO FIND!
The salesperson, a very nice young woman, called me. What to do? She’d promised to deliver the stupid bra, she had no idea where the woman lived, and she wouldn’t give us directions (this took place in 1997 or so…if MapQuest was around, we didn’t know about it). I told her that I’d call the customer back, and I did.
What I Said (Aloud):
Hello! How are you? This is Claire from Nordstrom! While we are certainly happy to accommodate you by delivering this item, I cannot in good conscience send a salesperson on a delivery without ensuring that she has accurate directions. Therefore, if you cannot see your way clear to providing directions, we will be unable to bring the item to you.
What I Said (Silently):
Hello! What the hell is wrong with you? First of all, the fact that we might not have had the item on one day and that we do have it on another day is NOT in fact ridiculous…it happens all the time! See, we LIKE to sell out of stuff…that’s our whole reason for existing! Not only that, but sometimes, we sell out of something…AND THEN WE GET MORE! Crazy, right? Now here’s what’s going to happen. You’re going to give me detailed and accurate directions to your house, or I’LL bring that bra over there myself and insert it into an entirely different body part than that for which it was intended!

Part 2: The Bathhouse
I was working in Customer Service, helping a line of people with gift certificates, payments, returns, issues, etc. It was about 2 weeks before Christmas, so we were busy. About 4 or 5 people back in my line was an elderly lady with a pissed-off facial expression, looking at her watch every couple of seconds and craning her head forward to see how much longer it would be before it was her turn. I was SO looking forward to assisting her. She finally got to the head of the line, and before I could smile and say hello, she said “I just washed my hands in the bathroom, and the water is BARELY TEPID. Please contact your maintenance staff and tell them that there should be HOT water in the bathrooms. Thank you.” She turned and walked away.

Are you kidding? You stood in line for 15 minutes to complain about tepid water?

What I Said (Aloud):
I’m so sorry! Thanks for letting us know!

What I Said (Silently):
What does this look like, the Four Frickin’ Seasons? NO, I’m not going to call maintenance, because if there’s hot water, you’re just crazy enough to strip down to your skivvies and take a damn sponge bath in there, and that’s a sight no one here needs to see! Get out of here before I give you something to complain about!

Part 3: Waiter! Oh, Waiter!
I was the MIC on a weeknight, and at about 7 pm, I had a call from the Café manager. He was barely audible; all I could get was that something catastrophic had happened and that I needed to get down there fast.
Great. “Catastrophic”. See, at that point I had not once, but twice had customers suffer heart attacks in the store while I was in charge (both survived), so when I heard “catastrophic”, I thought “even worse than falling down with a heart attack.” I ran down there, all the time thinking why am I the only person who has heart attacks and kitchen fires (another time) occur on her watch, and what the hell could be going on there that would be even worse than a heart attack or a kitchen fire? Had the kitchen caught fire again, causing someone to have a heart attack? Was there a cholera outbreak? Was there an infestation of giant rodents, helping themselves from the customers’ plates?

None of the preceding, thank goodness. There was a caterpillar in someone’s salad. Just a tiny, green, fuzzy caterpillar, sitting on a lettuce leaf. The guy was rather upset, commenting (rightly), that he’d been just seconds away from eating the damn thing. Actually, he was quite polite and reasonable, just upset. I later learned that this particular Café manager, while very good at his job, had a flair for the dramatic, hence the call about the “catastrophe”.
What I Said (Aloud):
Oh my gosh, I am so sorry! This is inexcusable! Our kitchen is usually so careful about washing produce, but clearly we didn’t do the best job with this salad! Please allow us to bring you another salad, and of course, there will be no charge for this meal! Thank you for bringing this to our attention!

What I Said (Silently):
You tell me! Leave a comment with your guess at what I said silently; I’ll link to everyone who guesses correctly!


Maurey Pierce said...

Aw man! As someone who spent three years of my life in retail, I can sooo relate. No caterpillars, though ... the things that drove me the craziest were the bargain-deluded people who would swarm the clearance racks, buying like 14 pairs of lime green platform heels just because they were $2.75 apiece. What on earth did they ever do with them? Or the people who would move a $200 Lauren blazer to the $4.99 clearance rack and try to convince me I had to sell it at that price. I would WATCH them do it! Grrr!

