Question of the Day: What Are Your Best — and Worst — Retail Experiences?

We’re working on a new Freakonomics Radio piece about what might best be called “retail etiquette.” It was inspired in part by this blog post, about how the quantity and quality of employees affects a company’s bottom line; and by this e-mail from a listener named Dawn Nordquist:

I’ve noticed that, at the beginning of the podcasts, a short banter between the two of you is included regarding thanking the listening audience.  Thanking the listening audience aside, what are your thoughts/observations on thanking in commercial transactions?  I have recently been struck by how often I am not thanked when purchasing something. The only recent literature that I could pull up on this was a 1999 article “Thanking Behavior in Service Provider-Customer Encounters:  The Effects of Age, Gender, and Race” (Martin and Adams, Journal of Social Psychology 5, 665-7).  Do you know of anything more recent?  Do you have any thoughts on whether thanking routines are changing in the U.S.?

We’ll do our own review of the literature (although please do suggest anything appropriate), but what we really want from you is stories. We’re looking for noteworthy stories, positive or negative, from both sides of the counter, meaning you as a customer or you as an employee. If the latter, did your company’s rules on retail etiquette seem thoughtful/ridiculous/onerous? Or maybe you’re the person who sets the rules in your firm — we want to hear from you too.

Thanks as always.

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COMMENTS: 153


  1. Phil says:

    Once I got service for my vehicle at a Ford dealership and was dissatisfied. Ford corporate sent me a survey, and I gave the dealership low marks. A couple days later, I get a call from the service manager telling me to go to hell and never come back.

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    • Chris V says:

      This is a big area of intended consequence, or perhaps “teaching to the test”. Customer service is considered so important at the dealership that their ratings from the customer surveys are critically important. So important they they let the customer know that 5 (of 5) rating is absolutely critical, they don’t make their goals without it, let us know if any part of your service doesn’t rate a 5, yaddah yaddah. So even if I feel the service was quite good and therefore rated a 4 of 5 which is pretty good… actually rating a dealer as 4 is absolutely slamming them. When I am asked this I tell the person doing the survey that the test is rigged and I will not provide a score.
      So the irony is that in surveying to make sure the service is as good as it possibly can be, they are irritating the customer.

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      • Greg says:

        Yep; clearly their survey is not intended to improve service, but just to provide a metric for internal resource allocation.

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      • Neil (SM) says:

        Yeah exactly. They base bonuses, etc on test scores and it has just turned into another case of gaming metrics to keep scores and numbers high at the cost of the big-picture problem. I’m sure some executive got a big fat bonus for developing this system somewhere and he even now has the numbers to show what an improvement it made in customer service!

        During college I bartended for a larger restaurant chain that contracts a company to do “secret shoppers” that tested the wait-staff and bartenders the same way. In this case it wasn’t so much about customer service as is was on making sure that every person was giving enough sales pitches. That meant every customer, every time, the waiter/bar had to suggest a specific appetizer, beverage, dessert, upsell, etc. Anything less than a perfect score was considered a failure.

        This was made even worse by the fact that it wasn’t professionals giving the ratings, normally it was just some dude who found a way to get a few discounts on the Internet. So people would often think they didn’t want to give a perfect score on every question for some reason and you’d get inconsistent scores. And management will then come down on employees because enough imperfect scores and the bonus starts drying up.

        So even though mostly I’d get perfect scores, every once in a while I’d get chewed out anyway. I’d get a manager saying “hey, we just got a survey; you didn’t ask this person to come back again and you didn’t offer a specific drink.” And of course I know I did because I know we’re getting these tests so I *always* said basically the same lines to people. But there was no way to argue, and nobody believed you anyway.

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    • Dan says:

      I had a somewhat similar experience with a customer survey when I bought a new Honda Accord about a year ago. I had a very positive experience– salesman was courteous, got me a good deal without taking forever, etc. He walked me through a checklist of things that Honda corporate mandated that he do that clearly no one wanted, for example, he was supposed to walk me through the entire owner’s manual, have me wait while he programmed all the radio favorites, etc. I played along and just signed the form that said he had done all these unnecessary things.

      His manager also explained that if I didn’t take the survey on their website and give them 5 out of 5 on everything (which I was happy to do because they did a great job), they would get into huge trouble and I think also be slapped with some financial consequences also.

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      • 164 says:

        Same thing with the Volvo dealership, they go out of their way to do everything possible for you between the time that you take delivery of your new car and the time that coorperate mail the customer satisfaction survey. After that, let’s just say they are less accomodating.

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  2. David P says:

    In probably 2003 or so I tried to switch my cell phone carrier to AT&T. When I got my new phone I turned it on and it broke so I called up their customer service. After going through a half dozen menu choices I was put on hold and forced to listen to their wait music and recording telling me that my patience is valued. After 2 hours I gave up and decided I would call back again later.
    In my next attempt it took me an hour to talk to a real person who decided that I had chosen the wrong menu options and that they would transfer me to the correct department. I then spent about 30 minutes being transferred around in a circle (seriously, I talked to the same person twice!) and eventually transferred into a dial tone.
    My third attempt I again waited on hold for 2 hours before finally talking to a human being. Once I got to them I told them that my brand new phone broke and that because I had been on hold for a total of 5 hours I simply wanted to return the phone and cancel the account. I have never been tempted to switch over to AT&T since that experience.

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    • MIkeM says:

      I thought this was a post about thanking in transactions.

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    • Mary R. says:

      Many years ago when I was young and didn’t have great credit I called AT&T and asked to have my cell phone plan changed to roaming because I was going on a long trip and would be in a different region. The great employees at AT&T not only changed my plan for me, they used the information about lengthy trip and opened 15 cell phone accounts in my name. I returned to 16 AT&T bills, 15 of which were fraudulent.

      I called the company to try to get the situation resolved. And, like David P was put through many hours and of being transferred to many people, over many days. One day, after being on the phone for hours and being on hold for over 15 minutes, the customer service representative came on the line and was breathing very hard. While panting he said, ”Sorry about that madam, I had to run to the building next door to talk to my manager.” My very frustrated response was “You are trying to tell me this is AT& “F****ing T and you don’t have a phone you can call your manager on?” His reply was, “I’m sorry if you swear at us I will have to hang up on you.” And he did. Months later the situation was finally resolved, without an apology or admission of guilt.

      I don’t know if customer service is getting better, but I do know now that I am older have a good income and good credit I am treated very different by customer service everywhere.

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  3. Ry Jones says:

    You should check into LaRue Tactical’s forum on ar15 dot com, where tales of insanely good customer service abound. Furthermore, ADCO (same forum) is well known for stepping in and fixing other shop’s mistakes – very expensive ones – for free.

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  4. Eric M. Jones. says:

    It’s hard to judge the best and worst, but here’s a real stinker:

    I used to drive a Mercedes 190 2.3 which I was getting a little tired of, and had a leak in the rear window, so I went down to Culver City to Bill Murphy Buick to see about buying a Buick (I had grown up on Buicks…my father’s car….)

    With the help of a young and eager salesman I finally found a car to fall in love with–an almost new white Riviera with a blonde leather interior and every accessory you could get, which I think had been repossessed, so it was a deal. It carried a price of $18,000 which I could well have afforded if I were to get a fair trade-in on my Mercedes which was worth about $9,000.

    The young salesman asked me to bring the Mercedes around to the lot and then reluctantly turned me over to his boss, who appeared from a back room and glared at me. I said, “If you can give me a fair trade-in on my Mercedes, I would like to buy that white Riviera over there.” He took the cold stump of a cigar out from between his teeth, stared through me and snarled, “Get out of here…you’re wasting my time!”

    I was so taken aback by this that I thought he hadn’t heard me. I looked around to see if he might have been talking to someone else, then repeated more-or-less what I had said, “Ah sir, if you can give me a decent trade-in on my little Mercedes, I would like to buy that white Riviera over there.”

    He again glared at me in a threatening way spat out a piece of cigar and snarled, “ You wanna deal…or don’t you?” I softly said the same general thing about a trade-in and wanting the white Riviera, and he growled back, “get off my lot….you’re just wasting my time….”, And turned around and left.

    I would have thought that this was a unique experience but a couple of months later my boss told be that the same general thing happened to his sister and brother-in-law. Somebody at Bill Murphy Buick threw them out of the showroom when they wanted to buy a red Skylark. Some kind of unique salesmanship I guess.

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    • Neil (SM) says:

      That’s got to be the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. Somebody comes in to buy a car, and their move is to throw them out!? LOL. I can’t imagine how that’s supposed to work.

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    • Jason says:

      A few months after finishing my degree which included a decent amount of negotiation training, I went to buy a car. I concluded that most car salespeople had the same negotiation training, but they stopped after the first hour. All of the cheap tricks with none of the depth, e.g., making me wait in the showroom for an hour so that I would be invested in the process and not want to leave. Refusing to cut a deal on one car because they are trying to switch me to a different one. I don’t know why car sales are so much more this way than other items, but I think some salespeople just like the game.

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  5. Jen says:

    In 2008 I bought a surprisingly cute silk dress at Bebe for $150. After three wearings, the silk came completely apart at the seams. It was a very free-flowing dress, so it wasn’t tight and certainly hadn’t been worn enough to cause such an issue, so I took it back to the store to ask them for an exchange. The lady at the counter refused an exchange, saying if it was worn it couldn’t be returned or exchanged. I explained I thought the silk or design was faulty and I wouldn’t expect that out of a $150 dress. She promptly told me that if that was the case and if I paid $150 for a dress, I “should inspect the dress before I bought it to make sure there were no problems.” When I asked for the manager she told me she was the manager, and when I called the regional manager, I never received a return phone call. I still boycott the store.

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    • Dan says:

      Having worked at a retail clothing store, I feel that if you yell and complain for long enough, you can eventually get whatever you want, regardless of how unreasonable it is.

      One time a customer came in and claimed that we owed him money because the cashier at a DIFFERENT location of the store chain forgot to put one of the items he was purchasing into the bag; therefore, we now owed him $15. He had no proof of the transaction, not even a receipt. After an hour of the condescending, “I work for a living and don’t have time for this; We made a special trip here and I’m not leaving til I get what I want; I’m going to call your boss and get you in trouble” etc. the manager just gave him $15 out of the register and sent him on his way.

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  6. K says:

    Working in clothing retail for the past ten years, I’ve found the hardest part is “reading” the customer. Some want superior service (assistance and encouragement from start to finish). Some don’t even want to be greeted (A co-worker has had a customer yell to leave them alone just because she said hello to the customer). Then there’s everything in-between. It’s my job to figure out what the customer wants and how to approach the situation. It’s a lopsided relationship. We are expected to be perfect and give the customer whatever they want. Meanwhile, we are generally not treated as kindly in return. From getting yelled at to watching their screaming children. From picking up mountains of unwanted clothes off the floor to discovering someone deciding to the fitting room as a toilet. No matter the situation, it is expected you keep a smile on your face and act like you are happy to help (even if it’s an hour past closing time). I’m currently seeking other employment because I can no longer spend my days being treated with the amount disrespect that has become normal here.

    I always say thank you to the customer upon checkout. I also tell them to have a great day (as sincerely as possible). It’s interesting how many don’t say anything back. A simple “you too” would make me feel a lot less useless than someone who refuses to communicate or make eye contact with me.

    Yes, there are plenty of situations where the employee is in the wrong. As a customer, I’ve dealt with unhappy, angry, or rude employees. Usually I try to just have sympathy for them, because I understand any job in retail is eventually tiresome.

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    • CC says:

      I used to work in retail and I agree with you. It’s a matter of reading the customer, and it’s also a matter of having a customer understand what kind of service each store provides. You can’t expect an employee at Kmart to play personal shopper for the day if they’re the only ones on the floor at the time (and yet some customers expect you to) and there are clothes on the floor and off the hangers, and complaints like that don’t tend to get much sympathy. But you should expect willingness to help and to do it as quickly as possible, to a reasonable extent. Know where you are and what you can ask for.

      Retail can be dehumanizing. Like you said, kindness doesn’t go both ways in retail. People will feel entitled to yell and humiliate you for a problem under the umbrella of “the customer is always right”, which is why the turnover is so high. Not to mention, people can switch jobs and make the same minimum wage-salary elsewhere, so there is little incentive to do more.

      Now, back to the original question, what I appreciate the most is efficiency. I don’t care to be followed around the store, I don’t care for sales pitches unless I inquire about them. I also expect basic manners, but I don’t need overly-sweet and cheery employees (ever tried to be fake-cheery 8 hours a day? Exhausting.) But the times I’ve been most satisfied is when employees are quick and honest about their services/products and when complaints are resolved quickly. I especially appreciate companies who DON’T have automated phone systems. There is nothing worse than having to tell your information to a machine letter by letter only to have the customer rep ask you to repeat it AGAIN when they answer. What’s the point then?

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      • Steve S. says:

        The two best customer service phone conversations came from organizations that explicitly pride themselves on their treatment of customers: ING Direct and Zappos. Funny how both are able to siphon from marketplaces that were seemingly the vanguard of brick and mortar enterprises.

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      • J1 says:

        “I don’t care to be followed around the store, I don’t care for sales pitches unless I inquire about them”

        It never ceases to amaze me that more stores seem unable to grasp this. It’s particularly bizarre in places that cater primarily to male customers and seem oblivious to basic truths about human behavior like…that unsolicited “assistance” is one of the most annoying things a man can experience. Constantly pestering your customers with offers of assistance they don’t want is NOT good customer service,

        I’m convinced Circuit City’s demise was due in large part to their relentless harrassment of male customers. For those of you in retail, is there a polite, succinct way to tell store employees to shut up and leave you alone? I don’t like to be rude to employees, because this behavior is so consistent in stores where it’s a problem that it’s obviously orders from the boss. Some of us don’t consider shopping a social activity, and resent stores that seem bent on imposing a social component. Amazon doesn’t do that, and neither should you.

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    • twobeef says:

      Case in point, the entire archives at http://notalwaysright.com/ , a collection of off-the-wall retail encounters with customers.

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  7. Mike McKenzie says:

    Was waiting in a line in Starbucks in Hinsdale, IL. The line was building, with only one Barrista taking orders and five Barristas standing in the back chatting. Clearly, this is not the Starbucks way and CEO Howard Schultz would want to know – nicely.

    I emailed, guessing at hschultz@starbucks.com, quickly drafting a well-balanced complaint. With no expectation of a response ever, 10 minutes later I get a telephone call from Starbucks US President. Thoughtful, caring, immediate response. No big bids on “hey we treat customers right”, “we care” “we’re no 1 in customer service” None of those typical Marketing Communication/PR claims. Just straight up “Doing” the customer right.

    Can I pick at Starbucks, can I say they’re paying more attention to China. Do I know I pay $2.95 for $0.07 of brown water. Sure. Who cares. It’s theater and as carefully orchestrated as anything on Broadway. And the show goes on just about perfect 98% of the time. and they pretty much always have clean, safe bathrooms.

    Pretty good retail experience among the all to common disasters.

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    • D says:

      I used to work for a major financial services company in service and I can tell you unequivocally that upper management wants the customer to have the highest quality experience possible. They just budget about a third of the money necessary to actually provide it. So most of the financial companies have service departments that are far overworked, and constantly being micromanaged to reduce their AHT. That’s why you rarely talk to the same person more than a few times. The people good at the work realize its a dead end quickly and get poached into a more realistic position, and the people who can’t handle it usually wash out in a few weeks if they even make it through their training.

      There was a time when customer service meant having enough employees to help all the customers. Now, it’s solely a numbers game to make sure all the calls get answered. Programs like Six Sigma and Lean Enterprise work great with manufacturing and production numbers. But when it comes to service, the people with “black belts” simply have no concept of how many variables they’re actually trying to control.

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  8. BV says:

    Generally British service is average. However, my mum saw these neck and feet warmers sold by a company called Cherry Pit Pac – in the USA. I ordered about $80 worth, but missed the sign on the website that said to call for overseas delivery. As this was to be delivered to my mother’s house, I forgot about it for a while.

    The package never arrived, and so about a month later, I emailed and then called them about it. The woman I spoke to was incredible, said they could add a small delivery cost (under $10) and get it shipped to my mother’s place. However, the next day she emailed to say that actually shipping was $66! Even though she acknowledged that this was, in essense, my fault for not seeing the delivery sign online, she said they would pay half the delivery cost! Most impressive thing ever. Americans, generally, really know how to do service properly.

    Sidenote – British people find it weird asking for the name of the person serving you, whilst Amerians think it’s impolite if you don’t ask!

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    • Enter your name... says:

      I don’t think it’s impolite if you don’t ask the server for his or her name in a restaurant. (Most volunteer the information, because it increases their tips.) If I ask for your name in a customer-service transaction, it usually means that there is a Big Problem and I’m documenting who said what.

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  9. sfosparky says:

    Re: “What Are Your Best — and Worst — Retail Experiences?”

    Is not every aspect of air travel the WORST! retail experience imaginable? The degradation begins when one is compelled to spend time trying to purchase a ticket without being the chump that overpaid. One then assents to being treated like absolute [garbage] the moment one enters the departure airport. On the plane, it is made very clear that one’s presence is a waste of precious airplane space and an inconvenience to everyone employed by the airline. At the arrival airport, it’s time to again be treated like [garbage] until one finally escapes. Want to be treated like a human being? Well, that’ll cost you and even then you’re only treated less abusively rather than well. Is there any other retail experience that is so thoroughly, inescapably unpleasant from start to finish?

