Hump Day: What if the jolly old elf was like some store customers?

Hump DayHump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013
Moncton Times & Transcript
Editorial section

I’ve often wondered why it sometimes takes the media to get involved before some businesses solve customer service problems. Doesn’t it seem like every time you open the newspaper or turn on the television or radio, we see a story about some poor consumer who’s had to resort to public shaming in order to get justice?

With the Christmas shopping season upon us, we’ll surely be seeing a resurgence in these sorts of complaints. But we must also remind ourselves that the customer isn’t always right. I’ve never been a particularly strong proponent of that old cliché ‘The customer is always right!’ It’s overused and, quite simply, often just completely untrue.

Some retailers go above and beyond to please their customers. Of course, I guess that’s how they stay in business, but some should get medals. I remember a story that a friend told me years ago about an incident at a retailer he once worked for during the summer. An older lady came in to return a barbecue she’d purchased. She dutifully produced a receipt but was told she was at the wrong store.

In fact, she had indeed bought it at a competing retailer. “No, I bought it here.” Clearly, the elevator had stopped going to the top floor at some point. “Ma’am, your receipt says you bought it at another store. See? There’s the name and address. You need to bring it back there for a refund.”

“‘Nope, I bought it here.” Not only was the elevator not going to the top floor anymore, but the bees had left her hive, the bulbs had burned out in her chandelier and her carton was a few eggs short of a dozen.

From the story I was told, this went on for a long time. They practically had the pope on the phone at the end of it. Even he wouldn’t have convinced her – well, maybe had he threatened to excommunicate her right then and there. Other managers got involved. Staff tried to explain. Nothing. “I bought it here and I want my money back.”

Eventually – and likely because they knew they weren’t dealing with someone who was rational, they gave her the refund. Perhaps it was a brand they already sold in the store and they’d just send it back to the manufacturer, I don’t know. But at some point, someone just got frustrated and decided right then and there to give her the refund and get her out of the store before she wasted one more iota of their time. You have to give her an ‘A’ for persistence.

I’ve usually had good customer service when I’ve asked for a refund. I’m not one to ask for refunds or return things anyway. An item has to literally be broken or not working for me to return it. This is unlike a few people I know who make a sport of buying and returning things. They’ll purchase a decorative item for their home and try it out for a week to see if they get sick of it. If not, they keep it. If they’re still not in love with it a week later, they just bring it back.

I don’t know if not returning stuff is just a “guy” thing. I think it is. When I’m shopping for something, I usually know what I want. I don’t have time to continuously be going back and forth to stores returning things. Like I said, if it isn’t defective when I get home, I usually keep it even if I end up not wanting it. I just can’t be bothered bringing it back. That would explain the enormous number of unused kitchen gadgets I own.

returnsMy first experience returning something, however, was years ago when I bought a music cassette tape. I think I spent some Christmas money on it. When I got home, it was messed up – with some music on side one meant to be on side two and songs cut off at the end. I was not a happy camper. Thinking I’d be in a fight for getting my money back, I wrote a scathing letter to the record company basically accusing them of consumer fraud. A bit over the top, perhaps. (Well, more than perhaps.)

Imagine my surprise, though, when I received a new cassette in the mail a few weeks letter with a nice letter of apology telling me that they were more than happy to replace the defective product. I sat there reading their perfectly nice and polite letter and realized that all that adolescent bluster in my letter was completely unnecessary. All I had to do was ask nicely.

Actually, that’s usually the way customer service goes. Just ask nicely like a reasonable person and you’ll hopefully be dealing with an equally reasonable person and your money will be refunded — with a smile on their face and a song in their heart. No need for hysterics!

Oh, I’m sure there’ll be more than a few hysterics in retailers over the next several weeks. Between stressed out shoppers and inexperienced staff just brought on for Christmas, I’m sure there’ll be some screaming matches. It would be interesting to talk to customer service staff who have to put up with all those returns. I wonder how many have given refunds even though the receipt they were given was from another store?

I just know that if I have to return anything to a store this holiday season, it will only be as a last resort. I’ll give the item away if I have to. But if I do feel the need to return something, I’ll try to be nice, polite and reasonable and have my proper receipt with me. I’ll do my best to keep any hissy fits at bay. Because if I’m mean, I’m pretty sure there’s a jolly old elf in a red suit who’ll be watching on his hidden camera. And you never want to have him on your bad side.

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