Orphaned Coyote Pup

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Thank you?

Whatever happened to the gentle art of the apology? You make a mistake, you say you're sorry. Right? Not any more it seems. It looks like apologizing for your error is now viewed as some sort of an admission of guilt rather than a statement that attempts to ameliorate a wrong. A Christmas or two ago my daugher gave me a gift card from REI. As always, I waited a while to try to use it and when I presented it to the cashier she solemly handed the piece of plastic back and told me that it had no value. Impossible, I said, laying out the facts that the card was a present, worth so many dollars I was told, adding that this was from my daughter, not just any old gift giver. Sarah is an REI member, I said, and so am I.

So what are we going to do about this situation, I asked? Basically nothing, the cashier responded. She was busy checking out other patrons (and they had either money or real gift and credit cards) and my problem was between me, my daughter, and maybe the higher-ups somewhere within the labyrinthe of REI. I do not recall any mention of an apology for the situation. I was the problem, trying to pull a fast one with a fake gift card. I felt embarrassed and confused.

So later at home, I asked Sarah about her present. Fortunately she had saved her receipt. Then I telephone my REI store and asked to talk to someone in management. I outlined the problem and asked them to help solve the situation. They asked for the information they needed from the receipt, warned me that it would be perhaps as long as two weeks before they would know if the card had value or not and that they would get in touch with me by such-and-such a date. That date came and went and REI still hadn't called, so I called them and asked for my management point person. Oh yeah, she said, my card was worth what Sarah had paid for it and all I had to do to make use of that value was to wait until the management person managed to write up a statement to that effect and send it off to me. Shouldn't be too long. A few days later the statement arrived, I took it to REI and bought something with it (but not the item I initially wanted because it had already sold out in the interim). Never during the whole, irritating scenario did anyone at REI apologize for the embarrassment or delay or cumbersome, time-consuming problems they and their gift card system had created.

Would I even think of purchasing a gift card from REI again? Never. Most of the time these days, I don't even consider going into the store, in which I own a membership.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Pleasant assistance

Just the other morning, I was roaming the Lowe's near Corrales, north of my part of town, nothing in the basket that I use partially as a walking assist because as always I had forgotten an important measurement that I would have to return home to get before returning to make my purchase. (Ah, it's a complicated life these days.) A young staff person busy uncrating paint cans on their way to the shelves looked up from where she was working on the floor and asked if I needed any help. It wasn't one of those queries sparked by the store's anti-shoplifting handbooks (Let them know you are watching!) but seemed a genuine attempt to provide assistance. I didn't need any help and told her so along with a thank you for asking. There was none of my normal irritation at the other kind of query.

The exchange, simple, honest, appreciated, and quick, left me feeling good about the sales clerk, her interest in helping me if I needed it, even though she was obviously busy, and Lowe's. Much better, for example, than another somewhat similar exchange a few months earlier. Then I really needed some help to find what I needed. This time I was told by the Home Depot staffer that he didn't know (and the way it felt to me, didn't care) and to find someone else. He was busy. It is that feeling that I still feel all these months later that helps me choose where I go to shop.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Life, of course, is not always a bowl of cherries ...

Mixed in with the good, as always, are the bad shopping experiences: The electronics giant who fails to send you your promised rebate and then claims you did not provide all the paperwork. In fact, at one point you are told that no rebate was ever offered for the mp3 player you bought your wife for Mother's Day. B___ s___! You've already received the companion rebate offered by the store where the purchase was made, so you know your request was correctly packaged! You search for days and days, propelled mostly by irritation, but you can't locate the copy you made of the receipts you sent in.

Another shocker comes when a young sales clerk answers your query about the price on a jacket you found on a 40% off sales rack by taking the item from you and walking away without an answer. In fact, without even a word. When you ask him again for the price, he says the item is no longer for sale. Research, he adds, will have to be done by senior staff, and maybe the jacket will pop back up for sale later in the day, maybe tomorrow. It's a 40-mile-, almost-one-hour-long round trip from store to home and gas is running at just over $4 a gallon. You want the jacket now, not at some indefinite time in the future. Just tell me how much.

So what can you do? Among the many possibilities, the first effort ought to be to issue a strong protest. Do it verbally and instantly in the store. Keep your cool, watch the profanity, don't use threats or anything else that might get the cops called or lessen the effectiveness of your position, but let the sales staff know how you feel about what has happened. Do it in a voice loud enough for nearby shoppers to hear. Ask to talk to a manager. Get her or his name and telephone number to use when you get home. Let everyone within listening distance know that this experience has significantly diminished the company's usefullness in your view. Establish quickly and strongly that until the problem is resolved to your satisfaction you are no longer a customer of this business. Some follow-up tactics to use when you feel business has failed its part in a transaction will follow soon.

