Customer complaints

One of the reasons I was asked to move to the service desk is that very little ruffles me. What they didn’t know is that I’m actually trained in conflict mediation, which means listening and making sure the person knows they are being listened to.

One morning last week the person on the desk took a call and then asked me if we had an item on the floor that was in the mailer. The previous day we only had one bag style but overnight two more styles had been put out, which meant two styles were still missing. When I returned, the customer service person passed the call off to me. It’s not that unusual an occurrence if we’re busy, but we weren’t.

I picked up the line and asked which type of bag the customer was looking for. And the customer immediately began ranting about us not having what was in the mailer and that someone had told her to call in the morning for the item. I probably stood there for at least a minute as she ranted because I asked her a question. Finally, she said, “I want to talk to someone who can answer my question.”

“Yes, ma’am, that would be me,” was my firm response. Once I realized I had her attention I explained that we had received two styles and what they were but they we hadn’t received two other styles. I also explained the corporation put the mailers together about a month prior and then shipped the products to several stores in different amounts to arrive around the same time as the mailers but some things showed up earlier and sold out while some may be a little late.

In the six weeks I worked on the desk, I only had a couple irritated customers and I discovered that a firm “ma’am” works wonders in getting someone’s attention while making them feel respected. I also found a clear explanation of why something happens diffuses the situation. Too often in retail (and in life), we’re in too big of a rush to listen and explain so the person walks away frustrated.


After three months I’ve moved from being a cashier to front end supervisor, which means I do several things during the day and have to respond quickly to cashiers when they call for assistance.

Yesterday, I was at the customer service desk doing a return when I received a phone call:
Me: Thank you for calling (store name). How can I help you?
Customer: I bought a table that needed to be brought out to my car. I’ve been sitting behind the store for five minutes and nobody has come out.
Me: Did you ring the bell beside the door?
Customer: No.
I had to shut my eyes and take a deep breath to keep from laughing. You see each cashier is trained to explain to people how to pick up the items from receiving and the paperwork the person needs to take up to the door with them. But somehow this person didn’t get any of that information.

At a later point there was a man trying to purchase an extension cord but the code wasn’t ringing up on the register. I tried looking it up on the computer to get our code, but it wasn’t there. And I grabbed the rest from the floor because they didn’t have a code. Then I returned to the customer prepared to let him name the price of the item, which is something we can do.
But as I started to explain it wasn’t anywhere in the system, he cut me off and said he’d waited long enough and he didn’t want to wait any longer. I said, “OK.” And walked away without selling it to him.

Both of these customers were inconvenienced because they didn’t listen to the store employee. One person wasted five minutes sitting in their car because they thought receiving would just know they were out there. I’m not sure why they think they would spend their day looking out a window to see if someone drove up, but it’s a symptom of just not listening that happens quite frequently in retail. I’ve had people come through and not look at me at all during the sale or act as if I am bothering them.

But the man who couldn’t wait 5 seconds for me to complete a sentence, probably wasted at least 10 minutes finding an extension cord at another store. Yet he thought whatever I was going to say was less important than what he had to say. And I see this a lot where people act as if whatever the employee needs to tell them is beneath their contempt. My favorite was the man who slowly ran his credit card through the machine time and time again while looking bored or as if there was nothing we could do right. Then I said, “You need to run the card through faster,” and sure enough, it read it the first time after he speeded up.

As if you don’t already get it, here’s the point: When a store employee is trying to tell you something, listen. We aren’t just talking because we have nothing better to do. Most importantly, we aren’t trying to waste your time. We’re trying to serve you based on our experience (cards need to swipe quickly to be read), our policy (ringing the bell) or the situation (letting you name the price if we can’t find a code).

I’d like to return this …

So you’ve purchased something, got it home and realized it was too small or something was missing. Or you just didn’t like the rug in the room as much as you thought you would in the store. Most stores have a simple return policy – a certain number of days with a receipt. And when you return it, you go directly to customer service with the receipt.

Seems simple enough, right? If you walk into Wal-Mart with something to exchange they stop you at the door and send you directly to customer service. My store doesn’t have a greeter but customer service is right by the door.

I have had several customers come to me at the register after they have gone shopping in the store and say they want to do a return. Most of them hand me the receipt and what it is they want to return so I send them over to customer service.

But last night I had a doozy. Someone came into the store, went shopping, came up to my register and stated they wanted to return something without a receipt. Really? All I could think was they had found something in the store while shopping and ripped the bag so they could get the product they wanted cheaper than it was marked. 

For whatever the reason the store began with an unlimited, no receipt return policy. And they haven’t changed it although they are thinking about it. So the person was able to return the product or they were able to “steal” the price difference. If it was an honest return, fine. But if not, then the cost of the “returned” product is passed on to their fellow shoppers.

