“You’re not going away unhappy…”

“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?”

James has shown world-class customer service chops since I first met him.  Not just a good businessman, but the kind of guy I'd like as a friend.  Starting next week he'll be in the store on Thursdays only - but Becca is also great, and Emily.

James has shown world-class customer service chops since I first met him. Not just a good businessman, but the kind of guy I’d like as a friend. Starting next week he’ll be in the store on Thursdays only – but Becca is also great, and Emily.

“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.

People think I'm dressed for the Arctic in this coat.  I feel good that I've done everything possible to stay warm, even though I'm not.

People think I’m dressed for the Arctic in this coat. I feel good that I’ve done everything possible to stay warm, even though I’m not.

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.

Becca was smart and charming - a classic Asheville overqualified front line customer server.

Becca was smart and charming – a classic Asheville overqualified front line customer server.

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.

Not  a great shot of Pepper - she's way cuter than this shows, and as friendly as James and Becca.

Not a great shot of Pepper – she’s way cuter than this shows, and as friendly as James and Becca.

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.



Who are these people?

A short post (it’s late – and I work at 9) after our staff holiday party – grocery stores don’t party in the big push before the holidays.

Who are these people?  Getting to know them outside of work, hearing their stories, they become much bigger – surprising, yet I kinda knew there was going to be lots more when I got a chance to know them better.  And I know that I have just barely scratched the surface.

  • Katie talking about her twin passions – painting and cheese.  I ask, “Could you hook me up with some new cheese?  I’m a little bored with my regulars.”  Her eyes get big.  “I’d love to.”
  • Charles talking about his passion for Kung Fu – especially exciting for me, because I’m going to start Tae Kwon Do (a related martial art) on Friday

    Martial arts -Charles lit up talking about his Kung Fu, and I lit up thinking about my first Tae Kwon Do class this Friday.

    Martial arts -Charles lit up talking about his Kung Fu, and I lit up thinking about my first Tae Kwon Do class this Friday.

  • watching Cierra, our team leader, get down and have fun
  • seeing Harlen, the toddler of our previous team leader Emmalea and her husband James – back to party with her old team – released from the shopping cart and running, dancing, being overall mesmerizing
  • Hearing A lay down some really great music
  • Charles (older than the kids), Tom (way older than the kids) and me (way older still) bust some moves on the dance floor that open some eyes.  I was half-way down the stairs to leave when I said to myself, “You left without saying goodbye to anybody – what a depressive thing to do.  You go back and say some goodbyes.”  Then the sight of Charles and Tom jamming combined with A’s beats lured me out on the dance floor –  first in my heavy winter coat, then with a couple layers stripped off.
Dance - between staying away when I've been depressed and going to Asheville three weeks ago,I haven't danced for three weeks.  And I still cut loose!

Dance – between staying away when I’ve been depressed and going to Asheville three weeks ago,I haven’t danced for three weeks. And I still cut loose!

And this old fart left at 10:30 – with another 90 minutes of party left.  I could regret the opportunities missed, but in this moment – still typing at 12:39 – I will not regret leaving early.  I had other work I needed to do at my computer before writing this.  I think I have just energy enough to pull up a photo or two (I hate to post just straight words).  Now there’s some kind of snag – I think a Word Press thing – with uploading photos.  And backing out of that it looked like I had erased this whole post.  I’m thrilled to have it back and am gonna go with straight text.  It’s not even amazing prose, but I’m posting it.  Hope it gives you a little glimpse of our party.  (And then – at 1:15 – the photos finally did work.  Geez, I gotta get to bed!)

My favorite firing…

Here’s my favorite experience of being fired from a cashiering job. (It was actually the only time I’ve been fired from a cashier job, but I’ve been fired from other jobs – two because I got hospitalized for depression – and they were nowhere near as much fun.) Fav because I desperately needed to get out of there and fav because I went out with a bang, not a whimper.