Have you had similar experiences? Please share them! Whether good or bad, if you remember them, they are worth mentioning. If we had businesses, we would want to know how our customers felt about dealing with us. Let them know.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Another spectacular marketplace experience:

This incident is maybe two years ago and I was in a Sears, not normally a place where I'd grown to expect to find customer service above more than a bare minimum. I've watched over recent years as products changed, some disappeared, along with a sales staff that seemed to become fewer and fewer while lines of customers waiting to make their purchases at more centralized sales hubs grew longer. In spite of this evolution, I have remained a fan. There is nothing like a browse through a tool department to sharpen one's mood and imagination.

On this day I had some plastic gift money remaining from recent celebrations and I wanted to spend it on a small air compressor that was on sale. When the sale was completed I asked if there was a dolly I could use to wheel the large, boxed compressor across the store to the package pick up area. Without so much as a pause, the young sales associate stooped down and picked up the box and carried it across the store for me, waiting while I stumbled along after him. He waited guarding the box until I got my truck out of its parking space and over to the loading area and then he even loaded the box for me.

I was pretty amazed at his service, rendered with a no-big-deal kind of attitude. I was so impressed, in fact, that I intended to call the store when I got home to applaud this employee's extraordinary assistance, but by then my good intentions had become tangled with some apprehension that such a commendation might well earn him some sort of disciplinary action; failure to follow safety procedures or the like. So in the end I kept quiet except to mention my experience to a handful of friends. The net result, though, was to brighten significantly my impression of dealing with Sears.

Monday, November 17, 2008

An extraordinarily helpful store clerk:

I ran into a pleasant experience not long ago while making an after-school run to the Sunflower Market in Corrales, on the northwestern edge of Albuquerque. We are fairly particular about which milk we like to drink. The Sunflower isn't real close to where I live and when I found none of the brand I wanted in the dairy case I was a little bummed. When I asked a clerk if there was any more of the brand we like the most he said no, but that a delivery was on its way and should be there soon. I said something, probably an expletive to celebrate my disappointment, picked up the next best brand and size and went on about my shopping and rolled my cart up to the checkout stand. Just as I was ending the process and ready to slide my money card, Russell (I knew this from his name badge) pushed his way up to me to let me know that the milk truck had arrived. I said something about it being too late, I had already purchased the other milk, and Russell said no it wasn't and asked me if I wanted him to run out to the truck and grab a gallon and bring it up to me. This he did, believe it or not, while the cashier did her magic and corrected her tally to exchange the desired bottle for the one I really didn't want. I was genuinely impressed by this experience. The world needs more Russells.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Contacting the US Postal Service

I had an enlightening, in a way, experience earlier this week. When I stopped to pick up my mail at my neighborhood community mailbox station, I noticed that the uppermost parcel box had had its door pried open. There were no keys in the door, which usually means that the box holds a package for one of us who share the station. The keys enabling access are put in our smaller letter box, which is also locked, by the postperson so we can access the parcel box and get our delivery. No package in the ruined box that day.

A few minutes later I sat down at the kitchen table to begin a frustrating series of attempts to let someone at the Post Service know about the break-in. First I tried my non-emergency police department number, where an operator answered promptly and let me know that problems with mail theft belong to the federal government. He gave me two long distance numbers to try. First, though, I called the Pino Station. The phone rang until the phone service cut in to tell me that no one was answering and for 95 cents I could free myself from waiting for an answer and the service would let me know when the call was connected. I gave up on that one and went on to the long-distance numbers. The first number rang and was answered by a pleasant fellow who told me that I had reached the night number; try this other number, he said, and I would get to the correct office on to which I could pass my report.

By this time, I had invested maybe 20 minutes in my effort. I tried the new long-distance number and it rang for quite some time, finally getting answered by someone who said hello, and then hung up on me. Enough, the hell with it, I said, let them figure it out on their own.

A while back I put on the web a spoof press release about how the US Postal Service had decided to undertake a radical new cost-cutting measure in mail delivery. Instead of going through the costly, time-consuming process of sorting mail and placing it in residential mail boxes for delivery, trucks would now simply dump the mail into a pile at the end of each block, allowing customers to gather and sort through the mess themselves. I was just kidding.

Or so I thought.

The next day, still trying to be a conscientious citizen, I went online and filed my report.