Customer service … ?

This afternoon, I stopped at the local outlet of a major national retailer.  My purpose: To return a book I had purchased a few days ago, that I forgot that I already owned.

I assumed that this would be a relatively painless operation.  The book was unopened and in perfect condition, I had a receipt for the original cash transaction, and the item was purchased three days prior.  Sounds like an easy transaction for the folks behind the service counter, right?


The middle-aged, disgruntled service clerk was clearly not happy with me.  She said the store doesn’t normally doesn’t return books, because people might read them before returning them.  Fair enough; but if people want to read books without owning them, wouldn’t a library card be easier?

She even had to call her manager — a young man who looked like a teenager moonlighting from his true calling as the lead angstmeister for an emo band — who examined the book and approved the transaction.  After telling the clerk about what to look for from customers who might be scamming the system.  Point taken, should I ever want to pull one over on “big retail.”

OK; we all know that even routine customer-service transactions can sometimes have a glitch.  But as I think about my experience this afternoon, I cannot help but to recall my five years’ experience as a retail clerk for a major regional retailer.  I worked behind the service counter during a time in the chain’s history when it wanted to have a Nordstromesque customer-service reputation.  So, we’d take just about anything, and we clerks were trained to “just say yes.”

So we said yes … so some very strange transactions, sometimes.  Like the day I accepted a return on a 15-year-old automatic garage door.  The customer had saved his box and his receipt, and I was so impressed that I agreed to refund him in full.  And management was delighted that we took care of the customer.  Or like our policy to accept any-or-no identification on farm payroll checks presented by migrant workers (we had contracts to always honor checks with most of the large commercial farms in the area).  No ID?  No problem; we cashed their checks with a smile.

I noted, in passing, that my former employer recently changed its return and check-cashing policies.  Now, you need to have receipts within 30 days, perfect merchandise, and you must swear a blood oath to never shop anywhere else before the store will even consider issuing a “merchandise credit.”

What a change in 10 years!

I understand the frustrations of retail.  I really do.  But when former paragons of excellent customer service fall into the trap of assuming that every customer is a potential perpetrator of retail fraud, we lose something as a culture.

But hey, at least I got my refund.

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