    As far as best goes, nothing beats being treated like a human by a human. That goes both ways, by the way: Treating retail workers well is not only the moral thing to do, it can produce benefits in terms of goods and services delivered. Unfortunately, many retail employees are not treated humanely by their employers: Human needs cut into the bottom line. So the contempt of careerist hot-air artists is codified into 8-inch thick policy manuals. The irony is that the policies directly negate the home office’s otherwise expensive efforts to “create a relationship with the customer”. And for that bit of hierarchical top-down-manship, the executives are paid about fifty to five-hundred times more than the customer service reps they mis-manage and who in turn can’t conceal their resentments from the customers…

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  10. neral says:

    I took my mum across to NYC for a holiday and part of the experience was a visit to Saks (she loves retail and the stores of legend). We were wandering around one of the floors with the expensive fashion and suddenly a mouse shot across the floor between the clothes stands. Mum squeeled and for devillment I gave chase (of course the mouse got well away). Mum was shocked (Saks, after all, was a dream location for her) so found a couple of store assistants and just mentioned about the mouse. Well, they were ncredulous

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  11. Alex Blaze says:

    Customer service in France is usually the butt of jokes, but I’ve found it isn’t so bad right now. The worst tends to be secretaries and receptionists, who can be so mean sometimes I’ll do a few minutes of walking in the street in front of a doctor’s office or whatever before walking in.

    Worst experience would be Amazon, which made quite a few errors in my last big order. They didn’t send 2 things, sent the wrong version of 1 product so that it was completely useless to me, promised refunds but had to be prodded several times. Each problem was always met with “I see what you’re saying, I’ll take care of it” which is nice, but if they can see all these problems why did I have to prod them so many times?

    And airplanes, although most flight attendants (outside of RyanAir) are plenty nice and seem to genuinely be trying to make the best of an uncomfortable situation for everyone. RyanAir flight attendants are the worst and you can tell they don’t want to be there.

    As for best… I hate to be cliche but the best experience I had was buying headphones at a local audio shop in Indianapolis. The guy knew the product and let me try a bunch of headphones, indulging my bad taste in music and not trying to sell me the most expensive set (although he did tell me I’d be back to get more expensive ones eventually as my listening skills developed… and he was right).

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  12. Carol Doyle says:

    A couple of years ago I was in a T.J. Maxx store in Ireland, where we call it T.K. Maxx. Loaded with the maximum number of garments allowed, I went to the changing rooms and locked myself in a cubicle. This changing room had the vaguely voyeuristic feature of not-quite-to-the-floor cubicle walls. In my shopping-high haze, I didn’t take much notice of the strange smell. It wasn’t until I bent down to pick up a particularly cool pair of jeans that had fallen to the floor that I saw it:

    A turd. A turd half wrapped up in a pair of lacy blue panties, in the next cubicle, but spilling over the invisible line into mine.

    I recoiled and staggered back to the changing room attendant: a teenage boy, working his part-time evening job, more interested in chatting with his friends. I interrupted them, after several failed attempts, and overplayed my shock to make up for his complete lack of facial expression. He mumbled something about cleaners and left me free to return to the shopping rails, satisfied that I had done my part as a good citizen.

    Laden with clean clothes, I re-entered the changing room, proceeding with caution and much peering around corners. It occurred to me the lack of any kind of safety notice, safety equipment, nor cleaning personnel. I returned to the offending cubicle to find nothing had changed. It was over twenty minutes since I had reported the incident. Disgusted, I made my purchases and did the only thing any good citizen in such a situation can do: I called my girl-friend and mouthed off about it.

    On returning home, I immediately put the clothes I had been wearing and my purchases into the washing machine and had a shower. Then I thought a more productive person to phone might be the store manager. I called the store and spoke to a male manager, who had not heard of the incident – more than 1 hour after I had reported it. He promised me it would be dealt with, and hung up. I called again after 30 minutes and this time spoke to a very informed female manager, who assured me that the offending cubicle had been closed off and that the cleaning crew were on their way.

    On their way? This is a public health hazard! My consternation grew, and I decided to write an angry, but reserved, letter to the company and emailed it to the highest levels. I even sent copies by snail mail, to show that I really meant it. In the letter, I highlighted the apathy and slow responsiveness of the staff from part-time to management level. Given the danger to public health of such an incident, I would be forced – nay, it was my duty – to take the matter higher if suitable steps were not taken to address this culture within the company.

    Their swift response was an assurance that those involved were being investigated and that steps would be taken to prevent such instances reccurring in the future, but I would understand that they cannot share details of internal company workings with me. Attached was a EUR 30 gift voucher. I returned to the store, voucher in hand. But my real reason was to check out the progress, I’m sure.

    Several months later, my sister phoned to tell me that she had just been to the changing room in question, and that there was a cleaning lady posted who regularly ensured both the mens and womens changing rooms were clean, wiping mirrors, vacuuming, picking up litter and, well, whatever else might be left behind.

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  13. AJM says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  14. Susan says:

    When I was 18, my parents took 6 of us to Fuddruckers. After paying over $50 for hamburgers and fries, (super-expensive in 1992) I picked up the order at the counter. I checked the order and informed the cashier that they had forgotten the cheese on three of the burgers. She told me I would have to give her 45 cents to fix the order. I explained that they had made the mistake, but she would not give it to me without me paying. I declined and was annoyed at the error. The next day, I called the manager and said that I was frustrated that after paying $50 for fast food they would not cough up the 45 cents of cheese due to their error. I said it was poor customer service. He apologized and said he would send me a $10 gift card, which made me feel better….until it never arrived! I know it was just a silly event, but that was over 20 years ago and I have never been back to a Fuddruckers since (plus, I have shared my annoyance with a few people over the years…)

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  15. Axel Kassel says:

    Some years ago, I bought my son a Sony portable cassette player (remember those?) at a Best Buy. The unit was DOA: on battery or AC, dead as Prohibition. I took it back to Best Buy. The clerk said I would have to pay a restocking fee ($15, I think, or maybe 15%) because I hadn’t returned it in the original package. I retrieved a fresh unit from the display and asked to see the manager. I pointed out that the instructions on the clear-plastic clamshell package said to cut it open. I had done so and naturally discarded the mutilated and now-useless package. The manager went through several snooty rounds of quoting policy until I threatened to write the state AG’s consumer-fraud division and the FTC. Then he offered to waive the fee so long as I was taking a replacement unit rather than a refund. Convinced that Best Buy not only had poor sales help but was governed by hidebound idiots, I never set foot in another of their stores. May they follow Circuit City into ignominious extinction.

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  16. Trevor says:

    My very first job was selling Pronto-Pups (basically corn dogs) at the Minnesota State Fair. My first day on the job, my boss, who happened to also be my dad’s friend, pulled me aside and told me the following (quoted only to the best of my memory, minus the expletives): “We don’t get repeat business. People come here for one day every year, they buy one Pronto, and we don’t see ‘em again. Next year they’re gonna be by some other stand when they want one. Maybe we’ll see ‘em again 5, maybe 6 years from now. Besides, it’s the Fair, they expect bad service. So, if one of them gives you any attitude, let ‘em have it. If you’re stressed out and you want to vent, go ahead. If you just want to be a smart-ass for a minute, don’t worry about it. It doesn’t change my business.”

    Of course, being 15, I found a lot of reasons to say a lot of really terrible things to the customers. And the idea that there wouldn’t be any consequences was just too much for me to resist. Now, I wish I could go back and apologize to those people for the things I said. But my boss was right. He made more money every year, no matter how badly he and his staff treated the customers.

    Anyway, I guess my point is that when you remove the possibility of repeat business, you also remove most of the incentive for any kind of positive retail etiquette policy.

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  17. James says:

    I don’t know if this counts as customer service, but one of my pet peeves are the retail locations which play obnoxiously loud popular music. The worst I remember was Best Buy: the one time I went into one of their stores, it was loud enough to be painful. I did a 180, haven’t been in one since, and gave a silent cheer on reading the news of their financial difficulties.

    On line, I think the worst are the sites which assume that you use the latest & “greatest” browser add-ons, and want your shopping to be a multimedia experience. This even extends to my local utility & mortgage service companies. Wouldn’t you think it’d be obvious? I need to give them some money, so make it as easy as possible for me to do so.

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  18. Becca says:

    Once, while I was working at an arts and crafts store, a woman came in and bought several very large sketchpads – while my coworker was struggling to fit them into bags and I was ringing up another customer, my coworker asked the woman for help holding a particularly large sketchpad and the woman replied that it was my coworker’s job and not hers. Then, as I was ringing the woman up she paid with several hundred dollar bills and since I was standing right next to the sign at the register about checking the watermarks on large bills, I started holding them up to the light. The woman asked me if I thought she was the type of person who would use counterfeit money and I told her that most people end up with counterfeit bills from the bank. She then proceeded to call me a little monster (I was 19) and demanded that my coworker (who was with another customer) immediately come and finish her transaction because she refused to have anything to do with me. That’s the first and only time that a customer actually made me cry in the store – I have had drug dealers come in to buy baggies that had more common courtesy.

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  19. Jennifer says:

    When I was in the UK last year just after Christmas, I was very surprised that Marks & Spencer had closed ALL of their dressing rooms, so that it was not possible to try on any cloths. I inquired about it and they answered that during the sale season, they routinely closed the changing rooms down, because otherwise long cues would form. They encourage people to buy things they are not sure will fit and just return them if they end up not fitting. As a customer, that certainly discouraged me to buy. I do not see of the point of choosing a lot of items I could potentially like, paying for them and being pretty sure that I will need return all but a few. Also, at least at the time I was there, the store was not busy at all. Left me very curious and I naturally did not purchase anything.

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  20. Michelle says:

    I worked in a yarn store, first as an employee, and then as the manager, for a little bit over a year. It was an amazing job, so cool for a knitter, but it had a small particular weirdness to it.

    The way that local yarn stores compete with the internet is by building a strong community. They encourage people to come in, knit, hang out, get help from the staff with their knitting problems, take classes, and so on. And that’s cool if you’re a customer, but as staff, I was being paid to be friends with these people. It felt a little weird, sometimes. Some people made it easy, but a lot of them made it very hard. Some of them treated me as a kind of ad hoc therapist, since I was a captive, sympathetic audience. I was in my early twenties at this point, and some of the things these women brought to me were way, way out of my depth. There was a woman who would come in to our weekly knit night and re-tell the story of her husband’s death, in detail. Every week. It’s been years, and I still know that story by heart. (‘I rolled over in bed, and there he was, and he was blue…’)

    But one pair of customers took it to a new level.

    I was working alone. It was summer, and summer in a yarn store is very, very slow. So there was no one else in the store when a pair of women came in. There was a very old lady, and a middle aged woman, mother and daughter.

    From the beginning, their relationship seemed strange. The daughter was pushing a lot of yarn and crochet hooks on the mother, insisting that she used to like this, that she should do it again, etc. The mother was obviously severely depressed and didn’t want to be there, and as this went on, the daughter got more and more exasperated and mean. Flat out mean to this sweet old lady who was obviously terribly unhappy and was her mother. First it was dramatic rolling of eyes like a goddamned teenager, and then sighs and other noises of contempt, and then it was outright insults. Finally, she went off to pick out some things for her mother on her own, and while she was on the other side of the store, the old lady sat down across from me, and started talking.

    She started slowly, but I think once she realized that I was listening to her and I wasn’t dismissing her feelings, it all just came pouring out of her, like she hadn’t had anyone to talk to in a long, long time. She told me about her husband, who she had married right out of high school, and how in love they had been. She told me about how he died, and how she hadn’t known what to do with herself, and how much she missed him. And then her daughter had insisted that she move away from all of her friends and support network to join her in California, where she didn’t know anyone. So now here she was, and her eyesight was going, so she couldn’t drive anymore, knowing nobody but her daughter, missing her husband, so terribly lonely.

    And listening to this, it struck me that she had been so deprived of anyone who would listen to or empathize with her that she was reduced to telling her troubles to the girl at the yarn store whose name she didn’t even know.

    About now, her daughter comes back, sees her mother talking to me with tears welling in her eyes, and actually apologizes to me for her mother’s behavior. We walked over to the register and I started ringing her up, and all the while, she’s keeping up this steady monologue of contempt for her mother, saying just horrible things that her mother is enduring with those tears still in her eyes, culminating in the daughter trying to bring ME in on it. That was the point where I couldn’t handle it anymore, and I stopped what I was doing and told her that I wasn’t going to talk to her mother that way, even if she was.

    She grabbed her bags and dragged her poor mother out, swearing they would never return again. Once she was gone, I locked the front door, walked into the office, closed the door, and just broke down and cried.

    So that I don’t end this post on that note, I’ll add one more thing: Nobody should have a license to complain about customer service from minimum wage or low wage retail and food service workers until they’ve done the job for a year. I know it’s cliche, but it’s true. The level of service that some people expect from people who are probably making minimum wage and putting up with an enormous amount of BS for the money is absurd. You’re not going to be treated like royalty at the local Wal-Mart, end of story.

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  21. James says:

    My first thought was of Chick-Fil-A. At this southern fast food restaurant, they don’t have a rule about saying thank you, but whenever the customer thanks an employee, the employee is instructed to always respond with “my pleasure”.

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    • Jessica says:

      Chick-fil-A is THE BEST. On the occasions I dine in there, I get better service than at some real “sit-down” restaurants.

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      • Dan says:

        Chick-Fil-A is somehow always amazing at customer service. Once my order took SLIGHTLY longer than expected, maybe 5 minutes to come out. The guy at the register apologized profusely and gave me a coupon for a free sandwich. Awesome!

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      • econobiker says:

        That is because Chik-Fil-A is still run by human beings with moral fiber versus corporate ladder climbers seeking to harvest the least possible profit in order to “make the numbers” and qualify for a quarterly bonus…

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  22. Kevin says:

    I was flying into Newark on business in Morristown, NJ. I knew I would need a rental car so I reserved one in advance to be picked up at the airport. When I got to the counter I told the agent Hello, my name, and that I had a reservation.

    His reply was: “So?”

    Completely taken aback I reply: ” With your company”

    He said: “What do you want me to do about it?”

    Total shocked I said: “Give me a CAR!”

    Growing up in the mid-west I assumed that late night comedy shows exaggerated the NJ stereotype for comedic effect, however my very first interaction, on my very first trip to NJ reaffirmed all of those stereotypes of the hostile and miserable people of NJ and left me shaking my head. “Welcome to the Garden State!”

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  23. rodney green says:

    I just recently went new boat shopping. I went to a local dealership first, they barely gave me the time of day and seemed uninterested as to whether I would buy from them or not. I then went to one of the big boys, the one with the big bass on the logo, and couldn’t even get a salesman to acknowledge me. I even went as far as standing up in the boat in the showroom and borrowing a tape measure from one of the salesman to measure the width of the boat. Needless to say, neither of those two establishments got my money. I went with another local dealer who was very responsive to questions, email, and phone messages. Good customer service = good business.

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  24. Lassie says:

    Best Buy. My mother and her disabled on (who live with a black cloud floating over them, to be fair) bought him a VCR some years ago at Best Buy. It didn’t work, or it chewed up tapes, I forget. They took it back to Best Buy, who said they would ‘send it out to be repaired’. Weeks went by, and finally the repaired VCR was sent to Best Buy. They went and picked it up. It was STILL defective. Took it back, and Best Buy said again they would ‘send it out to be repaired’. Would NOT replace the VCR for some unknown reason. Again, the VCR disappeared for some time, and I forget what transpired, but my mother was on the phone to some old man in Florida – Florida! (she lived in New York) who told her yes, he had the VCR and was working on it, and was going to send it back to Best Buy to be picked up by her in a few days….Best Buy sent that piece of cap out to be repaired by somebody in Florida – twice – other than simply giving mom another one. I don’t recall whatever happened with the defective VCR, it was quite some time ago, but I can assure you we all complained loud and long about Best Buy to anyone who would listen and never set foot in that store ever again,

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  25. john says:

    I am somewhat difficult to fit and usually need to special order clothes. I was buying some pants from JCPenney and went there to place the order. When the pants come in I went to pick them up. Wrong size (the legs were 8 inches too short). They apologized and resubmitted the order. The new order came in. Same wrong size. Try again. Same thing. This time the woman at the desk called and spoke to someone at the warehouse telling me that instead of going through the computer system, that person was going to go and get the correct size to send to me. Again, the same wrong size arrived. All the people I interacted with were great, but the system JCPenney had set up was so bad that even calling to have a person go and pick out the correct item had no effect. I haven’t gone back.

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  26. Kathleen Lisson says:

    I like to shop retail and I have had predictably different experiences at different clothing stores.
    At Ann Taylor, the associates always greet customers and offer to ‘start a fitting room,’ taking my clothes from me as I continue to shop at the store. They also suggest styles and are friendly at check out.
    White House Black Market customer treatment is similar, plus they bring a pair of shoes and other matching accessories for me to use while trying on dresses if I am in flats.
    Lilly Pulitzer has the best customer service. The ladies that work there are all in Lilly Pulitzer dresses, they recommend dresses based on their fit, they bring shoes to the fitting room and they take the dresses I have decided to buy, ring them up and box them while I am still looking around the store, so when I get to the register, all I have to do is give my card, sign the receipt and walk out of the store!
    Interestingly, at Ann Taylor Loft stores, there is no offer to ‘start a fitting room.’ Same parent company, different levels of customer service.
    My opinion is that customer service is more than being cheerful and saying thank you. I know that the company wants my business by the way their employees handle the entire sales experience.