Since it was a caterpillar, and the guy was polite about it, I would guess you weren't too nasty silently.

Anonymous said...

Wonders never cease do they Claire. This post is inspiring me to write some of my own stories from my tech support days. I can't tell you how many people I've kicked out of their seats to fix minor (non) issues....politely, of course. should told the bra lady to stuff it.

CDP said...

MP--I know, we constantly had the people who "found" things on sale racks.

Spartacus--Were you the "MOOOVE" guy? That's awesome! Yes, you should definitely blog about it. The bra lady caught me on a good day, but she was thiiiis close...

Sauntering Soul said...

Hmmm, I think you said silently: "I wish you had eaten that fuzzy caterpillar. What's the problem? It's just a bit of extra fiber. You probably wouldn't have even tasted it."

When I worked retail, the pipes burst in our employee bathroom sending a deluge of rather nasty sewage all over the storage room of a clothing store beneath us. I didn't buy any clothes from that other store ever. Ewwww.

dguzman said...

I'm guessing what I would've said silently was this: "Holy shit, that's NOTHING compared to shit I've found in MY salads. Be happy it's just a worm, man!"

BTW, your judicious use of exclamation points in your "what you said" parts are hilarious.

dguzman said...

Uh, pardon me--that should've been "your judicious use of exclamation points IS hilarious."

CDP said...


Dguzman--"judicious use of exclamation points" is like "brevity" to me. Like words, exclamation points are "the more, the better!" I like your guess, but it's not quite it...close!

Mathman6293 said...

Retail was always entertaining to me. Your last post inspired me to write more about my old times.

Plenty of dumb goings on.

Anonymous said...

I think you should've said "Was there a rat in the salad also? No, that's funny because we saw it carrying around this bug a while ago".

Anonymous said...

Silenty, I'm guessing you were thinking "Oh, for goodness sake, you consume far worse stuff all the time and you never even know it. Do you have any idea what's in a Twinkie?"

CDP said...

Mathman--you worked at Radio Shack,didn't you? I bet you have excellent stories.

Suze--Funny, but not it!
Dcup--you too!

BeckEye said...

Everyone should have to be a server or bartender at least once in their lives. I once had a woman practically shriek and recoil away from the table in horror as she told me there was a "worm" in her baked potato. It was just one of those big brown holes - you know, like when one of the eyes goes all the way through the potato? I ALMOST said, "What fucking WORM? What are you, nuts??" I just looked at her strangely for a second and then said I would take it back and get her a new one. She was like, "oh no, I just can't eat a potato now." And then she wouldn't pick an alternative side dish, she just sat there with this sour-puss look on her face and acted like her appetite had been ruined. I wonder what she does when she gets brown spots on her bananas? What trauma!!

Whiskeymarie said...

"Looks like you could use the fiber, big boy."

I think it would freak people out to know how often the kitchen finds caterpillars, spiders, etc... in those "pre-washed" salad mixes.

Even more disturbing is how often they DON'T.

CDP said...

BeckEye--I couldn't say that, because the caterpillar was definitely there in its fat fuzzy green glory!

WM--Very funny, but not it!

The Guv'ner said...

Oh god. Hilarious. This is why I could never work customer service in any form. I couldn't bite my tongue enough to be gracious to the whiners. I'd be fired in about ten minutes. I cannot BELIEVE the bra woman. WTF? Is she Queen of some nation? Did she ever get the bra? Did you strangle her with it?

CDP said...

Guv'ner: I have nothing to say about anyone who may or may not have been strangled with undergarments. "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit".

FranIAm said...

"Sir, if you'd been a bit more patient, you might be marveling at the butterfly!"

CDP said...

Fran--that was better than what I came up with!

Dr. Zaius said...

Ha! She waited in line to tell you that the water was tepid?

CDP said...

Dr. Z--I know! And she's not the craziest customer I ever had, either...not even top 10!

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