“Every day when I wake up, I see folks trading in their crowns for all these ‘paper or plastic?’ lives – an opiate for the masses’ hounds.”
If common sense keeps getting scarcer and scarcer, we are going to have to find a new name for it. It continues to boggle my mind how often simple reason seems to elude the average person. This is true for the self-entitled teenagers I encounter on a daily basis, on through the business world and up to the height of stupidity, otherwise known as the U.S. government. That is too broad a range to cover, though, so I am going to focus on the one we can all relate to: customer service.
Now, I understand that it takes all kinds to make a world, and not everyone is going to be a genius. Some people can sleep through class and get an A, while others struggle furiously just to come out with a C. But it’s called “common sense” because it’s supposed to be even across the board. You don’t have to be book-smart and you certainly don’t need a doctorate to be successful. My grandfather quit school after 5th grade to go work on the farm, and he’s one of the smartest men I’ve ever known. He had common sense. My brother can do complicated math problems in his head in seconds, where most people would require a couple sheets of notebook paper and probably a calculator. His “smart-ness” can be tested and measured, but his common sense remains at the forefront, so he’s a great problem-solver with a head for business.
Unfortunately, I think the world has come to value resumes over people, and policies over principles. The result is a lot of painfully dumb people in prestigious positions because their degrees said they should be capable of doing the job, whether they could put it into practice or not.
My friend Brandon has been putting in job applications lately. He has a heavy background in construction, but was recently asked how he could expect to do construction work if he didn’t speak “Mexican.” I am serious. That happened. So, not finding work in his field, he hit the streets to apply in other areas, like food service and retail. On his retail application, he was asked questions like, “Do you enjoy talking to angry customers?” and had to choose a number from 1 (I hate it) to 5 (I love it). After honestly answering the barrage of questions and submitting his application, he learned that anyone who answered 2, 3, or 4 for any of those questions had their applications immediately thrown out. I took a second to let that soak in (and to make sure I heard him correctly), and then said, “So, they want to hire… liars?” Common sense would have said to throw out all the ones and the fives for being, at worst, liars, or at best, completely inept at any job that would require interacting with other people. But, instead of using common sense, this company had a handy policy manual.
Never underestimate the power of a stupid policy in the hands of a stupid person.
My favorite example is still the Hickory Farms manager who would not let me fill up my own cup as part of my combo meal because if I didn’t use one of their cups, it would cut into their profits. If you missed that one the first time, it is worth a read: HERE.
Or, there’s the time my Daddy went to Subway and ordered a 6-inch sub on whole wheat bread – easy, right? But he received a foot-long sub, and when he pointed out the error, was told, “But you said WHOLE wheat.”
This has all been on my mind since I attempted to run a simple errand yesterday at lunch. I try to avoid stores as often as I can (probably for this very reason), but I make an exception for craft stores, which are my kryptonite. Still, I try not to indulge too often, because when I get near scrapbooking supplies, I start throwing money around like a lobbyist on Capitol Hill. I had to go yesterday, though, because I received two identical Cricut cartridges as a gift and I wanted to exchange the duplicate for one I didn’t already have. I didn’t want to return it for money or for a store credit or anything like that. Just a simple exchange – I’ll give you this one, you give me that one. I went first to Michael’s, where I’ve spent thousands of dollars in the past, and they turned me away for my lack of receipt. (Maybe I stumbled over the word “gift” or “even exchange.”) I didn’t fight the fight, because there’s another crafting giant just across the street.
So, onward to A.C. Moore. When I arrived, there was only one person at the register (another arrived a few minutes later), so I stood back and waited until all the paying customers had been helped (including the ones who arrived in line well after me) and then I explained my situation. Namely, that I had received a duplicate cartridge as a gift, it was unopened, they carried the same one (I could see it from where I stood), and I simply wanted to exchange the cartridge in my hand for another of equal value. It couldn’t really get much simpler than that.
The lady asked if I had the receipt. “No, it was a gift. But I don’t want to do a return. I just want to exchange it for another cartridge of equal value.” She explained that she needed to call her manager. I often think this is just a tactic to create an imaginary person who will back up the original story. I heard her tell the “manager” that there was a lady who wanted to RETURN a Cricut cartridge without the receipt. (Which is not what I said – TWICE! – but whatever.) She hung up the phone and said that she could give me a store credit for $29.99, but that was all. Bear in mind, right next to us was a wall display with the very same cartridge priced at $89.99. Again, I reiterated that I did not want to return the cartridge – I wanted to exchange it for one of equal value.
Now, let me pause my tale for a moment and paint you a picture. There I stand, in a retail store whose niche is crafting. I am holding a $90 cartridge, which fits a $300 cutting machine. So, I’m not just dropping by because I needed a little project to stave off boredom on a rainy day. I am obviously a serious crafter with several hundred dollars – if not thousands – invested in this hobby that is their very reason for existing. So, in common sense terms, I am exactly the kind of customer they want to keep around and keep happy.
Now, back to the salesperson, who is trying to explain to me why the cartridge in my hand was not worth the same amount as the identical cartridges hanging on the nearby wall…
“You see,” she says, “you can go online and buy those cartridges – or anything in this store, really – for MUCH cheaper than you can buy it here.”