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  27. Kyle L says:

    Ok, so here is a short story about a large gesture a retailer made for me that changed me from an occasional shopper into a devoted customer.

    I ordered a digital camera from Amazon.com, and it was promptly shipped via UPS. A couple days later, the UPS tracking website listed the package as “delivered,” but it never showed up at my house. There had either been a mistake made by UPS, or the package had been stolen off my porch.

    I filed a claim with UPS, and after a week of silence from them, I called Amazon, explained the situation, and asked if they had a way to push UPS into settling the claim faster. Without my asking, the customer service representative immediately offered to replace the camera at no cost. I was dumbfounded. Why would a company have a policy in place to make a sacrifice like this when the loss is not their fault? And I realized – Amazon.com is a GOOD company, doing the right thing to make sure their customers are satisfied.

    As a result of this, I am now an Amazon Prime member, and I make nearly all of my purchases (of items that aren’t food or clothing) from their online store. And I’ve never been disappointed.

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    • Jessica says:

      I had a similar experience with Macy’s. My husband and I registered with them for our wedding. They have a very nice “Thank You Note List” that tracks who buys what from your registry. I started noticing MULTIPLE items that showed up as purchased which we never received (also UPS deliveries, hmmm). I called Macy’s distraught that people were spending their money on things we never got, and they immediately offered to resend everything that was missing at no charge to us or the gift-givers. I was shocked.

      UPS then called a few weeks later to investigate the missing packages (apparently Macy’s had filed complaints with them). The woman I spoke to made sure to note that I “must live in a really bad area” (I don’t). Good vs bad CS experiences.

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      • Eric M. Jones. says:

        Regarding missing shipments:

        UPS, FEDEX, USPS all employ people, some of whom are thieves. I once knew a postal clerk who read the insurance forms and stole what he wanted…it was a kind of shopping list for him. “Hell, it’s insured…!” he said.

        In my small business I have shipped many, many, thousands of packages–mostly USPS. The delivery rate is very nearly perfect. So much so, that I never insure anything. Europe?…not so much. Asia and Australia are good. Africa? Forget it. Tip: about one-percent of USPS packages sent to Austria get misrouted to Australia…and vice-versa.

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  28. Lassie says:

    I do my best to be patient, and nice to, cashiers and salespeople as a rule, unless they obviously have some issues about customer service and are rude or simply. don’t. care. My daughter had a job at Walmart for a while, she was assigned to keeping office supplies neatly arranged on the shelves. All day. And tidying up the area. All day. But a few times she was recruited to fill in as a cashier at the checkout, in spite of the fact she NEVER had ANY training in even how to operate the machine! Since she had a rudimentary idea of how to work it, she went ahead and with varying degrees of success that first day she managed to work the checkout line, despite a lot of grumbling from people justifiably in a hurry to pay and get out of there. It wasn’t her fault! But it sure looked that way…I think one of the worst jobs in the world is to stand in front of the self-checkout counters all day holding a key, waiting for the flashing light indicating there’s a problem, and walking over to ‘fix’ that machine.

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    • Melanie says:

      On your note about blaming cashiers–

      I used to work for a huge movie theater chain in a concession counter. I would run the cash till, dole out popcorn and soda, and send people on to their movies. It will never cease to irritate me the number of people who would complaint to me about the price of the popcorn (around $8). I have fantasized about deadpanning someone and reminding them that, by the way, I won’t make that much in an hour at work. Enjoy your show.

      Gah!

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  29. Beth says:

    One of the worst retail experiences I had was not technically retail…it was in a restaurant. My husband, a friend and I went out to a local Indian place that is highly talked about. We got seated promptly, but then forgotten about or something. We did not get water, anyone asking to take out order, or any type of acknowledgment in terms of a look, or gesture or anything for at least a half an hour (though the staff were running around filling water and orders at other tables, seating other guests….and even taking 2 other orders of people who came in after us). When we were finally able to order and finally got our order, it too them another at least 30 minutes to get it out to us. They never refilled our drinks (even after asking), they never apologized for the wait, and we were barely able to get someone attention to get out check. The restaurant was not that busy and it seemed to be staffed enough to cover the tables that were full. I felt like we were discriminated against because we were not Indian, as everyone else in the place was. My companions loved the food, but I don’t want to go back, the experience was too underwhelming.

    As for good experiences, my husband is a big proponent of M&M’s. He once had a bag that didn’t “taste the same” as the rest of the M&M’s he’s eaten. So he called the customer hotline number on the back of the bag. Not to complain, just to let them know that this batch was off (he did eat the whole bag, it wasn’t bad, just different). He didn’t expect anything in return, he was given a “Thank you for your comments and concerns” line and he left it at that. A few weeks later, he got mail from them with a could of coupons – 1 free bag of M&M’s, $1 off a large bag, etc. It was nice that they took his comment seriously and thought to do something to keep his business (not that they need to worry about that!).

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  30. Jeremy says:

    A contrast:

    Setting #1: Apple Store anywhere in hum-drum Columbus, OH. Situation: Unresponsive hard-drive on a 1yr old iMac. Customer Service: After being greeted immediately upon entering the store and explaining that I had a Genius-bar appointment I was escorted directly back to the Genius-bar for help. Within 10 minutes (there were at least 20 employees and 50 customers at the time in what is one of the smaller Apple stores I’ve been in) I was assisted by another friendly, more knowledgeable Apple employee than me (I work in IT, and have extensive computer hardware and software knowledge). After some initial diagnostic checks performed while genially chatting with me about what the problem could be and what checks he was performing, this employee offered to simply install a brand new drive within an hour. I agreed, and in 45 minutes my computer was fixed, I picked it up, and drove home. Complete satisfaction.

    Setting #2: A Verizon store in hum-drum Columbus, OH. Situation: I need a new smartphone, and want to purchase the new iPhone 4s, change the texting plan (which is a total rip-off anyway) on my wife’s cell phone, and sign-up for my next 2-yr cell phone contract. Customer Service: Lots of employees in the store, but none of the employees like to talk to people it seems, and all are meandering about as if they are busy, although clearly half of them (managers it appears?) are not. It takes 3 minutes to “sign-in” at their kiosk in the middle of the store which appears to make no difference in how I am served. It takes a full 30 minutes for them to figure out my current plan and what type of discount I have available when purchasing the new iPhone 4s. Turns out I am available for the discount that was exactly what their website said I was able to get (which I told them up front). It takes another 15 minutes to actually pay for the phone and have them activate it. (And I’ve heard all of this takes less than 15 minutes at an Apple store – lesson learned on my part!) Complete dissatisfaction.

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  31. alhahaf says:

    I must say that there are two places/services that I have had CONSITENTLY good experience with and those are Trader Joe’s and Southwest Airlines.

    Living in Manhattan, I am fairly used to rude and inconsistent service unless of course I am willing to drop a substantial amount of money at a high-end place. Grocery shopping is especially a nightmare. That being said, I always leave Trader Joe’s (the Union Square and Chelsea locations specifically) with a smile. I am warmly greeted during the hours that the store isn’t completely packed. When something is out of stock or I am having trouble locating something, the staff quickly and patiently helps me in my quest. During checkout, (where the lines sometimes wrap around the entire store), the checkout person still engages in a conversation, asking about my day, if I’ve found everything etc. And they do thank you for shopping at Trader Joe’s. I’ve had the same experiences at Trader Joe’s in Seattle and Boston.

    Airline travel can also be a horrible experience. I often travel cross country and have had the pleasure and displeasure of flying with a majority of the major airlines out there. Southwest is the only airline that does not give me heartburn the day before I leave. Check-in is always smooth, especially since their system rewards those who check-in online early and somewhat punishes those who do not (e.g. C boarding). No baggage fees is also a plus, especially during Christmas time. Boarding is also an EXTREMELY smooth process, with the gate checker greeting you with a smile and their festively decorated terminals (I’ve seen them in Midway and Phoenix not sure about anywhere else). Dealing with their customer service has also been a pleasant experience. Only once has my bag failed to arrive when I did and not only did they locate it and place it on the next flight to my location they threw in a $150 Voucher! I did not expect that at all! The flight attendants are always cheery (and at times also hilarious), they are willing to give you extra drinks/snacks and look like they actually enjoy their jobs. The one delay that I experienced with Southwest was when, after boarding, they discovered that there was a broken component somewhere on the wing. We had to deplane and re-board completely. The attendants and pilot handled it perfectly. And once we had taken off (1 1/2 hours later), they gave everyone on the plane 21+ free alcoholic drinks. And they thanked us, OFTEN, for our patience through the whole process.

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  32. Enter your name... says:

    Everyone else seems to be complaining, so I’ll tell a positive story. This isn’t dramatic, but it made my task much easier. I went Christmas shopping at one of the local art supply places. It has two or three fairly large stores in this area that sell art supplies, office supplies, and gift-y stuff. They aren’t especially known for their customer service and, generally, I think they’re overpriced, but the discounts are steep for whatever’s on sale this week and it was close to my bus stop on a day when I was really tired and in pain.

    I went looking for some basic art supplies for a young teenager. What I knew about her interests were that she was doing some sort of painting or drawing, and that she was saving her babysitting money to buy decent art supplies. That’s not a lot to go on, and I’m not an artist, so I wandered around the store for a while to look at things. Eventually, I picked up a basic pre-made kit that was on sale. Then I asked a middle-aged employee who was straightening up a display if she had any advice. She glanced at what I had, asked how much I wanted to spend, and promptly made several sensible-sounding suggestions. It was obvious from her response that she knew the strengths and weaknesses of the kit I’d picked up, which things were on sale that week, and what a budding artist might find useful. She was quick to notice which of her suggestions appealed to me, and walked me to each item rather than leaving me to find them.

    I left feeling like I had probably made good choices, and the gifts I sent turned out to be a big hit.

    There’s nothing spectacular in this story, except for the fact that decent customer service is still available.

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  33. Josh says:

    Sorry… here’s a slew of thoughts…

    Two sides of the negative experience:
    First, from behind the retail counter… while in school, I was working for a well -known electronics “Shack” that sells several brands of cell phone services. I had heard every complaint in the book, be it fault of the customer or the service. My job was to make sure they were happy, but it was always very easy to tell when the customer was at fault. One correlation with guilt was that the customer would quickly raise their voice–usually followed with lots of “French” language. Coincidentally, I was taking psychology courses (later switched to Marketing and Economics) at the time to recognize this as a defense mechanism.

    As a customer, I have had multiple bad experience with a different “hh” electronics retailer (fool me once…), and as a result have never spent a dime there. First experience, I walked into the store from a great financing offer (I hate financing,but 0% is 0%) , armed with a competitors ad on a TV nearing Christmas time. After shaking off reps in appliances and cell phones, I handed the home theater sales rep the ad and he was eager to help. He explained the price match policy, which sounded completely fine. The other retailer had stock, so he attempted to make the price match happen. He had to call his Manager, who was disgusted with the offer and told me that he didn’t have match the price, because it was below his cost. After sound more words, I walked out and bought the TV at the original retailer.

    Second occurrence at this retailer, I tried to buy a Blu-Ray player on “Black Friday”. They had plenty, so I grabbed one and waited in line with 12 people in front of me. After 45 minutes of high pressure offers, warranties, and other add-ons, they finally finished helping the FIRST person in line (buying a camera). I dropped the Blu-Ray, and walked out.

    ————————————

    My quick “good” experience is more of a generalization and opinion from numerous experiences: I notice that the best customer service seems to come from small, local businesses. It also seems to be more genuine that the corporations that try to push “positive customer service”–especially when you can tell the person *serving* you does not personally *want* to, but their company *forces* them to.

    ——————————————–

    My overall best and worst experiences come from the same cell phone company. For a period of time, they were trying to change their image to become perceived as customer friendly. They gave me new phones when I had broke my previous phone, they provided random bill credits for being a loyal customer, and they even sent free NFL tickets on one occasion. But that apparently started to cost them money–and pulled the plug on this overnight. In three months, my rates shot up, I had to pay for services that were originally included, and I was denied two upgrades that my contract clearly stated I was due for. Guess who will be switching companies at the end of this current contract?

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  34. Matt Keen says:

    So i’m writing from the UK.

    Best customer experiences? Apple stores are excellent universally.

    Waitrose (this is a uk supermarket based on the partnership model, where every employee also owns a share in the business). Waitrose has fantastic customer service. Can’t find something in store? They’ll take you to it. Run out of something? They’ll go and check the warehouse while you carry on shopping, then come and find you to let you know if they have any out back. They always as ‘Is there anything else I can help you with’. Unhappy with anything, get a refund and an exchange. Need a wine recommendation to go with those devilled chicken livers? Just ask. I’ve forgotten my wallet before and even walked out without paying as they ‘trust’ me in my local branch. When we bought cheese to make an alternative cake for our wedding, they gave us a free bottle of champagne worth £25.

    Space NK. Friendly, knowledgeable staff, low pressure selling.

    Bad retail experience. Well I can’t include British Telecom as they don’t have stores, but I loathe BT. Elsewhere, Marks & Spencers is pretty bad. You can never find an assistant, they make you use those self scan payment machines that bark instructions at you, and just to get to the tills you have to pass row after row of impulse purchases.

    Worst of all has to be Argos. In case you don’t know, Argos is a catalogue store. You go in, finger some laminated catalogue, use a crappy pen to fill in a tiny order sheet with the codes of the items you want, then take it to the till, pay, then you have to WAIT, while some guy out the back goes and finds your items and brings them out. It’s utterly archaic and should have died out years ago. Imagine that system in a supermarket? Crazy.

    Love the show. Thanks.

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  35. Adam says:

    I was in an independent book store and happened to be wearing a Bruce Springsteen t-shirt. As I was purchasing my books, the cashier eyeballed by shirt and asked if I liked Springsteen. I thought it was kind of redundant to ask someone wearing a t-shirt of a band if they liked the band, but I figured it was just a clumsy way to enter into a brief conversation about someone we both liked.

    Nope. After I said I was a big fan, the cashier tossed my books into a bag and said, “I’ve never cared for the guy. Everything he does seems stupid to me.”

    Sweet. Way to make friends, buddy.

    I think I just kind of mumbled, “Oh, okay” and walked out. I still can’t fathom why he’d bring up my shirt if his only intention was to passively belittle me for wearing it.

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  36. Patrick says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  37. Armando says:

    Can’t say I’ve ever had a really bad customer service experience, but anytime I have to deal with an automated voice operator thing I get really, really annoyed. You enter all your information through the phone pad, and then once you finally get to a real human they ask you the exact same questions. Nothing more obnoxious than wasting your time on the phone with machines… or with what seems like hours of music, never to actually have someone answer.

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  38. Rich says:

    REI (rei.com) blew me away with their customer service. I bought an REI-branded Gore-Tex shell (coat) that I wore over fleece in the winter and by itself in warmer rain, i.e. it was a year-round coat that got nearly daily use (including camping). At the time it was for me a very expensive purchase. After a few years (5?) I washed it according to instructions and the inner lining disintegrated. I figured that REI might be interested in knowing what happened to their coat so I wrote a note and sent the coat and note to them. I felt that I had worn the coat out, and thought that if they were really nice they might send me a $10 discount on a future purchase, but my goal was to provide feedback. Much to my surprise a few weeks later I got a brand new coat in the mail — a much-improved version of the coat, and a nice note. That was twenty years ago and I’m still using (and washing) the new coat. I still tell my story of amazing REI service to anyone who is in the market for outdoor wear or camping gear.

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  39. Brian says:

    Best: I hate to admit it because I have fought using Apple products for so long, but when the screen stopped working on my iPhone after 6 month I walked into the Apple Store. handed it over to their smiling Apple cyborgs and 10 minutes later walked out with a new phone with files transferred and all the settings identical to my old phone.

    Worst: Ok I guess this is not retail, but I was flying to Hawaii with my girlfriend and when we took our seats her’s did not recline. We told the flight attendant and she messed with it for a moment and said, “I will put that in my report.” and then walked off. Fortunately we found a second flight attendant that was much more sympathetic and knew how to fix the seat.

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  40. kevin says:

    My WORST story I repeat all the time.

    I went into a Subway with 2 friends and ordered a deli sub (4″ round bread they used to have).

    Me: I’d like a deli pizza sub please.
    S1: Okay… what do you want on it (makes sandwich).
    S1: Anything else?
    Me: Drink and chips.
    S1: Okay… (yells to back) “How do we ring up a deli pizza sub?”
    S2: We don’t make a deli pizza sub.
    S1: (to me) We don’t make that.
    Me: Oh, well, what do we do now? I mean, you made it… I didn’t realize those didn’t come in that size.
    S1: Well, I can’t sell it to you.
    Me: So what happens?
    S1: I either eat it or I throw it away.
    Me: Please don’t throw it away. Can’t you just charge me for a (looks at menu to find highest price sub in that category) deli turkey?
    S2: We can’t because the inventory will be off and our manager will be upset. (begins making foot long sandwiches for my friends)
    Me: But you’ve already made it. Inventory is already off. I’m offering $4.50 including the drink and chips for you to charge me for the most expensive deli sandwich. You’re off, but at least you get $4.50. You can tell the manager how you solved a problem and made a happy customer. Are you going to eat it?
    S1: No, I don’t like the pepperoni. I’m going to throw it away.
    Me: Okay… here is $4.50. I’m leaving it on the counter. And I’ll just take the sandwich and…
    S2 grabs the sandwich from my hand and hurls it into the trashcan.
    Me: Fine then, we don’t want the other two either. What are you going to do with them?
    S2 grabs both of them and throws them into the trash can.
    Me: We’re going to Wendy’s. You can now explain 3 sandwiches thrown away.

