“I’m not going to let you go away a less-than-satisfied customer.” That’s been the stance with me of James at the Frugal Backpacker. And he has twice now rescued me from being an unhappy customer, to where I am now very happy – and a big cheerleader for their store, right next door to my store. And I do like to chat – and will certainly tell lots of people, admirers of the new winter coat I bought from James and customers in my checkout line, about how much I like James and his store.
James and I got off to a great start with each other. I don’t remember how I found out that he worked at the outdoors outfitter next door. But I vented with him. “I am so much needing a really warm winter coat – an industrial strength winter coat. I hate winter and I’m really suffering. My current winter coat was old when I got it at the resale shop four years ago and has never been warm enough. Now the zipper is broken and takes forever to get it to work – and it’s not worth the expense to replace it. It’s january 8 – have I missed all the good post-Christmas sales?”
“On the contrary, you are right on time. Our sale on winter coats starts tomorrow – 40% off. Come by and I’ll hook you up. We open at 10.”
“Great. I’m not working tomorrow – I’ll be there at 10.”
The next day at 10:15 there were already a lot of shoppers in the Frugal Backpacker. I don’t know how they had advertised – probably not just word-of-mouth – but the word had gotten out. James gave me a big warm greeting, made points by remembering my name, and immediately made himself my personal shopping assistant.
I kept feeling like I was being a very demanding customer because one jacket after another seemed to me not warm enough. I wanted industrial strength warmth. But the truth is that from start to finish I didn’t spend a lot of time picking out a jacket. And, in that moment that I found the right one, I loved it. I thought it was probably warm enough – and it was a beautiful blue color. It was a good brand, one that radiated quality. A brand new winter coat, after years of resale coats! And, let’s just say it, I was manic. Reality on steroids. What might seem nice another time seemed awesome, fabulous with that manic chemistry flowing through my veins. James was happy, I was happy, life seemed happy.
When I saw James three weeks later, back in my checkout line, he was clearly happy to see me and very brightly asked how I was doing with the new jacket. I practically hung my head. “It’s not warm enough.” It had taken me a couple of weeks to decide this. Those first two weeks I was manic and warm. I don’t know if it’s anywhere in the clinical research that people are warm when they are manic and cold when they are depressed, but it makes good sense to me and certainly fits with my experience.
So now I was depressed, cold, feeling like I had mismanaged the whole situation, discouraged about the chances of setting it right three weeks after making my purchase – genuinely ashamed of myself. James brightened right up. “We’ve got to fix this! We can’t leave you unhappy.”
“I don’t have my receipt.” My personal organization is genuinely chaotic and I have a hard time holding on to receipts. (About an hour ago I pulled out an envelope, labeled it “receipts” and deposited in it a receipt from today. I really do mean it that I intend – no matter what voice says I can’t – to bring some order to my life.)
So I went back to the store the next day and this time James found me a genuinely industrial strength parka – not as pretty as the previous jacket, kind of industrial strength looking, but as much goose down as any jacket they carry and a strong windproof exterior. The 40% off sale was well over, but James gave me that discount. I went out of the store once again a happy customer.
I returned to the store today, three weeks later, once again feeling like a failure. The jacket is definitely warmer than the last two, but still not warm enough for me. I have basically given up on finding a jacket that will keep me warm – and blame myself for being so bloody cold-blooded. I have really kind of resigned myself to that limitation; what brought me into the store today was that all the buttons were falling off the jacket. “They really ought to do something to make good for that”, I thought.
James was once again clearly happy to see me – exactly the way i would most love a shopkeeper to greet me. Knows me, remembers my name, happy to see me – and wants me to be a happy customer. And, in this instance, ready to let me get to know him as a person. Very shortly into our conversation he shared his good news. “I’m going part-time, one day a week, so I can stay home with our nine-week-old baby.” He was radiant.
“Awesome – congratulations. Does this mean you will have to give up your job as the store manager?”
“I’ve never been the store manager – I’m a sales associate.”
“But you take so much personal ownership for the store and its products. You’ve gone way out of your way to make sure I’ve been happy, including maybe bending policy by giving me 40% off when the sale was over. You didn’t consult with any manager, you just empowered yourself to do it. How did you learn such great customer service chops?” (I didn’t say, “and so young”, but I thought it – ageist that I am.)
“My dad ran a hardware store for 30 years – I picked a lot of it up from him.”
Then I gave him my bad news about the buttons. He was clearly shocked at the sight of my buttonless coat. “That’s terrible – I’ve never seen anything like that. We’ve got to do something about this. Let me see what we can do.” This time I think he did go consult with a manager, the lovely Becca whom I would meet a few minutes later.
He came back and said, “Woolrich has a warranty on the jacket, but you’ll have to call them to work that out. From our end, to try to make up for your inconvenience, we’re going to resell you the jacket not at 40% off, but 65% off.” I brightened right up. By the time he finished his calculations, I was buying the jacket not for its original retail $170 nor for the $107 I had paid for it three weeks before, but $67. I said, “I honestly don’t completely love this jacket, but at $67 I love it and am a satisfied customer.”
Becca then came out and introduced herself. I told them both about my blog and about how some of my posts get kind of psychological because I have a background of being a psychologist. “James said Becca’s a doctor – she teaches courses at UNCA” (University of North Carolina Asheville). Turns out she has a doctorate in environmental science and is a classic destination Ashevillain – she and her husband moved to this job-challenged town for the life style and are cobbling together jobs to make ends meet. It felt good to know that I’m not the only front line customer service worker in this plaza to have a Ph.D.
This incited me to probe a little deeper into James. “Us cashiers are such interesting people. What else do you do besides working in the outdoor store?”
“Well, I’m an audio engineer. I have worked with various bands, but these days I’m reining in all the traveling and I do audio work with Biltmore Baptist Church.”
“I knew it – an artist.”
Before I left, I got James’s email address so I can send him my favorite book on stay-at-home dads – From Deadlines To Diapers, written by my friend Mike Perricone during a period when he was a therapy client of mine and left his job as the hockey reporter for the Chicago Sun Times to stay home with little Jenny.
Oh, and before I left, Becca introduced me to her cute and very sweet and friendly dog Pepper, the store mascot.
Asheville is a very dog-friendly town and it is common for people to bring their dogs to work. Jubilee, where I go to church, will have several dogs in the room on any given Sunday.
I left there feeling redeemed as a consumer – and proud to be doing customer service for a living.