I had worked full-time for a year as a cashier in the little kiosk in the Enmark gas station on Merrimon – mostly closing shifts that didn’t get me out of there until 11 or later.  I had been there too long, but working 40 hours I just wasn’t finding time to job hunt.  When my genuinely cool boss, with mock ceremony, handed me my one-year pin, I erupted very genuinely with “No, not a year!  I was never supposed to be here for a year!”  He totally got the truth and the humor of this.

No fancy convenience store at this gas station - I was stuck 40 hours a week in a little kiosk with barely enough room to turn around.

No fancy convenience store at this gas station – I was stuck 40 hours a week in a little kiosk with barely enough room to turn around.

My time on the meter had expired: I needed to get out of there, but I was not making it happen. So life helped me out – or maybe it was just my unconscious that put this last act in motion.

This woman was having trouble making her gas pump work.  I dutifully left the booth to try to help her.  But I couldn’t figure out why the pump wasn’t working – or what she had done to screw it up.  She became irate. “So I need to wait around here because you don’t know what you’re doing.”

To my credit, I kept it together for at least a moment, standing there in front of her.  “Let me go back to the booth and see what I can figure out.” Really, “Let me get away from you before I do or say something that I regret.”

But really it was already too late.  Looking back on the scene, I’ve always thought that if I didn’t pass Nancy, a friend from church, at the next pump – as I headed back to the booth – I wouldn’t have muttered under my breath, “Bitch!”

Under my breath, but still too loud. The bitch followed me back to the booth.  I locked myself in the kiosk, where I couldn’t actually strangle her.  She all but screamed at me through the window, “How dare you call me a bitch!”  What I did next guaranteed my firing – and I have never for a moment regretted doing it.  I planted my feet, looked her straight in the eye and said, “Sometimes it just fits.”  If I had left that out, she might not the next day have complained to a company vice-president.

Sure the word can be oppressive, but it also can be funny - and sometimes it's just perfect.

Sure the word can be oppressive, but it also can be funny – and sometimes it’s just perfect.

When I arrived at work at 3 p.m. the next day, my genuinely very cool boss Jim said, “I would never have fired you for this.  We all have our bad moments.  But my boss gave me no choice.”

So I got myself thrown out of the nest, which precipitated for me some anxiety, but mostly I knew that nothing was going wrong.  I actually came quickly down on my feet and found a better job.  And even if things had not worked out so well, I don’t think I ever would have regretted it.  That bitch was flat-out disrespectful – my integrity was at stake. I had to defend myself.  It was not the most elegant self-defense, but it was infinitely better than letting myself be run over.

I have yet to come across another front line customer server who is not thrilled to hear this story.  It was a great moment in cashiering.

Complaining to cashier supervisors

It’s a good plan to not settle for bad cashiering – that’s totally fine.  The next time you have the inspiration to complain about a cashier, though, consider an alternative.

"I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more!"

“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more!”

Start with the cashier – reach out to them, embrace them.  Try some variation of “I know this is tough work.  I know a guy, a cashier in a grocery store, who writes a blog for other cashiers.  Lots of cashiers are finding this very helpful and you might too.  You can search ‘Real life in the checkout line’ or enter rlcol.com.  Here’s a card.”

If for whatever reason talking to the cashier doesn’t work or doesn’t seem like the right way to go, then by all means ask for the manager. but resist complaining about the cashier.  You don’t know what all went into their bad behavior today: they might be breaking up with their boyfriend, their dog might have died today, etc.  Don’t make their day harder.  Instead, say to the manager something like this:

” I’ve been reading a blog that’s all about helping cashiers do their very best – and providing support to them.  I want you to know about it.  I think you might like it.  I think your cashiers might like it.  Here’s the title, here’s the web address and here’s the card for it.”

That would be the most strategic way to help that cashier change – the way that’s most likely to cause them to shift their behavior, and in so doing to make life a little better for those of us who are dealing with them.

To get a some cards, email me at heymajo@gmail.com, give me your address and tell me how many cards you want.  Or I can tell you how to order them directly from Vistaprint, so you can have your own stash and hand them out everywhere.