    My friends weren’t happy.

    The BEST story is when I went to REI with a tire that I couldn’t get onto a rim. The REI mechanic couldn’t either. He went in the back and used a steel core tire tool and it worked fine. I asked him if they were for sale. “No.” “Can I buy that one?” “Well, I can’t sell it, but I sold you the tire and even I couldn’t get it on the rim. Here, just have it.” I will never buy from any other bike store if the item I want is at REI. I also had them track me down on their own after I had asked about a bike on sale, which was sold right after I left the store… I received an out-of-the-blue phone call from the store who then transferred me to the customer service line who found the bike for me. They did this all on their own. That company has the right DNA.

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  41. Jack says:

    As employees of an inner-city fish market in our teens, my brother and I would regularly be sitting on the back counter, we’d witness a customer entering the store, and we would then proceed to play Rock-Paper-Scissors in order to see who would have to wait on said customer (all in full view of the customer and the owner of the market).

    I have no idea how this appeared from the customer’s end, I would personally probably find it pretty entertaining, but many folks are generally shocked to hear that we displayed that sort of disregard to the ‘customer experience’.

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  42. A says:

    Was in Whole Foods in Cranston, RI. At one point, during the summer of 2011, I overheard the Prepared Foods Assistant Manager complaining about having to use leftover turkeys from Thanksgiving of 2010 in a dish for the hot bar. I asked him what the frozen expiration date was, and he said it had already passed, but that he was ordered to use the turkey. He tried to tell me that, because it had been frozen all this time, it would be fine. But, please, turkey that is at least 8 months old? I couldn’t care less how long it had been frozen–what are expiration dates for anyway?

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  43. Joe Dokes says:

    Since most stories have been negative, mine will be positive.

    Two from Apple.

    My dad bought a 17″ macbook pro that started to freeze intermittently. Took it to the Apple store after making an appointment. After trying for over an hour to resolve the issue, and finding out that he’d driven two hours to come to the store. (He lives in rural Texas.) They simply replaced the Macbook with a brand new one instead of making him come back, the new one was a newer model.

    I had a two year old Macbook Pro that died, wouldn’t boot. Although out of warranty, they replaced the defective board free of charge.

    Auto Dealership. In October I bought a new Dodge Caravan from Glenn E. Thomas Dodge in Signal Hill California. Process couldn’t have been smoother. Prior to showing up at the dealership, I did my homework, I knew the dealer invoice, trade-in value, and current loan costs. After a test drive, I sat down in the little room, the sales manager came over, showed me the dealer invoice, ran my credit, came back with the interest rate from Dodge financing, and gave me a value of the trade-in. All three matched my research. Sold me the car at invoice, interest rate was .25% higher than my credit union, and the trade-in matched blue book. Did they make money off of me? Sure, but they made the buying experience as pain free as possible, which in the car world is quite an accomplishment.

    I drove out of the Dodge dealership in a new Caravan, less than three hours from the time I entered.

    Glenn E. Thomas Dodge has been in business for 100 years. Coincidence? I think not.

    Regards,

    Joe Dokes

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  44. Jen says:

    What’s interesting is that I think most people’s worst AND best experiences will come about because of a problem of some kind that they had with a product or service they received. And that’s really the issue – it’s customer service that will make or break a company. Any company will have occasional problems with their services or products (no matter how high quality your stuff is, there are always going to be mistakes). How problems are resolved is really where a company can shine or, well, not. When everything goes just fine with a purchase, that’s business as usual for the customer and it’s frankly not that memorable – as long as I like a product, I’ll keep buying it. When there’s a problem, that’s the opportunity for the company to stand behind it and turn a bad experience into a good (and memorable) one.

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  45. Evan Hernandez says:

    This is the true story of the most troublesome customer I ever had. I work in cell phone sales and I’ve dealt with some strange problems, but this took the cake for weirdness.

    We’ll call him Winslow Wilkall. Believe me when I say his name was suitably odd, but today I’m changing the names to protect the weird.

    Picture him, if you will. Five foot, five inches tall, but with a neck so perpetually craned forward in anxious anticipation he appears a good deal shorter. Curly hair, an olive complexion and either an Arab or a Spanish accent so thick, yet so New York-ified, as to be unidentifiable. All this topped off with a beard that is obviously a bi-product of his overwhelming personality trait: A complete lack of self-awareness.
    When you hear him speak, keep in mind that he doesn’t stutter. He doesn’t suffer from a speech impediment, rather the laws of physics prevent words from coming out of his mouth as quickly as he intends them to.

    The story of Winslow and me began 3 days before Thanksgiving. However, Winslow’s cell phone saga began the week before. (Strictly speaking it began the tragic day someone sold him the most complicated, high maintenance, fragile phone we’ve ever carried: The HTC Touch Pro. We’ll leave that part of the story untold.)
    So, 10 days before Thanksgiving, Winslow brought in his broken phone. The keyboard wasn’t working. He took it to the technicians who have see this issue on this phone hundred, if not thousands of times. They briefly told him what they have told the hundreds, if not thousands of phone owners who came before.

    “Leave your phone with us for an hour and a half and it should be fixed.”

    This honest and concise summation from my coworkers is generally followed to the letter and the phone returned without mishap in the said time frame. Some customers return in an hour, some in four. Some even wait to return until the next day. Apparently Winslow wanted to be darn sure his phone was fixed, because he came back the next week.

    And the phone still wasn’t fixed.

    I have an excellent team of technicians at my store. They possess all the tools and all the know how required to fix an HTC Touch Pro’s broken kepboard. Sadly, they did not have the skills to predict Winslow.

    You see, when you leave a phone with the techs, for the theoretical period of an hour and a half, you have to leave the phone connected. We don’t expect you to call customer service while we aren’t looking and activate a second phone on your number while we’re working on the first. In fact, we can’t fix an inactive phone. We can’t test, diagnose, or replace a phone that is no longer active in our system. And with one phone call, which none of us had anticipated him making, an inactive phone is what Winslow left us. So there it sat, unworked on, for a week.

    It was after that week, 3 days before Thanksgiving, that I first saw Winslow and I knew instinctively that he would be a headache. How foolish I was to imagine he would be someone else’s headache.
    Winslow was standing in front of the technicians station (variously referred to as the tech kitchen, the fishbowl, the batcave…). It is set in the very back of the store, behind a rather DMV-esque Plexiglas window. His nose was pressed against this window as he made his complaints known in a rather distinct tone. I’d hate to say he was yelling, as that implies malicious intent on his part. He was however speaking with considerable volume and at tremendous speeds. It was like he was projecting to the back of an imaginary theater.

    At this point I made such an effort to ignore him and got so busy with other customers that I honestly don’t remember exactly how Mr. Wilkall and I came to be face to face. I imagine at some point he demanded to see a manager and I finished working with another customer only to turn around and see the Winslow standing, hand on hips, nose thrust forward, his eyebrows trembling with impatience.
    I do recall one of the technicians being with him and filling me in on the general shape of things. On this particular visit they had tried to fix his phone once more, but after reactivating the HTC Touch Pro in question they had made a tactical error. They left the phone to sit on a counter for ten minutes and they let Winslow see them do it. Now, my techs had good reasons for letting it sit a few minutes. Our computers are reliable and fast, but it still takes a few minutes for a nationwide network of servers and systems to register a phone’s existence when it has been inactive for a week. However, all attempts to explain this to Winslow had culminated in my being invited to share in the joy of this adventure.

    When you’ve been selling phones as long as I have you generally understand a customer’s complaints long before they’ve fully voiced them. In this case Winslow managed to voice them with twice the speed at which any human could understand them. He accomplished this by only saying half of each of his complaints. His initial tirade sounded something like this:

    “Look, my phone is broken, okaaaay, and they… I ask them to… So then they wouldn’t so I… Look look look, I’m not mad at you, you understand… If they had had the right attitee-ude…”
    (I came to discover that attitee-ude and and PAH-ssionate were two of his favorite words.)
    “So how you can help me?”

    From these fragments and the report of my favorite tech (we’ll call him Lenny) I began to understand that Winslow felt he could not survive with with his phone off for even ten minutes because he is… an actor.

    Using perhaps the first full sentence I had heard him utter, Winslow asked me,
    “Do you have any actor friends.”
    “I am an actor.”
    His face dropped like a stone. Still, he screwed up his courage and his face and tried again.
    “Oh… well have you ever made your LEEVing as an actor?”
    “I have.”

    His face unscrewed. It was kind of hard to watch. I was using every inch of my six foot frame to the best advantage, letting him know with my planted feet that “projecting” would do him no good whatsoever. After a moment of awkward tittering he did try one last trump card.
    “Well are you SAG?” He asked, referring to the Screen Actors Guild.
    Here I admitted the truth that I was not and he began to insist that if I were a SAG member I would understand that a call worth thousands of dollars could come in at any moment and the casting directors DO NOT leave messages, EVER. I nodded, smiled, gently hinted that he must be exaggerating and silently prayed to God that he was.

    All of this took only a few minutes. I did what I could to explain to Winslow the options and the process we have to follow for fixing the phone. Winslow showed signs of understanding and stopped projecting for the back of whatever theatre he was constantly performing to in his head.
    But in the back of MY head I knew there was one rather sticky problem. This whole process had carried us to within an hour of closing time. There was no way we could finish his phone that night and I knew I would have to break this bad news to him.
    He took it remarkably well, if you can call “refusing to leave the store until I agreed to break half a dozen store and corporate policies so we could fix his phone first thing the next morning without his having to come back into the store until it was all done” taking it well.

    I ended up taking responsibility for his phone. I would hold onto it until the techs could work on it the next day. Strictly speaking I could not do this as a representative of Sprint. I did it as his “buddy.” Call it one actor doing a favor for another. He would leave with an old phone he’d brought with him. I would call him on it to let him know when his service would be cut off and then the techs would go right to work on the HTC Touch Pro that had started this whole mess.

    Here was where I thought we would run into a snag. How was I to call him and let him know his phone was ready to go again? Well goody for me Mr. Wilkall had the answer. He whipped out his second phone, the on with a competitor’s logo stamped on it; the phone with the other number he’d had all along for those big bad casting directors to call him on.
    “Just call me on this one.”
    My desire to break things (curly headed, actory things) suddenly sprung to life.
    Still, we had a plan and I clung to that. Winslow would come back when I called him the next day, pick up a working phone and I would never see him again.

    Then, on his way out the door Winslow threw out what I discovered to be another of his favorite words.
    “When I come back I will want to know how I will be compenSAYted for my trouble…”

    “Sure Winslow, sure.”

    At first the plan seemed to go off without a hitch. When I came in to work the next day the technicians rolled their eyes as I handed them Winslow’s phone, took it, worked on it for an hour and a half (as they would have the week before had Winslow not deactivated it) and announced it completely repaired.
    I was about to call Winslow back at this point, but I never got the chance. As it turns out, he had been calling it every ten minutes since I’d told him it was being worked on. Moments after it was repaired, as I picked up the phone to dial his number his ninth call comes though.
    “Hi Winslow.”
    “Evan, why isn’t my voicemail… I called my phone and… Number is not in service…” (Completing sentences was still not his forte.)
    “We fixed your phone Winslow.”
    “Okay, but…”
    “You can pick it up, or you can activate your backup phone again.”
    “I’m coming. Right now. I’m coming to get it.”

    There should be a diagnostic term for cellular phone hypochondriacs. Telechondria. Hypocelluphondria. Hopefully the therapists of America will eventually label this dreaded psychological plague which affects all those customers who come to our store week after week because the internet on their Blackberry acts “funny” every Tuesday afternoon at exactly 1:27pm and can’t-we-fix-it-why-not. We in the cell phone biz will have a whole hosts of patients to direct to a local pharmacy where they can pick up the over priced medication that treats it. We will be thrilled to do so and secretly hope that the label reads: Side effects may include violent diarrhea, an inability to speak and a tendency to get lost on the way to cellular phone stores.
    At any rate, I had labeled dear Winslow as a sufferer of Mobilehypophonochondria and I tacitly ignored his garbled mention of his malfunctioning voicemail.

    In the words of Napoleon after he invaded Russia in winter… “Silly me.”

    Not an hour later, Winslow returned. I was working with another customer and gave him a quick head nod as he entered. He left quickly, already making a call on his restored phone and I silently thanked God for small mercies.

    I slept soundly that night. I even told a few friends about my crazy customer of the day, but only in passing. The episode seemed at an end. I was ready for one last day of work before Thanksgiving and a day of food, fun and friendly company.

    So when Winslow darted into the store the next day I’m not sure, but I think I heard the little French emperor laughing at me.
    “Moscou brûle!”

    It turns out I had underestimated Mr. Wilkall. There really was something wrong with his phone: two things actually. The first was a simple settings mishap that my techs put to rights within minutes.
    The second was my fault.
    Before taking possession of his phone two days previous he’d asked me to set up conditional call forwarding from his phone with us to his competitor carrier’s phone as a final precaution. This is a free service that automatically forwards voicemails only. I had been forced to do this over the phone with my advanced tech support team. And somehow they deactivated his voicemail account entirely in the process. And I couldn’t seem to fix it.

    Thank God the store was already empty at this point. It was 7:30, the night before Thanksgiving so of course it was empty. Winslow stormed and paced and strutted and bellowed. I was completely trapped in a goof of my own making now. My techs don’t have any tools to deal with behind the behind-the-scenes system issues like voicemail so I was on my own, calling every sales support/customer care/advanced technical support rep I could dial. I was trapped there as Winslow Wilkall tiraded on,

    “You see!” He projected. “You think I’m crazy! They all look at me like, ‘he’s nuts, oh look at the crazy guy, he’s so riDEEKulous.’ Well I’m NOT crazy. I tell you it’s broken and now it’s not WUURking. It’s not my fault that it’s not WUURking. It’s your company!” (Apparently he could accomplish full sentences when it was important.)

    In my years of customer service experience I have learned one very important lesson. The best time to work on a problem is while the customer is too busy screaming at you too notice. They’re rarely saying anything important once they’re this angry so there’s no need to listen very closely. Also, while their blood is up, time passes faster for them so you have plenty of time to work. I avoid these kind of explosions at all costs, but once they occur they’re actually quite productive.

    I needed every possible moment too. This was a real pickle. I put call forwarding back on. I took it off again. I’m entering code after code after code. Punching buttons, reprogramming his phone. I’m in my computer looking through his account. I searched Sprint’s intranet for answers and even Googled “Removing Call Forwarding.” And all the time Winslow is shooting for a best actor nomination for his role in I’m Not Crazy, It’s Broken I Tell You.

    And finally, it worked.
    As so often happen, this moment was frighteningly beautiful in it’s simplicity. I won’t bore you with the intricacies of Sprint’s voicemail system, but I finally asked the right person the right question and they fixed it all with the press of a button. I breathed a silent “thank you” and interrupted Winslow just as he was, once again, interrupting himself.
    “I got it.”
    “…because they have the wrong attiTEEyude. What?”
    “I got it. We’re in business.”
    It took a couple calls to his mailbox, but I finally convinced him I was telling the truth. His phone was finally, and truly fixed.
    Then he said, coyly,
    “So… How will I be compenSAYted?”

    I would like to think he felt he was going to surprise me with the question. I would like to think he underestimated me as I had underestimated him. Whether he did or not, I was ready. While on the phone with tech support I had gone into his account on my end and taken the step of dropping a $20 credit on his bill. I handed the receipt to him with a smile.
    “I emailed my manager,” I lied “and he authorized me to give you this.”

    Now, I’m no fool. I didn’t think 20 dollars was really going to appease him. I was ready, if he whined, or complained, to bargain a bit; to concede some ground; to go in the back of the store and pretend to wrangle with my manager (who to this day does not know of Winslow’s existence) for a better deal. Though his plight of the last several days was self-inflicted it was nonetheless a plight. My heart went out to him. There were several ways he could have gotten more money out of the deal.
    Crumpling the receipt and throwing it in my face was not one of those ways. My heart turned to granite.

    The next five minutes I imagine Winslow felt he was talking to a three year old. There was only one word in my vocabulary.
    “Can you talk to your manager?”
    “No.”
    “Can you take, I dunno, 15% off my bill every month?”
    “No.”
    “Can you give me a free phone?”
    “No.”
    “Free internet for life?”
    I think I hurt myself restraining a laugh after that one. And no, I am not making any of those requests up.

    At long last Winslow’s shoulders drooped. His resolve seemingly broken he looks at me pleadingly,
    “Is there anything else you can do?”
    My heart melted ever so slightly.
    “Winslow, you can’t squeeze blood from a stone. And right now I am the stone. I’ve done everything for you that can be done. And a little more. We’re done.”

    He shifted a bit on the balls of his feet.
    “Well I doan want this phone anymore. Is there anything I could upGRAYde to?”
    “Not really.” I replied. “You’ve got a really nice phone. It’s obviously had some problems, but the only thing that’s an upgrade from the HTC Touch Pro is the HTC Touch Pro 2 and it’s the most expensive phone we’ve ever sold.”
    “How much is it?”
    “350 dollars… after mail-in rebate.”
    Back and forth on his toes he shifted. One foot. Then the other.

    “I’ll take it.”

    It probably took longer for me to get my eyes back in my head than it did to sell him the phone and get him the heck out of the store. We were even done before the doors closed.
    It has been a couple weeks now and I haven’t seen him since. He threatened to come back and talk to my manager to see if he would give him a bigger credit, but he never did. He threatened to call customer service and see if they would give him free text messages for life or some such thing. If he did they never asked me about it.
    For now I just wait and hope he’s happy with the phone and that his mail in rebate gets back to him on time.