Not my fault

Late tonight I was greeted by a frustrated customer throwing their stuff down onto the counter. “How are you doing?” seemed a loaded question so I just smiled at her, which seemed to encourage her.
Seems she had gotten stuck behind one of those wishy-washy customers in my line. But she was upset because the cashier kept waving people over to her line that were just showing up instead of holding a space for the woman in my line.
“Oh … I’m really sorry about that,” I said. She fumed again and I apologized. By the end of her sale, she had calmed down.

There was nothing I had done to warrant her throwing her stuff at me and I could have responded with equal rudeness, but I didn’t and the relationship between her and the store was somewhat healed.

In retail stores, you’ll find “topics” or things the managers are stressing for the day. Emails and customer service are the big ones for cashiers. For last night there was a complaint from an unidentified customer about someone who was rude to them – not speaking and throwing their things in bags on the floor. When I read that my first thought was “How rude was the customer to the cashier?” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked “How are you?” and been completely ignored or never even looked at during the transaction. It’s usually someone who can’t hang up their phone or at least ask the person to hang on. But what is worst is the person whose body language says “You are not worth paying attention to” or “You are wasting my time.”

Am I rude to them? No. But I don’t try to engage them and unlike the woman who voiced her frustration everything about them says they don’t want to be engaged. In a hurry, it might even look like I’m throwing things into bags. And, yes, I can imagine one of them already mad about something unrelated to the store, or something that happened away from the register then complaining about how they were treated by the cashier. Why pick on the cashier? Because the cashier is the only person in the store that they had to deal with if they purchased anything.


About 15 minutes to closing in any store an announcement will be made over the intercom about the store closing. Some people making the announcement are pleasant and some are abrasive. Tonight there was a lady so affected by the announcement that she covered her ears, which made the announcer/supervisor laugh when they saw it.

One of the weird things about working as a cashier is you are the one employee that anyone who buys something is going to interact with. And, I’ve discovered, customers seem to think whatever they say the cashier should agree with them.

For instance, an Asian man with an accent went through my line and would not provide his zip code when I asked and then paid with a $100 bill. The next customer remarked on his not providing the zip code and his audacity to pay with the $100 bill, which was her way of disapproving of immigrants. I replied there were lots of people who came through that didn’t provide  zip codes because they didn’t want to help the company’s marketing.

I’ve also discovered I get a lot of “Can you believe your fellow co-workers?” looks. Yeah, I got one of those from a customer when the announcer bragged how uncomfortable her announcing style had made the lady who covered her ears. I did my best not do a full eye-roll and grimace about the announcer. I think I cut my eyes and did a one-sided grimace. I may have done the same when a different co-worker bellowed unsolicited advice to me, which I accompanied with a firm “Yes. I know.”

Here’s the irony of all this: We just finished a special week of customer service classes. I’m fairly certain purposely offending customers is not recommended. Nor is laughing at customers in front of other customers.

I’m also fairly certain those who provide awful customer service let the training go in one ear and out the other. Meanwhile, those who already provide quality customer service were listening intently.


Costs of turnover

You’ve probably noticed a fairly high turnover of people at your favorite store. There are a few reasons for that. The most obvious one relates to pay and benefits.

Most retail employees begin at minimum wage and are only part-time workers. The companies do this so they don’t have to offer insurance since that’s only required to full-time workers. There is one lady who works as a cashier with me that has been there for more than 15 years. Why? The company gave her a full-time job and every Sunday is paid as overtime pay. The company was later purchased by a larger chain and new workers weren’t given those benefits, but she’s grandfathered in so will probably be there until she retires because she can afford to and she knows she has it better there than any other company can offer.

Here’s what I learned about high turnover rates in a business class: It costs more to constantly train people than it does to keep good workers. So they may think they are saving money by keeping employees below the insurance line, but they have to keep training us and we don’t know the store as well as we should so when a customer asks if the store carries something, we don’t know.

There was a tornado watch other day and a woman decided to purchase a flashlight that was near the register. She asked if I knew where the batteries were. I went and picked up a package and made sure she had enough batteries. That was roughly $5 the company made on the flashlight I put near the register AND the batteries. This same kind of thing has happened with scissors, lip balm and other items.

Another day while I was “doing put backs” or returning merchandise people decided not to buy to the shelves, a woman asked me if we had baking chocolate. In my swing through the food section, I hadn’t spotted them so I had to say I didn’t think so. Later that night, I found the item she was looking for. That’s roughly $2 the company lost because I don’t know what the store carries or where it might be.

There are two points to be made here. First, if they had less employee turnover then those of us putting merchandise back would do so faster and when people ask about items we would know exactly where to find them and could make more money for the company.

The second relates back to training (and I’ll probably touch on orientation again later), but we were given a 5-minute tour of the store after spending hours filling out paperwork, speeding through the handbook and watching required videos that were unrelated to our jobs. If they really wanted us to be able to serve the customers, we needed more of a tour. So while they TOLD us they wanted to focus on customer service, they SHOWED us they really didn’t care.