The implication in her mind was that I could have bought my cartridge for $5 online, and I was trying to trade it in for a $90 cartridge in the store. Which, even if I had, when I gave them the cartridge to re-sell, its value would become the $90 that they were selling it for, regardless of whether I paid $5 or $5000 for it.
The implication in MY mind, which I voiced to her, was, “So, basically, you’re saying that I should do all my craft shopping online?” She was too far gone on the crazy train to object, and could only shrug and nod half-heartedly, while the other salesperson looked like a deer caught in the headlights. She saw where the conversation had gone terribly wrong, but did not interject.
I turned and left the store, shaking my head in sheer disbelief. I wonder if we had recorded that whole conversation and played it back to her an hour later, would she have realized her lapse in judgment? And is she really the one to blame for being dense, or is it because “company policy” has been hammered into her brain until she no longer felt able to think for herself?
I immediately sent a tweet to share my crazy story, and this morning I was greeted by an @ reply from A.C. Moore’s official Twitter. I am happy to say that they solved the problem with common sense and level-headedness, and when I returned to my local store over lunch today, I was in and out with no problem at all. Plus, the two friends accompanying me (so we could have lunch afterwards) shopped while I was exchanging my cartridge and both turned up at the checkout with a handful of items. Thanks to a tiny bit of customer service and common sense, A.C. Moore kept one customer and gained two more.
That would make a happy ending for this blog, but I’m afraid I have yet another tale of woe to report from lunch! We proceeded to one of our favorite spots, Ledo’s Pizza, to grab a quick bite and get back to work. Their pizza is delicious and they have the best house salad dressing I’ve ever tasted. All three of us are frequent customers.
We took our seats and waited a while for the waitress to come over. No big deal. When she did come over, her rundown of the “specials” left us all scratching our heads, and when we asked for clarification about the salad special, she was so flustered that her response made no sense at all. Again, no big deal. We went on with our order, Kelli getting a salad, and Jessica and I sharing a pizza and splitting a side salad. I ordered for both of us, saying, “We are going to share a medium pizza. We’d like pepperoni on the WHOLE pizza and mushrooms on HALF.” While I was talking, I even made the hand motions to show the whole pizza vs. the half pizza and made eye contact, which is my usual practice. I made sure to be very clear and specific, because the first time we ordered by saying a “pepperoni pizza with mushrooms on half,” we’d gotten a pizza that was half pepperoni and half mushroom. That time, I didn’t even mention anything about it, because I felt like I hadn’t been clear enough, and I usually go with the flow at restaurants as much as possible.
The food arrived, and Kelli’s salad still had onions on it, when she had ordered it without, and Jessica and I received a pizza with pepperoni and mushrooms covering the whole thing. So, basically, half of the pizza was still right, but the other half was wrong. The waitress took the pizza away and said another one would be out soon, and I hate to think even now about how that pizza was chucked in the trash can while we sat waiting for our food. Kelli was finished eating by the time our second pizza arrived – this time, with pepperoni on half, and mushrooms on half – again, half right, half wrong. The waitress reached to take that pizza away as well and I stopped her. Not wanting to wait for another pizza to cook, I suggested that she just bring me some pepperoni which I could add to my half. I sloooooowly nibbled through two pieces of mushrooms-only pizza, waiting for the arrival of the accompanying pepperoni. When she brought it, the pepperoni was burnt, which explained why it took so long. So, I sat eating mushroom pizza with burnt pepperoni and practically begging for drink refills. Also of note, I had to tell her what I was drinking every time she came to the table. Never mind that she had put a lemon wedge on top of my cup to differentiate my Diet Pepsi from Jessica’s regular drink. (Kelli had water.)
Making sure not to check back with us, our waitress dropped three checks on the table and quickly disappeared. I picked it up, hoping (rather than believing) that she had given us any sort of special consideration. She hadn’t. I probably would have just let it go, but after the ordeal the day before, and the unbelievably shabby way we had been treated, I had to speak up. Even so, I was careful to be polite, hoping that a little diplomacy would go a long way to making sure that we left happy and she didn’t go cry in the back of the store for the rest of her shift. She seemed shocked that we didn’t want to pay full price, and her offer of amends was to not charge us for one of the toppings on one-half of the pizza. So, basically, two wrong pizzas, inedible pepperoni, time wasted, and her solution was to deduct 75 cents from the check – or, actually, to deduct 75 cents between our two checks. I remained calm, and reminded her that our pizza had come out wrong twice, and then added that my pepperoni had come out burnt even then. This prompted her to make the oh-so-generous gesture to not charge for EITHER of the toppings on the pizza. (Wow. A whole dollar.) She was genuinely too clueless to realize how insulting that was to us, or how unacceptable that would be, so we had no recourse but to accept her measly offer, pay the checks, and leave. I did not even have it in me to slight her on the tip – possibly because I felt so sorry for her since she didn’t have a brain. I’ve yet to check back with Ledo’s to see if perhaps a manager could do something to right the situation, but it was the second time in as many days that I felt slighted and unappreciated in two establishments to which I’ve been very loyal.
Maybe it’s just me, but in a time when all I hear about is the economic downturn, I’d think that businesses would be doing everything possible to retain their loyal customers. Maybe they’ve all forgotten how that’s done? Or maybe they just don’t care?
Certainly, common sense is no longer coming standard issue.