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  46. Matt says:

    What’s the old customer service saying? You’ll tell 11 people about a bad experience, but only 4 about a positive?

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  47. Eric M. Jones. says:

    Years ago, before deregulation, Pacific Bell decided to make more money by opening “Phone Stores”. Now instead of just phoning them to change or start your phone service, you had to locate and trudge to your local Phone Store to look over all the cute model telephones.

    I was certainly in a hurry– moving and all, and a bit frantic– but I did as ordered. I showed up at the Phone Store to find a mob of people, most of whom probably had the same goals I had…to change or start their phone service. After waiting in line for 45 minutes, I got to the front of the line and was told that I WAS IN THE WRONG LINE! And the counter person told me I had to go to the OTHER line and pointed to a similar adjacent line.

    I was pissed. For a moment I considered throwing a Mickey Mouse phone through the store window, but I didn’t see how that would improve my chance of getting a phone. Then I had a brilliant notion:

    I calmly lay down on the floor.

    This got immediate attention. The store manager rushed over to see if he could help. I handed him my paperwork and told him I’d be there until he ordered me new phone service at my new apartment….and told him what I thought about his customer service.

    I was all set and out of there in 30 seconds. Job Done!

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0
  48. Travis says:

    Best consumer experiences were when I lived in Japan. The culture there seems to value really treating a customer with respect, and being welcoming and polite. Even if it isn’t a genuine smile, there is something still comforting about someone treating you like they are thankful for your patronage.

    Coming back to the states, everything feels hawkish. Those that don’t outright ignore you are often impolite, and when they are polite there’s generally a hawkishness to it that makes it seem more like they are being nice to take advantage of you as a consumer.

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    • crquack says:

      LOL! Completely agree about Japan! Last time I was there I felt the need for an egg sandwich to make a change from the sushi/sashimi/tempura fare. I asked for it in a small cafe in Kyoto. the gentleman proceeded to make a work of art! Even the corners were cut precisely at right angles. He then presented me with it in style that suggested that if I had even a slightest issue with the nature of the egg sandwich he made he would have immediately commited seppuku. I accepted the sandwich with a bow only slightly less deep than his (as etiquette dictated).

      It was the best egg sandwich ever.

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  49. Andrew E says:

    I worked at an upscale chain of gyms. I was the supervisor of the janitors. It was our job to make sure the members were happy and and sanitary. We were graded on how sanitary the locker rooms were. When we tried to clean during the busy hours, one person isn’t able to keep up. So, we would get bad marks by a lot of people because they came in during peak hours.

    I few times I cleaned during these peak times and was yelled at for cleaning near people. I got yelled at for picking up towels. Once, I was yelled at because the showers smelled bad. So I cleaned them. After I cleaned them, I was yelled at because it smelled like cleaning solution.

    The gym itself was very money driven. A family that paid $250/month could do no wrong. Meanwhile, a good person who paid $70.00/month would be dismissed if they had a serious issue. One of our members on a family plan ran into a yoga class and pulled down his pants and underwear. His parents were “spoken to”. The gentleman was back in the gym 2 days later. The women that left because of the incident were told, “We’re sorry to be losing your business.”

    We had another indecent were a girl, 15-16 years old, was soliciting herself on the pool deck. She would approach men in the hot tub and quote a price to have some fun. If the man declined, she would tell them to pay her more or she would tell the lifeguard he was inappropriately touching her. She got caught when she hit on a gay man. He told her, “Go right ahead. The lifeguard knows you’re not my type.” Since she was on a family plan, management decided to speak with her about what she did and told her parents a different story about why she was in the office. Management didn’t want to lose the money.

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  50. Shonda Anderson says:

    To begin this story, it is important to note that in my previous job, I flew enough to be an A list Southwest Frequent Flyer. Through my business major and economics masters lens, I have always had an appreciation for their overall business plan and the ingenious impact they have had on the airline industry. Despite having a few negative encounters with Southwest employees, their customer service has always been something to be studied.

    On this instance; however, my interactions with them floored me. Not in a bad way, but in a truly humanizing and positive light. In a time of total desperation and need, it was in fact the Southwest employee who offered the comforting hand on the shoulder. This is what good customer service is all about.

    The situation was that I had just spent two days in the hospital with my ailing family member after racing home to Southwest Colorado from my current residence in Kansas City. I did not want to leave, but with the advent of a new job, it was paramount I return to work. After the 3 hour marathon drive back to the Albuquerque airport, I was running incredibly late for my flight. At this point, I was exhausted, emotional, and extremely sad. My tears and puffy face were obvious to any onlooker, in spite of the large sunglasses I was refusing to take off. So here is what transpired:

    1. I was running late and only had about 30 minutes to get to my gate. I still needed to return the rental car after filling it up with gas. After talking with the rental company, they agreed to fill it up and not charge me the $9.00 gallon they normally would. This unmitigated kindness put me in a crying stupor…to defend myself, I was an emotional wreck anyway.
    2. When I got to the Southwest gate, the woman behind the counter, after seeing that I was emotional wreck, offered to personally take me to the gate. I was embarrassed at this point and said no, inadvertently leaving my transfer ticket at the counter.
    3. When I got to the gate, I finally sat down to try and collect my emotions and gather myself. Without my knowledge, the woman at the ticket counter had called up to the gate and told them to look for me. In spite of everyone already lined up to get on, the Southwest Boarder Employee found me in the waiting area, handed me my lost ticket and then offered me the first seat on the plane. I refused, still embarrassed of my demeanor, and explain that I was in the C line. He politely put his hand on my shoulder and said “You have had a bad day. I am here to make it better. Let’s get you on the plane”. With that he picked my luggage up and started walking down the tarmac. I had no choice but to follow him.
    4. When I got on the plane, they sat me down in the first seat up front. The stewardesses offered me all the water, free liquor, aspirin, and kind words I could want. The remaining part of the flight, the stewardess’s continued to check on me and made sure all was quite in the area so I could sleep. Once we landed, they even grabbed my baggage for me and had it waiting next to me so I could be the first one off the plane.
    5. When I arrived at my transfer airport, I had just enough time to get on a flight that would have put me in bed 1.5 hrs sooner. I ran to the gate to see if there was a seat. After giving her my tickets, the Southwest Gate woman explained that they had already received a call from Albuquerque and had been expecting me. I could not believe it. The kindness and over-the-top-customer service had followed itself to entirely different airport. The woman handed me my ticket, and made sure that I was in the A line so that I could find a good seat on a full flight.

    Amazing, right? In a day and age of bankrupt airlines and employee strikes, by just going a little out of their way, the Southwest employees made a terrible situation a little more bearable. From an economic perspective, I can only imagine this is from an overall positive corporate culture that radiates from the top down. Southwest’s positive customers service has created a lifelong repeat customer in me and anyone else I might know. Thank you Southwest. Thank you.

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  51. Ikaika P. says:

    When my first child started drinking regular milk, we had suspected that he was allergic because of some adverse reactions he was having. We decided to switch to soy milk. The refrigerated brand was too expensive to buy on a continual basis, so we looked into the boxed ones on the shelf. While standing in the aisle looking at different boxes of milk, one of the grocery store’s employees ( the ones who stock shelves) saw us and asked if we needed any help. We told him that we couldn’t decide which high milk to buy. Without missing a beat, he said “hold on” and left and returned with some paper cups. Right there on the spot, he asked us which ones we were considering. He opened the containers, poured us each a cup of milk and allowed us to taste it right there in the aisle. We bought the open container that we liked and he took the other one with him. From that day, that was our new grocery store where we did the majority of our shopping.

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  52. Jessica Durant says:

    Best-
    I worked for the retail store Anthropologie and now even when I no longer work there and…no longer get discounts I still go back. I had a woman practically give me one of the books in the store for free because I told her that I was wearing one of the pendants on my necklace and gave her the barcode to scan, I thought she’d be angry with me but she was clearly more than pleased. The book she gave me 75% off of was already on sale but at 10%. Being honest pays off, literally I guess.

    Worst-
    Yesterday actually my mother and I went to an Ann Taylor to return a suit she had gotten over the weekend at an Ann Taylor Factory Store. We figured we mind as well give it a shot. Immediately the woman behind the desk told us it could not be done and we’d have to go back to the Factory Outlet. Coming from someone who worked in retail you can at least express some sympathy to your tone, hers was as if I had called her a racial slur.

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  53. David Alday says:

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  54. v says:

    I had a really awful experience at a craft store one time. I was buying some remnants of fabric for a project. They’re supposed to be discounted, and the discount is written on the side of the wrapping. It’s usually like a 50% discount.

    At the cash register, it was obvious that the girl wasn’t understanding how to ring up the purchases. She charged me the full price and sometimes rang the items up twice. Long story short, I finally swiped my credit card on what I felt was too high of a purchase price, and the cashier said, “Uh… it didn’t go through. Can you swipe it again?”

    I had seen the “accepted transaction” sign flash across the screen. I said, “No, I don’t think I’m going to swipe my card again.” We argued. She called the manager over. The manager said, “Well, we won’t know for sure until the end of the day. You’ll just have to come back to get your stuff.”

    Granted, this was for $20 worth of fabric. They could have given it to me and made me love them for life.

    I called my credit card company and found out that, yes, the transaction had gone through. I went back to the store the next day to pick up my stuff, and they still argued with me about whether or not I had paid. No coupons. No “thanks for driving all the way back here.”

    Unfortunately, I still shop at this store. They’re the best option in my area for fabric. But, I have new rules related to my purchases there. 1) I ALWAYS use cash. 2) I ALWAYS watch them like a hawk while they ring me up.

    Since then I’ve caught the cashiers double-counting several of my items. I’m guessing maybe it’s corporate policy to screw the customers.

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  55. David Alday says:

    Sorry for the repost; my last one got cut off.

    Worse Retail Experience:

    One night I was driving home from work after midnight. I stopped at a Marathon station to get some gas. After filling up my motorcycle, I broke my key off in the ignition. Being after midnight, I couldn’t get in contact with a locksmith or a tow-company.

    I went into the station and asked the clerk if I could leave my bike until the morning, when I would have a locksmith and/or a tow truck come take care of it. Not only did he say yes, he actually gave me written permission which I attached to the seat of my bike with transparent tape.

    When I returned in the morning with a locksmith, my bike was gone. I asked the clerk (a different one than the night before) what happened to my bike. “The police took it away,” the clerk replied.

    Strange, but I took his word for it. I called the police (non-emergency) and asked what happened. They informed me they hadn’t taken my bike, had no record of it’s location, and would I like to file a theft report? I told them I’d check again with the station and give them a call back.

    Returning to the Marathon station, I spoke with a different clerk who told me the owner ad towed my bike. I asked to speak with the owner and was told that that was impossible under any circumstances. I asked to leave him a note; impossible.

    So I called Marathon corporate offices and explained my situation. The gentleman on the phone was extremely friendly and superbly unhelpful. He did, however, manage to put me in contact with the owner.

    I explained the whole situation to the owner – the broken key, the written permission, the lie about the police, etc. – and my desired solution – return my bike, or compensate me for the cost of getting my bike out of impound ($217 excluding a taxi to the location and lost wages from having to take a day off work to get it, which I would have covered myself).

    His response? “I don’t care what he told you. I’m not responsible for the actions of my employees. He’s a fucking stoner who works here one day a week. I’m running a gas station, not a parking lot.”

    I replied, keeping my cool, “So, what is your proposed response to the situation?”

    “I’ll tell you when [employee name] works if you want to take it up with him. Otherwise, it’s not my fucking problem.”

    Then he hung up on me.

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  56. Nia Cortes says:

    I’m Mexican and I live two hours from the border with Texas, and I regularly go shopping there at least 3 times a year. I’ve heard and read a lot of bad comments about customer service in Best Buy, but the truth is that in Mexico, or at least in my city, it has a very good reputation. Probably because in my country there is not a culture of customer service, companies believe We don’t have a choice and sadly, we don’t complaint enough. I talk about Best Buy because my sister bought some years ago a TI calculator, that stopped working a week later, we had to come back and they changed it for a new one, even though it had stickers on it and without the original package. In Mexico that would have never happened.

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  57. Mark Dibble says:

    My worst retail experience which is actually quite common: I enter a busy store. The staff are helping other customers and there is clearly going to be a long wait to get attention or check out. Instead of making eye contact or informing patrons that there is a wait and they appreciate their patience, the staff ignore me. So easy to do the right thing and be courteous.

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  58. Melanie says:

    Just heard the shout-out for Best/Worst Retail Etiquette Experience and I am obliged by my own vow to tell you of what happened to me when I was at the Winking Judge Pub in Vancouver, Canada.

    I live in Vancouver, and I had a close friend in town for a couple days in the summer. We had tickets to go see a movie one evening, and after touring around the city with an hour or so before our show, we decided to get a meal and maybe something to drink. The Winking Judge Pub was (and sadly still is) across the street from the cinema, and having never been there before, thought it would be good to go and check it out. There was a metalwork piece on the front doorway that claimed the WJP to be the home of some of the most delicious and famous fish ‘n’ chips around.

    Friend and I got in and found ourselves a table. The pub wasn’t particularly busy, and our server was quick to find us some beer and confirm that the fish ‘n’ chips was, in fact, delicious. We ordered a plate the share, and IMMEDIATELY and without any hesitation to comment, found that the plate was awful. The fish was overcooked, tasted like something scrounged out of the bottom of a freezer, and had a faint waxy aftertaste. We put down our forks, and enjoyed the beer until the server came back.

    When the server came back after a few minutes to check on how “those first few bites are tasting,” I politely told her that it was very bad (having been in customer service for many years, knowing not to blame her). Her response was the worst experience I’ve had in retail etiquette, which was to tell my friend and I that the reason the fish was bad was probably our inexperience with good fish. We were shocked and sarcastically told her that, yeah, this was our first go at fish ‘n’ chips, and apologized.

    We left her with eleven pennies for her tip, after asking for change so we could find a nice vending machine. Ever since, I have always vowed to share this tale with anyone who asks about waiting tables, bad experiences, or how good fish is.

    Thanks!

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  59. Kelly Bush says:

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  60. sao says:

    Last summer we bought a new house and signed up for phone and internet service with Fairpoint Communications. The saga was endless. It took over a month to get service and two weeks of daily phone calls. Since they hadn’t got around to processing the former owner’s disconnection, the first problem is that they could connect us because there was a live line! Then we went to the back of the queue of work orders, so there was a two week wait. Next, something needed to be fixed (Why, if the phone line worked for the former owner?). Then the workmen checked off the box as fixed, and no one tested to see if my phone worked. When I called to complain, they treated this as a new complaint and wanted me to go back in the two week wait. When I said forget it, they had to get a manager to call me back.

    Internet connection was worse. Longer waits, more incompetence.

    When I finally, a month and a half, twice daily phone calls and polite threats from me, we got everything working, they started calling to offer us cable TV! I said, no way in hell. If I need cable, I’ll get it from anyone but you.

    When we shared our Fairpoint horror stories, plenty of people had similar experiences.

    That being said, while I don’t like surly service, I don’t get much benefit from a rote, programmed “thank you, have a nice day” and don’t expect employees saying it all day to sound enthused at saying it to one more stranger.

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  61. Josh B says:

    If you thank a Chik-fil-a employee, they will not say “you’re welcome.” What they say instead is, “my pleasure.” I love this. It sounds incredibly polite. I can safely say that I’ve chosen Chik-fil-a over competitors simply because that phrase is so charming. I’ve worked in retail management and I know how scripted customer interactions can be. I usually cannot stand them. This one is different and I think it’s because it’s just an attempt to showcase good manners. It doesn’t matter to me that this particular response is required by management. Isn’t that how we all learn to be polite as children? Parents tend to pass manners down by requiring kids to use certain responses. This isn’t much different.

    So in case you were wondering, Chik-fil-a, I can report to you that your bottom line has been helped by the decision to switch “your welcome” to “my pleasure.”

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  62. James Smith says:

    Car salesman in a cowboy hat asked: “You just here to look or here to buy?” I replied: “Here to buy, but not from you. I found another salesperson. There was some fuss because they had a rotation deal going but I told them I would go elsewhere if I had to deal with cowboy. Cowboy sulked while I bought a car.

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  63. Beth says:

    REI is an awesome company. Their customer service is definitely top notch. You can return anything you purchase there and get a replacement for free. Some people take too much advantage of this (I have seen someone returning a pair of shoes that were noticeably worn out, probably at least 5 years old, and very dirty…they were treated pleasantly and he was helped as he was searching for his replacement). I am sure it is because it is another one of those companies that are built on the co-op policy. The employees and customers all hold part of the company, and whatever profit the company makes at the end of the year, the customer gets a portion (I think based on how much you spent there over the year, but I am not sure). The employees and customer service are probably some of the best I have experienced!

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  64. Eric M. Jones. says:

    There is Cognitive Therapy, Behavioral Sciences, Transactional Analysis and the (now ignored) Neuro Linguistic Programming, and maybe even plain schooling in politeness and salesmanship…but they all teach the same thing regarding customer service: Politeness matters.

    N.L.P. especially teaches that words have magic in them. And there are rules…lots of rules. :”RULE: Use a person’s name to start a conversation and at the end. But NEVER between these two points or the person will think they are being conned.”. “RULE: To crush your opponent, just use the powerful word ‘OBNOXIOUS’ “.

    I want to thank Club Med for many pleasant vacation experiences (this might not qualify as retail experience). I once noticed that the word “No” was NEVER said by any of the staff. Now that is remarkable! I’ve tried to implement this rule in my life. But I should have learned this in kindergarten.

    Additional Good Experience: I once pulled into a gas station in Big Bear, California. Four men in neat uniforms and caps (!) appeared. One asked me to release the hood and he checked (and topped off) the fluids. One man filled the gas tank, one man washed all the windows, and one man checked and adjusted the air in the tires. I suspected this was not the usual routine, and to this day I have no idea what was going on.

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  65. KathyinMN says:

    I’ll give you a good story, but before I do, I’d have to add almost all my good retail store stories happen at one store: Nordstrom’s. Shopping for makeup-my brand has been discontinued, need to find a new brand and that means a new shade. Employee tries a couple on me-shows me them, then says, you’ll probably want to see what these look like in the daylight, not just under the store lights. Takes the samples, puts them in little sample jars for me, and sends me on my way. Tells me to return in a week and buy the one I like. And yes, I returned the following week and purchased it, because anyone who would do all of that for a customer gets my business.

    It seems to me, that Nordstrom’s is doing something really, really right. Their stores are always neat and clean, their employees know their product, and the sales staff is helpful, but not pushy. (To contrast this, Macy’s always look like a shopping bomb went off (everything messed up and off the shelves) and I can never find an associate there to help.) The last time I was in Nordstrom’s looking for a scarf, the associate who helped me knew which departments had scarves and walked me around to show me the displays in various departments. Saved me time, trouble and was exceptional service.

    Two other exceptional customer service places? ING Direct and Zappos. Hands down, love them both, which more on-line stores/services operated like those two.

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  66. Imad Qureshi says:

    I have two stories

    Starbucks once accidentally charged me extra five bucks for something. I didn’t notice until I checked my account online because I never take receipts. I emailed Starbucks customer service but before their reply, on my next trip to the same store, I told the Barista. She figured what happened (they had charged me for an extra Venti on top of my tall cup). She returned my money and also didn’t charged me for the drink I ordered. That was two free drinks. Starbucks later apologized in reply to my email and offered to resolve but I told them that the matter has been resolved.

    I purchased a suitcase from Zappos for $205. Two months later, it dropped in price to $140. I asked the live chat customer service agent to refund the difference. She said she’ll give me the difference because I have asked it for the first time (I am a regular Zappos customer) but their price match is only for 10 days. I reminded her that by virtue of their 365 days return policy they are effectively offering a 365 day price match also. When she disagreed, I told her that if you don’t refund the difference in future in a similar scenario then I will simply reorder the product and return it with older receipt. And since Zappos provides free two way shipping, not only that I will get my money, but Zappos will have to pick up the additional shipping tab.

    I love both Starbucks and Zappos.

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  67. Daniel Stairs says:

    Ok this is a combination of both a terrible retail experience and an incredibly positive one. My Mother, brother, Father and myself were on holiday in Malaysia and New Zealand. We’d booked with a travel agent a year in advance and now we were on the holiday and were going to Kuala Lumpur airport to catch our flight on to New Zealand.
    We arrive and go up to the check in desk and my father starts to check in when the attendant tells us our flight left…. YESTERDAY!!! Needless to say we thought we’d entered the twilight zone, the attendant then informed us that the airline had reduced the service from everyday to every 2nd day over 6 MONTHS PREVIOUSLY. The travel agent had been notified and then didn’t bother to change the booking for us. So there we were stranded in Kuala Lumpur, no hotel, no flight and all our bags with us….. Thankfully that was the end of the negative.
    My dad then explained the situation to the attendant and told him we had been booked on a flight but had not traveled. The attendant then told us to go and get a coffee or a drink and that he’d look into the situation. 20 minutes later…. the attendant came over to us with a folder in his arms. He handed my dad the folder and told us that in it were 4 tickets for tomorrow’s flight. We all breathed a sigh of relief…. but then a thought came in to our minds were where we going to stay. Then he lifted the tickets and showed us a piece of paper with a booking confirmed for the 5* airport hotel. Needless to say my mom could have called the Vatican to have him canonized.
    It was a fantastic holiday… and I hope this story can find it’s way into your fantastic podcast. Daniel.

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  68. The Dandler says:

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  69. Elena Charles says:

    I loathe grocery shopping. But, I somehow manage to get in and out of the grocery store in less than 15 minutes each week. I have everything down to a science. I guess my attitude shows in my demeanor as I get to the checkout line because the cashiers never greet me. So, I make it a game to see if I can get through the line without any exchange between myself and the cashier. It is sad to say that the teenagers who are cashiers can manage to not say one word to me as I check out. They are able to talk to their peers at the grocery store, but they cannot find a way to say something nice to the person who is buying merchandise–and ultimately paying their wages. Not even a thank you or have a nice day is mumbled from their mouths. The older, more seasoned cashiers have a way of making you talk to them, but it is apparent that nobody has spent time teaching the teenagers how to communicate. We need to seriously look at this epidemic because our young do not have the ability to communicate with anyone.

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  70. Charles A. says:

    As a teenager I worked as a cashier at Target and we were told to ask every customer whether they’d be interested in a Target credit card (though they had some euphemistic name for it), no matter how small their purchase. This seemed absurd, so of course I never mentioned it to any customer, and I was actually thanked a few times for not bringing it up by customers who were sick of having the card pushed on them.

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  71. AESCO says:

    A few years back, I worked for JPMorgan Chase. I would occasionally have an idea that was much larger than the small department in which I worked. Not knowing where else to send it–and not wanting it to go into that purgatory that so many good ideas inhabit–I sent them directly to the Jamie Dimon, the CEO. That was at least seven levels above me!

    HE RESPONDED EVERY TIME.

    I was a nobody…and yet he took the time to respond to my ideas. If nothing else, he passed them on to the appropriate executives. In retrospect, I’m sure that some (I hope not all!) of my ideas were too grandiose and bold to ever win approval, but I was made to feel like my ideas really mattered.

    Now for the WORST (although this won’t hold up to most of the other experiences here). Some years back, my wife would buy me those “lunchables” that had crackers, cheese, ham, etc. I really enjoyed them, but once again I had an idea.

    I though how wonderful it would be if the makers included a TOOTHPICK so that you didn’t have to use your hands to pull apart the slices of ham and cheese. I took time to send it to them via e-mail. I didn’t want anything; I just wanted them to consider doing it.

    Sadly, a few days later (this is probaby worse than actually being ignored–or maybe not), I get an e-mail that summarily advised that their company does not take any ideas from those outside the company, and that, thus, my ideas could not be considered.

    Yeah, I understood there was likely some legal-sissification going on, but I couldn’t believe they took the time to tell me that. I mean, wouldn’t it have been just as well to say, “Thank you for your idea. We appreciate you taking the time to write”?

    And so I never bought another one from them.

    Fortunately, every time I’m about to give up on such things and feel nearly invisible, someone like Jamie Dimon takes 30 seconds to respond and make my day.

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  72. Josh B says:

    The “Thank You” Machines

    The school I work for has cash registers that play a recorded voice saying “thank you” every time the drawer closes. I know this isn’t really retail but it always struck me as odd that this feature needs to exist on any cash register. How strange that retail supply vendors have taken measures to include labor saving device that save workers the troubke of having to say “thank you” with their mouths.

    It turns out that the thank you machines aren’t needed after all because the lunch lady at school says it herself–creating a kind of echo effect.

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  73. Emily says:

    A few days ago, I went into Pret to get some breakfast. Several employees greeted me in a genuine way as I browsed. (I normally find greetings at a place disingenuous but somehow these were like colleagues saying “Good Morning.”) Then the cashier who rang me up may have been the friendliest customer service person I have ever encountered. He also let me know that the mocha he was about to make for me was the first he’d ever made in his month in working at the store. He was human. Everyone was both human and pleasant. When I got upstairs to eat, I noticed a manager having a meeting with a higher up manager. I heard them discussing their teams of employees, name by name, human by human. It sounded like they had genuine interest in them. I thought, “Either everyone is being super nice today because the boss is here, or this attention to looking after the actual people who make this place go is creating a pleasant environment for everyone to work.” I don’t know which it was, but it’s stuck with me – because I’ve never had this experience in a corporate place before, usually any friendliness seems forced.

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  74. Delphine says:

    Another Best Buy: ten years ago, we bought a dorm fridge there. As we exited, we were unsure whether the guy stationed at the door was supposed to check our receipt or not, so we attempted to make eye contact, but he was on his headset phone (work phone, not a personal call) and wouldn’t look our way. However, as we wheeled it past him, he snapped his fingers and pointed downwards, the way you’d tell a dog to sit, all without pausing his phone conversation. He checked our receipt and allowed us to exit. I really wanted to go return the thing right then, but it was a birthday gift, so instead I called from the parking lot and was told the manager was unavailable. Wrote a long letter to corporate headquarters, no response. I realize they had this kid doing three jobs—greeter, phone answerer, and thief checker—but the snapping was just inexcusable. We pretty much quit going to Best Buy, and I’m another who’s delighted to see them having financial problems.

    But I have a good Subway story. Also years ago, I visited a shop at non-peak time but for some reason there were maybe a half dozen people in line and only one girl working the counter. She moved with incredible speed and economy of motion to make everybody’s sandwiches, all the while responding politely and cheerfully to every customer, some of whom were irritable and not very polite themselves. So I made it a point to call their office the next day and commend her. The guy who owned the handful of local franchises happened to answer the phone. I made my little speech and he said he had some kind of incentive award program, and that as a result of my call he would be giving that employee a hundred dollar bonus. So, that was nice.

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  75. Alyson says:

    I have many good/ bad retail experiences as both customer and salesperson, so I would rather mention retail behavior that I have noticed throughout my life. I grew up in Columbus, Ohio, as a member of the sizable African American population. There is very little African American retail in Columbus compared to other cities such as Detroit, Cleveland or Atlanta. When my parents were children in the 1950s-1960s, there was booming black retail in Columbus, which ended after the achievements of the Civil Rights Movement. My mother described it as other retailers opened their doors to black people, who never looked back to black business. I do not believe this was a racial issue, per se.
    The black business that remains in Columbus usually lacks customer service. As I have traveled to other places that have large black populations that have yet to truly integrate into mainstream America, I have noticed the lack of customer service across the board. I think that African American business owners never had to enforce good customer service because often they lacked competition and their customer base was always guaranteed as many black people could not (or chose not to) shop at more competitive mainstream retailers. Why improve your business if your customer base is already confirmed and they do not expect anything more from you? Unfortunately, this came as a detriment to black businesses in places in Columbus that integrated easier. People just want service with a smile in the end.

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  76. Stephanie Weber says:

    Long time listener, first time emailer. I have tales from both sides of the counter. I worked retail for a number of years, in fact, I believe that working retail should be like military service, a mandatory 2 years would do everyone good. Working retail, especially quick service food, I have been called every name in the book and done my share of messing with customers. “I want a regular drink.” “Super deluxe diet coke it is.” I looked at every first interaction as an opportunity to gain a long time customer for the business. I enjoyed educating customers about products and trying to make their day via their interaction with me. As a customer, however, my worst experience was this passed holiday season. It all began when I order gifts for my boyfriend and mother from Amazon. The gifts were shipped. Being the tech saavy person that I am, I have an app that alerts me to when my shipment has arrived. At the time I held a post office box where I received my mail. I was told my package had arrived on a Saturday. I checked my PO box and nothing was there. I gave it a couple days to process. Still nothing. I waited in the lengthy line, 20 minutes perhaps, and inquired about my package giving the man behind the counter my tracking number. He said it wasn’t there. I was getting nervous. I was about to head home to visit family in Michigan. So the next day I checked again and still nothing. I waited again in the 20 minute line. The people at the post office checked. They returned to the counter with a package not matching the tracking number I had given them and insisted that was what I was looking for and I must have SHOVED it out of my PO box. They made it sound as if I had done this violently and maliciously. After double checking the tracking number I called the person back over to let them know it didn’t match. The woman sighed, rolled her eyes, and disappeared for 20 MORE minutes. Finally a man came up and said my package was definitely there but lost. He didn’t want me to wait so I left my number and he said he’d call before 5pm. Later, 4:30 rolled around, no call. I called the post office and a woman said the man I’d spoken to went out for something and never returned but she would CERTAINLY call me back before 7. I waited and waited, 6pm came and went. No call. I called them around 6:30 and there was no answer. I was to leave the next morning and needed my package. So I went to the post office where the counter was closed but I knocked on the Emerald Palace like door for 5 or so minutes until someone said they would have to get the manager to open the door. The manager came and after looking for 5 minutes said my package was most likely stolen and oh well. I called Amazon the next day to ask about getting my products replaced and sent to the proper people and she assured me it was on my way and I would receive a confirmation email. I didn’t receive one. I called back the next day and the man told me there was no record of my call but he would take care of my problem. He refused to mail my packages to separate places until I very sternly explained through tears what my situation was. While my mom’s DVDs were getting shipped, the camera I had ordered for my boyfriend was now out of stock. He gave me the most scripted apology and said, “You’ll be happy to know I can refund your money.” I was appalled. He said it as though it was a gift to me that I was getting MY money back. In lieu of the camera I decided to order my boyfriend a lemon meringue pie from my favorite pie shop. I called ahead and she assured me they would have lemon meringue on Friday before I went to the airport. Upon arriving on Friday, she said they had no lemon meringue because they had been slow they decided not to make any. I was reduced to tears. Over the last year, I have had more terrible experiences with the customer service at businesses. My theory is that the cutbacks in employee pay has led to lax standards in customer service. Many places I feel as though people just don’t care anymore. I would love to know if there’s any credence to that. I look forward to hearing this podcast.

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  77. Jay says:

    Generally, when I have frequented a place, the attitude of employees changes. I feel like I end up becoming a “regular” who has an identity there, rather than just another customer.
    Usually I do pick my places to frequent based on the gratitude and courtesy with which I am treated there. But after going to someplace for while, I don’t even need to hear “thank you”s – I know the people, we have banter, they are used to my level of required service, they can “read” me well. And for THAT, I tip well.
    On the ridiculous etiquette line: I recently went to a Chik-Fil-A. I ended up ordering several things in small batches – first nuggets, then fries, then ice cream – leading to many interactions at the counter. After so many visits to the counter, I developed a rapport with the cashier. However, he always ended every interaction with “My Pleasure”.
    After you and a server are on a familiar basis, forced phrases like that actually seem stilted and alienating, not gracious. I feel like a “see you later” or something similar starts becoming more appropriate than an expression of gratitude.

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  78. Gerhard says:

    In a retail store, I don’t like to be called by my first name – I’m not anyone’s buddy. Also, if I need someone for information, I will look for them (and I expect to find them within about a minute or less).
    In that respect, the worst recent experience is the creepy way sales personnel at Raymour & Flanigan behaves. Even if you tell them that you want to browse and that you will call on someone if and when you need them, they shadow you at distance of 10-15 feet, close enough that they actually listen in to the chat you may have with whoever accompanies you. I choose to spend my money elsewhere.

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  79. Lassie says:

    I bought a new Subaru Forrester last year and have no complaints. Maybe the car was too ‘good’ for me, lol, maybe they thought I was a typical rich yuppie who expected nothing but the best, but I was treated like a friggin’ QUEEN by the dealership. ( I had to take it in for minor cosmetic matter, and the waiting area was mind-boggling – big screen TV, comfy leather couches, coffee, tea, and snacks! all in a bright and clean area. (My old mechanic? Small filthy waiting room with ancient tube TV, hard plastic chairs, and if you wanted coffee or to use the bathroom you’d have to walk next door to the gas station and ask Aziz for the key to the toilet and pay him $1.50 for a cup of coffee, LOL!) I have to say it was an easy and painless transaction to buy that Subaru, which (though expensive) has performed magnificently from day one. I was curious to see how it handled in the snow, but snow never came last year.

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  80. Mirco says:

    I will never forget my best retail experience. When i was much younger i was an exchange student in the US (near Pittsburgh) and i went to what i think was a Wallmart to get a bulb exchanged on my Maglite (a small torch) and the guy in the shop was super-helpful. He took a working bulb out of a new set and gave it to me. He then put my broken bulb into the brand-new set, tried it and said: “Seems like this is not working, i guess i will have to send it back to get it exchanged”.

    While i know that this is not necessarily the right way of doing things, to this day I hold a positive attitude towards Wallmart and the US retail experience due to this episode.

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  81. Tally says:

    At Sam’s Club in Chesterfield, MO I note that while everyone is extremely polite to the customers, supervisors to the cashiers are so rude to their subordinates that the customers end up with a bad taste in their mouth anyhow!

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  82. Jannie says:

    I once received a letter from Target telling me that I had returned too many purchases in too short a period of time. I was on suspension and I would not be allowed to return any purchases for 3 months.

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  83. Margaret says:

    Hi guys,

    I am a regular listener of the podcast and have read the books etc… Looking forward to the retail episode, as this is my primary industry as well. Many retailers believe that the only way to compete with online shopping accessibility is through customer service….but there is such a thing as too much customer service.

    I was in a small pharmacy recently and felt completely overwhelmed and assaulted by the number of staff asking me if they could help me. My first stop in the store was the pain killers aisle (Tylenol, Advil, etc…) and I was reading the ingredients to compare private label vs branded options to decide what I wanted. A staff member comes up and asks “Can I help you?” to which I replied “No thanks, I’m fine.”
    Then I moved one aisle over to the dental care and was looking at the toothpaste. A different employee came up to me and asked “Can I help you?” to which I again replied “No thanks” because I know how to use the toothpaste and just want to look at my options.
    Then I go to the feminine care aisle and a third employee, a guy nonetheless, comes up to me. “Can I help you?” Seriously, no, I do NOT need help with this purchase.
    This is not a large CVS-type store. This is just a pharmacy of about 50-100 square feet who are clearly trying to compete with the big guys on customer service. However I was shocked and annoyed by the ratio of staff to customers and the constant feeling I was being watched and monitored by all these people who somehow couldn’t hear eachother or me from one aisle to the next.
    It is important to have people available to answer questions and provide customer service when required by the customer, but as in any service industry there needs to be one clear point of contact and employees need to be aware of who “owns the relationship.”
    As a note, another time in the same pharmacy the same guy who asked if I need help in the feminine products aisle was filling my birth control prescription and then walked me to the cash register. On our 10 second walk (max – because as I mentioned it’s not a big pharmacy and I wasn’t going to get lost) he asked “how’s this prescription been working for you? everything going well?” Can you say privacy invasion?! Leave me alone!
    I now steer clear of this pharmacy at all costs (even though it is the most convenient for my work) simply because I know I’m going to get harrassed – which is not what I want when shopping for my personal hygiene and health products.

    Thanks!
    M

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  84. tdr says:

    I once went clothing shopping at Sears. Not exactly a high-end boutique, but their clothes are practical. There was a young man working in women’s clothing and he was amazing! Normally I don’t like to be “bothered” by sales people, but he came over and started suggesting outfits to me. Then he started ferrying clothes back and forth to the dressing room for me to try. He offered his opinion on clothes I tried and it was clear he had a better sense of style than I do (not hard). I really appreciated his input and the time he took. I figure he was interested in the fashion industry in general and took a job at Sears because he wanted experience. Obviously he made the best of his time there and turned me into a loyal Sears shopper.

    Probably needless to say — we thanked each other at the cash register.

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  85. Rishi B says:

    I used to work at Banana Republic, where every employee is expected to make a certain level of sales. As this was my first retail experience, I was not used to how competitive it got between employees to make their expected sales level.

    One time a customer came up to me to ask about a shirt and one of my coworkers immediately swooped in and cut me off. As immediately as my coworker swooped in, he just left the customer when it became clear the customer was not going to buy the shirt. It was kind of awkward after that, but I resumed my conversation with the customer and she ended up buying another shirt! Go me. Thank Goodness I don’t work retail anymore

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  86. Claudia Badger says:

    I was in Boston with three friends of mine, we were coming back from a trip to Cap Cod and wanted to have lunch before going back to Montreal. We stopped randomly at a restaurant and had a seat. At our big surprise, the waiter threw the menus at us and told us to make it fast. We didn’t quite understand at first but as the insulting service kept on, we realized it was a theme. It all got confirmed when the waiter tied helium balloons in the hair of our neighbours with small sentences like ‘When I laugh, I pee a little’. It was satirical mistreating, but still, we didn’t get a smile from our waiter. I don’t know if people go there while knowing the concept or it’s just tourists like us, passing by and having no clue. We had a real good time and still remember it all as a very marking experience and I would not have thought so before.

    http://www.dickslastresort.com/
    http://www.eddebevics.com/flash.html

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  87. kristen says:

    I am originally a Midwesterner. I didn’t realize people in retail could be anything but nice and helpful until I moved to the East coast of the US. Once here, I realized that the tasks of being nice to customers has largely been moved from a duty for all employees to one assigned solely to the greeter at the front of the store. I think the most egregious case of poor customer service happened when I made it through the entire check out transaction and not a single word was said to me. My cashier was so busy talking to another cashier to even tell me my total. I was so glad to move to a different neighborhood with stores with moderately better customer service. I have been told I was wrong by store owners (even when lower sales associates quietly tried to correct the boss, who was, in fact, wrong), ignored, and demanded to leave the establishment at the whim of the owner. In the age of the internet, consistent poor customer service reviews on review websites are making it easier for consumers to talk with their wallets and go where their business is appreciated.

    Sadly, now, when I see even moderate customer service (a bus driver who acknowledges passengers, a stock person who inquires about my ability to find everything, a cashier who didn’t seem pained by the inconvenience of having to ring up my purchases) I make sure to tell a manager and the internet. I’ve probably done it twice a year since moving to the East coast ten years ago. Sad.

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  88. Dan says:

    In 1987 my parents took me to the Lower East Side to shop for a tallit for my bar mitzvah. While there we stopped at Katz’s Delicatessen for lunch. Twenty five years later, as I think about bad customer service experiences, that visit is still the first thing that comes to mind. My mother was quite amused by a “Send a salami to your boy in the army” sign, but a witty sign is not the sole requirement for a pleasant dining experience. The men working there seemed content to ignore the customers. After my father finally got the attention of one of them, he demanded a tip prior to taking our order. “You help me and I’ll help you.” It took longer than seemed necessary to fill our order. After our food arrived we found we had not all received exactly what we ordered, and the sandwiches seemed clumsily assembled.

    That was my first visit to Katz’s. I do not expect there will ever be a second. If asked to recommend a good place to get a pastrami sandwich I often suggest the Carnegie Deli, but never Katz’s. If Katz’s comes up in conversation, as is often the case while discussing When Harry Met Sally, I am quick to caution against ever eating there.

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  89. Joyce DeWitt says:

    Two of my best experiences lately were with online orders. First, I ordered something from Zulily, and the order was sent and confirmed. However, they were unable to fulfill the order due to selling out of it. When they informed me that it was sold out, they also gave me a $15 credit to buy something else. Gracious, indeed! I quickly found something and it happened to be on a free shipping day, so I had a double treat. The second incident was Magnum Enterprises, in South Dakota. They make and sell automatic wooden rubber band rifles, pistols, etc. These rubber band guns have gears and the kid can load up to twelve great big bands. I purchased one for my nephew for his birthday, and they promised it would be there on or before his birthday. Because they were unable to fulfill that promise and the gun was delivered a day after his birthday, they sent me another gun. That one I gave to my grandson. I’m so impressed with both of these companies that I’ll definitely stay loyal.

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  90. carol mccague says:

    2 similar experiences at two different targets after very large bulky purchases . I have two carts full of everything necessary to outfit a studio apartment, one in Boston, one in Baltimore, moving college kids in. Hundreds of dollars in both cases. I get through the checkout, waiting for my son to pull up in the car and load up, and was immediately hassled – and quite fiercely hassled – by a woman whose job it was to get me out of that spot, I guess.

    The Boston woman was the worse of the to but they both were perhaps outplaced drill sergeants. No offer to help, no suggestion as to where I could go with my two loaded carts, just get the heck out of there. “It’s Target policy” they said, and it must be, because it happened the same way both places. It was quite unbelievable. I filled out complaint cards in both instances.

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  91. Sarah says:

    I knit, and most of my yarn comes from small boutique shops. I went into one that has a reputation for being less-than-friendly: nothing is priced and the staff acts put-upon when you ask the cost. Because there are loads of variables involved with buying yarn, cost can impact whether or not you use that material for that project (it can easily result in a $40 pair of socks or a $200 sweater). Anyway, I was at the counter checking out and I asked the price of a yarn I was unfamiliar with, she looked it up and told me the price – then said she shared that it “seemed low,” so she proceeded to spend the next 10 minutes looking up her competitors’ prices online. I left without buying anything and resolved never to go back (I now frequent a much kinder, gentler yarn shop where everything is priced). The best adage I ever heard is this: People rarely remember what the problem was, but they always remember how they were treated. Making someone wait so you can charge them more = poor treatment.

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  92. Roline says:

    There’s a cultural component here. As BV mentioned, British customers don’t expect to be told the name of the person serving them, and nor do we like being asked our name. We do not consider it any if your business.

    Unfortunately, big US chains, Starbucks being an example, don’t always appreciate this, and require their hapless UK staff to address customers in the same way as US staff do, leading to a barrage of sarcasm and spending all day writing the name ‘Darth Vader’ on cups. Anyone British could tell you that this sort of thing is a bad idea here, but head office in America hath spoken, and that’s all there is to it.

    (I must confess to never going in Starbucks myself. I got food poisoning there once, and it rather put me off.)

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  93. Dennis Hermanson says:

    My wife and I rented a car for a 50th Wedding Anniversary, so you can assume we are so-called Seniors. The agent, in a small-town sateltite office to a major Airport, not only took the time to show us how the new Hyundai Elantra features worked, but offered us a quick overview of the USB port, Sirius-XM Radio station rundown, and air conditioning options to get us started.
    I said, “We’re both driving old cars, this trip is another way to really see which compact we want to think about…”
    “Very smart idea, folks, and thanks for letting us be your new-car road-test rental company of choice.”

    That’s service, and sincere good will that will keep us coming back to Enterprise again for trip rentals. We’ll get a car that we know we like driving sometime in the next few years.

    Additionally, I think it’s essential to your question to distinguish service into “momentary, short-term, or long-term service.” The people and industries in each are very different, and have widely divergent goals.

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  94. Jean Reece says:

    This is a story of a positive customer experience at a Wegmans supermarket in Pittsford, NY. It was a few days before Christmas and my sister and I were shopping in this extremely bustling store, just browsing around in the seafood section. An employee approached us to ask if we needed any help – (in a grocery store!!?) Not wanting to pass up this most unusual opportunity, I told him we were wondering what would go with the coconut shrimp we had just picked up. He suggested a mango chutney and proceeded to take us to where we could find it. Upon discovering that that they were sold out of fresh mango chutney, he whips out a cell phone and within seconds had located a jar of the stuff, and had dispatched another employee to bring it to us. My sister and I were so astonished we were barely able to mutter a thank you.
    Wegmans has been repeatedly rated as the best grocery store chain in the country by Consumer Reports. This business was started in Rochester, NY in 1918 by a man selling lettuce off the back of a truck. Despite its wild success (their business plan is controlled growth), it is still a family run business and enjoys an untarnished reputation, investing heavily on our community as George Eastman did once as Kodak prospered (RIP). Its a perfect example of how good corporate citizenship can be a win-win for the company, it’s customers, and the communities in which it does business, ( I guess that’s a win-win-win.). Here’s an example of how Wegmans makes this work: their work-for-scholarship program. Wegmans grants a $1000 college scholarship to any high school grad who works an average of 10 hours a week for 1 year. Not only does this encourage fickle teens to stick around, and boost Wegmans reputation as a teen benefactor, but it also reduces the hiring and training costs of these workers to such a degree that it actually benefits Wegmans’ bottom line.

    Robert Wegman was thoroughly rooted in and comitted to this community, as was George Eastman (and currently Tom Golisano). The more their businesses succeeded, the more they invested in the community. Hospitals, schools, parks, theaters, sports venues – their mark is everywhere. Global corporations are beholden to no one but the stockholders, and who will ever be inspired to build anything for a stockholder? And where would they build?

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  95. Josh says:

    A bass amplifier that I purchased on Ebay was described by the seller as “like brand new,” with several pictures showing a bass amp in mint condition. I received an amplifier with several dents and scratches, two missing knobs, and a terrible sounding buzz. I contacted the seller and requested a refund; the seller denied my request. I posted negative comments about the seller on Ebay. The seller posted negative comments about me. Since then, I’ve had several sellers reject my bids because of that negative buyer feedback that I received.

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  96. Your Job Blows says:

    Website full of retail and work related stories: http://www.yourjobblows.com

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  97. Gavin Hudson says:

    My cousin from the UK got a job in a trendy bar in Berlin called “White Trash”. The management loved him as whilst he could speak German, it was cool to do most transactions in English (or the mix of German and English – Denglish). He was as polite as could be, but for some reason, got less tips than almost all the German staff.

    He couldn’t figure it out. One day he was really fed up. He’d been trying as hard as he could, but really nothing. Instead of the usual courtesies, the gracious please and thank-yous, he was more abrupt. Almost curt. What happened? His tips went through the roof! The German customers associated his normal English amount of politeness to be a combination of cloying over familiarity and, crucially for the Germans, inefficiency in service. Why use all the extra “Excuse me” and “Hi there!” when you can just say “What do you want?”. Sometimes he would see how rude he could be “Yeah, what do you want? OK”. Slam two beers down on the table and walk away to serve the next customer. Many of the time, these people were the best tippers! The ruder (in his eyes) he got, the better tips he got.

    It seems that to him, his (normal) English standard of an appropriate amount of use of polite words, was seen as grating to the Germans as the American “Hey, how are ya? What can I do for ya today? [crouches down next to table]. Have a nice day!” is to the English ear. I know it annoys the hell out of me!

    Similarly in Spain, I was told it was rude for me to keep saying thank you when my host would do something for me – as if what they were doing was unexpected and out of the ordinary. She told me she would let me know when it was expected. It’s incredibly frustrating getting poured another coffee around the table, and your eye contact in no uncertain terms (along with the smile) tells you that no, you certainly should not be saying thank you for this! Many laughs were had at my nearly bursting to blurt out “¡Graçias!” at some points!

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  98. Paige says:

    As an American who has lived overseas for almost ten years (in Japan, Italy, Jordan, Thailand and now South Africa), it’s always shocking going back to the US and doing shopping. I usually find myself initially put off the first few days I’m there with the intrusiveness of sales staff welcoming me to their store and asking me questions. Like Susie from the podcast, I find it irritating when the floor staff and cashiers are fake. But then a question will arise and I’ll find myself hesitating to ask because in South Africa, people will help but you will feel like you interrupted their day to get assistance, and since they don’t often know the answer, they’ll have to interrupt others to find it – but to their credit, they do come back with an answer. In California where I’m from, sales staff are happy to help and often provide additional information on products, or offer alternatives that often better meed my needs.

    Of course, nothing can compare to the customer service one receives while shopping in Japan, and I only regret that the language barrier prevented me from fulling taking advantage of the niceties when I was there. Having said that, I one day unknowingly was the first customer of the day at a major department store in Ginza (the Fifth Avenue of Tokyo) and was stunned and embarrassed to find the entirety of the retail staff in two lines along the main aisle bowing at me and welcoming me as I came in the door. I vowed newer to shop so early again!

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    • Paige says:

      Oh, and I should mention that when buying something in South Africa, the cashier rarely tells you the price. He or she will simply scan everything and then look at you for payment. It’s not a problem in grocery stores when you can see the display, but it is disconcerting in other situations. For example, I got two pints of oil for the car this morning and the attendant came to my car with the credit card machine, reached for the card and processed the transaction. I had to enter my PIN code, still wondering if I’d break a cultural standard by asking the total, and only found out the amount (which seemed correct) once the transaction had gone through and he gave me the receipt.

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  99. Oz says:

    I actually really hate it when the person behind the counter remembers my drink order/ food order. It makes me think I get the chicken milanese sandwich way too often. Which I suppose I do.

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  100. Tony Xerbes says:

    I worked at Sears in the 1970s and we had a large sign posted in the back room: “Doing a good job at Sears is like peeing in a dark suit….it gives you a warm feeling all over, but nobody notices!”

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  101. LudwigMiniVan says:

    My mom had a service call from Verizon while she was not home. On returning home, she smelled gas… called the gas company. It was discovered that the Verizon technician had nailed a piece of equipment directly to the gas line and punctured it. My mom tried to get some satisfaction from Verizon, but instead was handed off to an endless series of representatives. She had to explain to each one the situation until she became exhausted and gave up.

    I have my own Verizon stories too but they are not quite as fun.

    Verizon… now that’s great customer service.

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  102. Niall says:

    The Sad Case of Spoon vs Blade and the the Nice People at KithenAid.

    My girlfriend gave me a gift of a Kitchen Aid blender for Christmas. I loved the thing, not just for the countless smoothies and soups it made for me, but also for its ease of cleaning. Just add some water, a drop of dish soap, press ‘blend’ and the thing pretty much cleans itself.

    Now, what might happen if you were to add some water, some dish soap but somehow leave a spoon in there before pressing ‘Blend’? Well, we don’t need to consult your friends at Radiolab to disclose that the spoon is the eventually winner of this brief, loud and fatal battle.

    Anyway, as I loved the blender and it was a gift from my girlfriend, whom I love almost as much as my, okay, our blender, I decided I would call customer service and attempt to buy a replacement blade for the blender.

    I tried to speak clearly, enunciating so my mumbling Cork accent would have some hope of being understood by the very nice southern lady on the telephone. I told her I hoped she was indeed recording the call as I was about to entertain her with some impressively stupid behavior. I recounted the sad case of “Spoon vs Blade” and I asked if I could buy a replacement part. She told me, that they had an “oops policy”. I had used some other four letter words at the time of the incident but apparently I still qualified. They sent my a whole new top part of the blender, free of charge, including postage. Fair play to you Kitchen Aid and your ‘Oops policy’, stop round for a smoothie anytime.

    Niall
    http://www.niallconnolly.com

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  103. Emily says:

    Once I was shopping down in Soho and I saw a sale sign. I walked in the store and the employees looked at me very strangely and unwelcoming. As I walked around the store one of the female employees approached me and said I may want to leave because they only carried the size zero. I was shocked and horrified, but also pissed. So I took a pair of zero sized pants off the rack and demanded to try the on. I squeezed into the pants like Chris Farley in Tommy Boy. I wasn’t going to buy them, I just needed to make myself feel better. As I left the store without any purchases the female employees all looked at me sadly and mockingly. Needless to say the place went out of business.

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  104. Theo E. says:

    For two years I worked in the customer service call center at a large pharmacy benefit manager (the company that manages a plan’s pharmacy benefits, it also has a large mail order pharmacy). While this isn’t retail in the traditional sense, we were supposed to sell using the mail order pharmacy to people–of course, we were told never to think of it as selling, but that’s what it was. I noticed something very interesting about upset customers who realized the customer isn’t always right. They would yell and scream and curse at you… until they realized that they had made an error (e.g., they claimed they had never received their medication, despite the fact that UPS said the package was delivered. Lo and behold, it was at their backdoor all along.) The moment they realized they were in the wrong their disposition changed, they were sunny and bright and bubbly. Except the never would apologize for yelling at you. I always thought it was interesting that they thought they could save face and seem like a nice person without actually thinking they should apologize for being a jerk.

    On the opposite end, I worked at Target for a few years, one with a Starbucks. For some reason, the customers (or guests, as Target insisted we call them) would hide these cups in the merchandise. It was very annoying because they were usually full of water/coffee and you would spill them all over something, making a bigger mess than if the customer had left it out in the open. One day, while working the fitting room, a child and her mother came up and the child goes, “Look mom, there’s a trash can here! You didn’t need to litter!” From the mouths of babes…

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  105. William says:

    I have been studying in China since September and I have been struck by two things particularly when thinking about retail experiences. Firstly, there are shop assistants on the door of pretty much every retail shop and will invariably shout to you as you walk past:’????” Hu?nyíng gu?nglín – ‘Welcome’. They are often quite insistent! This often serves to deter me from going into the shop as they are unnaturally eager. Secondly, whenever I do brave the salutations of the shop assistants, I always feel like I am being watched by one of the MANY staff in usually empty shops. They follow you around the shop and watch you like hawks which again tends to put me off spending more than a token minute in the shop!

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  106. Scott Baumann says:

    I had some work done on my house by a local painting company. They replaced some of the siding and some of the boards that had gotten rotten or other problems and they repainted all of the trim. When they finished there were a bunch of problems: some of the work was shoddy and subpar, they had broken the nozzle on one hose (and consequently ruined the hose) and they had left the other hose on which caused a huge flood in my side yard. I called the company back expecting a hassle, but was contacted almost immediately by someone who was either a manager or owner (or perhaps both). He showed up at my house within hours and reviewed everything. He personally went out and bought me a new hose and novel that day. The next day the work crew returned and fixed everything else and at the end of the month I got a check for the difference between my current water bill and the previous months. Thus, dispite the problems if I ever need painting work done on the house in the future, I will definitely call them back.

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  107. Casey says:

    Recently my fiance and I purchased a new car. We loved the type of car and new we were going to buy it. The problem for us, is the experience of buying the car. Test drives are fun, the car is beautiful and exciting – but, the negotiation for price and add ons. Not to mention the games they played with us to keep us on the lot. Or the mounds of approval and paper work. I get it – regulations, its a big ticket item, etc. But to be on there for 6 hours before we left with the car .. that seemed a bit much.

    On a different note. When I read retail etiquette, I thought of Trader Joes. Always a great experience. We drive just about 150 miles to go shopping there about 3-4 times a year. The staff is always helpful. Once I wanted to know more about a bag of Thai flavored cashews – the clerk pulled out a box cutter and opened the bag for me to try them.

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  108. Bill N. says:

    We purchased store brand cream cheese from the local Shaw’s supermarket in Montpelier, VT. We bring it home, open it up and it is bad. Not moldy, but not right. My wife brought it back to the store, they gave us another and we were happy, Shaw’s did the right thing.

    The next day the manufacturer (a private label firm, Franklin Foods, also here in VT) calls our house. The guy identifies himself as some vice president and asked my wife about exactly the problem. Then he asked “do you like cream cheese?” My wife responds positively and he stated “he’ll send some to us.” The next day FedEx dropped off a foam cooler full of all kinds of cream cheese (different brands they manufacture, different flavors, etc.).

    This is excellent customer service from the manufacturer, especially given we would never buy anything from them (they don’t sell any products with their name on it).

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  109. josh says:

    My best retail experience, when I was 6-years-old I dropped my Thifty’s Ice cream in the store’s parking lot. I went back into the store and told the thrifty’s ice-cream man that I dropped my cone and he gave me a new one. That made me really happy.

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  110. A. Munoz says:

    I worked for this ‘local’ coffee shop and we were supposed to smile, use customers names, and try and create conversation while working the machines.

    One day I am working with my Manager, and the owners of a local Mexican restaurant come in. He is working the coffee line with me and shouts to them “I am working like a Mexican back here!” The whole shop seemed to go instantly quiet. Obviously he was just trying to joke around or whatever but it was totally inappropriate.

    At that point I knew I couldn’t work for this man anymore. Excellent customer service is great but I feel like many places go way to far. I don’t want to have conversations with every waiter, person, customer service agent I encounter. I usually go out with friends, and that’s who I am trying to have conversation with.

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  111. Jamie Crouthamel says:

    This is one where I, sadly, have lots of experience. I am a Mobile Technician for Apple at our local store here in Charleston, South Carolina. I’ve had several difficult situations but the real “horror story” that I’ve had was actually my very first appointment on the job after I returned to my story from training. I’ve had some difficult interactions but thus far, this has been the absolute defining horror story of my many stories.

    The way the setup works is that you create and appointment online (or we create one for you) then when you come into the store, you check in with our front of house person and I come out to help. The man that I was working with was there for the first appointment of the lunch rush, about 12:30pm for our store. When I arrived I introduced myself and asked how I would be able to help and he reached into his pocket and pulled out a plastic sandwich baggie with what was at one time and iPhone, but was not several pieces and lots of glass shards. Our policy is that this phone is “Beyond Economical Repair” meaning there’s nothing we can do to fix it, and we cannot trade the phone in because there isn’t a phone to trade in, there are pieces. I did my utmost to explain this with the very highest level of empathy that I could muster while also trying to be as clear and courteous as possible. As soon as I explained the policy the man stood up and pushed the stool out from under him and slammed his fists onto the table, he started a very steady stream of loud curse words and proceeded to throw the bag of phone pieces (and GLASS mind you) at me. I caught the phone, carefully placed it on the table in front of me and kept as calm an expression as I could, hoping it was simply something he had to get out. When he was done, I apologized again, proceeded to let him know I could bring out a manager to explain the situation and see what we could do. At this point he pulled out another, whole and working last generation iPhone and explained that the phone was clearly defective for breaking after being run over and that he had paid $200 dollars (the actual price of the phone is $700) and that I was clearly “a stupid b*tch that couldn’t read if I tried” he then grabbed the bag of iPhone pieces pushed through the crowd in our (very small) store, roughly walked up to our plate glass storefront and slammed the door open. Once outside he stepped in and threw the bag with phone pieces at the door, then stepped back and through his *working* phone at the door. This caused the entire store to fall silent and watch and hear every word this man said to me.

    Needless to say, police were called, the man was banned from the store and I received a standing ovation from the entire population of the store at the time for remaining calm, but still, this was one hell of a way to start a gig!

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  112. Arshan says:

    My best retail experience has been at a shop known as Sacoor Brothers in Dubai. I love the personal experience the staff gives you and also the ” etiquette” as talked of above. The staff was very pleasant and managed to perfectly balance leaving the customers alone and also providing them with assistance. A balance of the two is quintessential for customer satisfaction in my opinion. I personally hate it when a guy from customer service stays on your tail trying to sell you something, also the other extreme, where no one is willing to help.

    My worst retail experience has been at the Hyundai service station. I dropped my car off for servicing and when i came to collect it later on they couldn’t locate it for four painful hours. I was left waiting behind the counter, for the rather incompetent koreans to find my car.

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  113. Jim says:

    The best service experiences I have had, bar none, have been at Ritz Carlton properties. They are better than the Four Seasons and other similar properties. I attribute it in large part to the Ritz motto:

    At The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, L.L.C., “We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.” This motto exemplifies the anticipatory service provided by all staff members.

    http://corporate.ritzcarlton.com/en/about/goldstandards.htm

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  114. Rick says:

    I just had unauthorized third party billings on my phone for the second time in 3 years. I found out this is called Cramming. After the first Cramming incident I protected my account with a block and was given a pin number to avoid future cramming. ATT failed to protect my pin or to require its use as I was Crammed again in January of 2012. The Cramming began in the same month I changed my cell phone plan. The ATT representative informed me the block was on the number and not the phone and I should not have changed when I changed my cell phone plan. The three charges were $9.99 each, plus $.75 taxes. All three charges began at the exact same time and coincided with my plan changes. I was expecting a change in billing charges and was protected from cramming so it took me almost three months to catch the extra charges.
    When I called ATT, my service provider, I was told they could only refund up to 60 days of charges. I was credited $60. Of the $90 dollars I was charged. I complained to the Better Business Bureau, FCC, The Attorney General, and my state representatives. My state representative forwarded my complaint back to the State Attorney General. The Attorney General was able to contact an ATT executive customer service representative. A call from him was appreciated and finally I received my $30 back for the first month.

    ATT gets paid to service the contract billing. Some estimates this amount to be as high as 20% of the Cramming charges. ATT makes 50 million dollars as billing fees for these contracts. This is their own estimate not mine. ATT has a vested interest in these charges and no reason to stop the practice. A huge conflict of interest exists here. I don’t believe that the fact the Cramming began on the same exact month my plan changed was a coincidence. I don’t believe it was coincidental that all three Cramming companies began charging my account at the exact same month. And the disappearing pin all add up to what appears to be a conspiracy to defraud customers.

    All of the Cramming companies had web site addresses listed on my ATT bill. One of the three web sites was not an active account; at least the site would not come up when I tried the URL. The other two accounts listed on my bill had active web sites but they were worthless as they contained only multiple redirects and no real company information or method to stop the billing. None included a method to sign up for the service(s) I was getting charged for.

    Opting in instead of opting out should be the legal requirement. This practice is predatory and should be illegal. In my opinion the Cramming companies only exist to scam the public. What kind of customer service is this? The new American companies business plan, “Screw you customers and hope they don’t notice.”

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  115. JayF says:

    It was after work about 12-13 years ago and I was going to go through the drive-thru line at Steak-n-Shake, it was a new location that had recently opened in SE Grand Rapids, MI. The line was moving slowly, but I finally get to the speaker to make my order. The voice over the speaker says to hold on a minute and they’ll be right with me. The drive-thru is not one of those chute deals, where once you are in, there is no escape. But I made the mistake of hugging the bumper of the car in front of me to pull close to the speaker to get my order in. So at least 7 minutes later (I look at the CD case to see the running time of the songs I listen to while at the speaker) and no voice asking for my order, the car ahead of me pulls ahead, because I guess the car at the window finally got their order. I can now make my escape from the line and I proceed into the restaurant to find out what gives with the wait. I explain my 7 minute wait at the speaker. The young lady at the register tells me “At Steak-n-Shake, to ensure freshness, all food is prepared as it is ordered.” And that is why the line takes so long. I tried to explain, I wouldn’t have minded the wait for the food, if they had taken my order and they would have had 7 minutes to be working on my order. Again, I hear “At Steak-n-Shake, to ensure freshness, all food is prepared as it is ordered.” I say my order could have been 7 minutes along in the preparation process if you had taken my order when I first pulled up to the speaker. Again, she says “At Steak-n-Shake, to ensure freshness, all food is prepared as it is ordered.” You don’t understand you’ve wasted 7 minutes of my time with nothing to show for it. Then she says, “Well would you like to order now?” I wanted to speak to the manager. She was the shift manager. So I asked, “Do you understand my problem with the service?” Once again, she says “At Steak-n-Shake, to ensure freshness, all food is prepared as it is ordered, would you like to order something now?” For some reason the inefficiency of not taking my order and/or forgetting about my order at the speaker never sunk in with this manager. And no offer to ameliorate my wait was forthcoming. Just, “Would you like to order now?” “Nope, I’ll go get an Olive Burger, I know how long it takes to get one of those!”

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  116. Sarah Lohn says:

    I work for a regional building supply retailer called McCoy’s Building Supply. At McCoy’s, we have a corporate philosophy that we call “Business as Unusual.” Employees are encouraged to connect with our customers on a personal level during business transactions. For example, once we had a lady come into the store who wanted to buy a new door lock. Our employee asked what the lock was for and found out that the lady’s home had been broken into while her husband was away on business. Our employee helped her find the most secure lock for her door and then proceeded to drive out to her house to help her install the lock at no cost. Sure, we could have just made the sale and moved on, but by making sure she felt safe in her own home, we secured a lifelong loyal customer. We created what we at McCoy’s refer to as an “exceptional customer experience.” In our business plan, exceptional customer experiences are what separate us from the big box stores.

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  117. Michael says:

    I usually surprised at how well I’m usually treated in retail situations.

    I’ve had some basic retail jobs and remember it when people were rude or would look through you and address the wall and not make eye contact. I’m a designer and am appreciative of the kindness my clients afford me, and I see this kind of relationship similarly. I always try to be engaging and keep a good attitude. Most people may not have the power over life and death, but, if appreciated and shown a little respect, may be able to help you more than you might realize. Often just by doing little things, but these things do make for a better experience.

    I think my best recent experiences have probably been at the Apple store. They’ve replaced a motherboard on my laptop and my iPhone twice, both when I had minor things wrong with them, with really no fuss. They have gone above and beyond the Applecare plan and certainly what I expect. They are almost always extraordinarily helpful.

    Another time, several years ago, I bought a older model desktop computer (G4 or G5, I forget). Missouri had a tax-free weekend, and Apple had promotions for that day, too. I think I got a free printer and some rebate that was only good for that day, and maybe some other stuff, too. The next Monday the Power PC came out, which was a huge upgrade. Even though I had started installing software on the computer, the manager at the Apple store allowed me to swap out the one I bought for the new PPC computer, and keep all the deals which were intended to be only for the tax-free weekend sale. The was a pretty big deal.

    My worst experience probably was when I ordered a pair of Minimus shoes recently at Dick’s. They had the color but not the size. The clerk took my info and said it would be in in about a week. I called about 10 days later. They had forgot to place the order. That person said they would overnight them to the store. I called a couple days later. Yet another person said the store sending the shoes wouldn’t overnight them, so they would take a week or better to show up.

    When they finally did arrive, I went to try them on, they didn’t fit and, in fact, one shoe was somehow smaller than the other. At this point I had waited about a month, was exhausted and just gave up on them and walked out.

    This is unusual for me. Most of the time, I’m treated very well.

    Thanks.

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  118. Taylor says:

    Whenever I go to dinner regardless of how expensive or exclusive the restaurant is, I’m asked “how is everything tasting”? When did this start? It seems to have happened overnight. Has taste now trumped service in the restuarant industry? To me, it’s an oversimplistic question, created for measurment and therefore annoying. Ask me how is everything?

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  119. Jake Sension says:

    I could go on about the service I get and have provided throughout my life, but I think the most interesting take away from my experience is how I like to judge a restaurant (especially a lunch place) at first blush and which often guides my order. I walk up and when they ask me what I would like, I say “what’s good?” If the employee lights up and tells you “oh the blah is great today” or engages you in a discussion of “what do you like/ are in the mood for” I usually let that guide what I want and will come back. If the response I get is “our special today is…” or (even worse) “oh, I don’t eat here” sometimes I just walk away. If an employee really cares about the product they are selling and you can see it in there face when they talk about it, it can make the service sublime. I was a fish monger for four years and should try this out. Go in to your local grocery store and engage the person at the seafood counter in a discussion of “what’s good” I bet you will get either a response of “man, I just work here” or you will get a person whose love of seafood would keep you at the counter talking about fish for half an hour. Try it!

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  120. Bethe Halligan says:

    I bought a cast iron daybed from LLBean in the late nineties (forget the year). and in 1999 I bought a raincoat from them. In 2005 (or so) i called to see if they could repair the removable lining of the coat. They responded that they no longer made that coat, and had me pick from their newer models to replace the entire coat – all shipping on them. I called back to thank them and asked about a slat for the springs on the bed, because a cross spring had sprung. They replied that their products were fully guaranteed and sent a replacement spring platform. They have a customer for life and a walking commercial for their products and their customer service.

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  121. James says:

    I was a cashier in a town outside of Baltimore for a year and a half, and we got some of the pickiest, most hawk-eyed customers. There were a few legendary customers who kept track of the price listed at the shelf for every last item they bought, and would walk you through it. “This should be 3.99,” they’d say, pulling a can of coffee grounds from the cart, and waiting until you had scanned the item and the proper price had come up to hand you the next one.

    If you were unlucky enough to have an item where the price on the shelf and the price in the system were different—if that $3.99 can of coffee turned out to be $4.24 instead—they’d pounce, and demand that you undo the item and ring it up at their price. Of course, as a cashier with a line, you can’t just run out into the store and double-check their price, but you’re not allowed to take their word for it either: official store policy was that the system price WAS the price.

    We’d be more than happy to bend that rule, if it was a gratuitous inconsistency, or if I liked the person I was ringing up, or if they were polite about it. But with the hawks, it was like war: you didn’t want to give an inch, or a quarter, if you didn’t have to, and you never quite believed that they weren’t just trying to shave you down by nickels and dimes.

    From my perspective, and in my continuing perspective now that I’m no longer in retail but still shop there, is that the rule is fair. The price is whatever the computer system claims it is: the system can be updated far more quickly than the stickers on the shelf, and it often IS. But when you find out your can of coffee was slightly more expensive, we’re not going to force you to buy it: you can decide you don’t want an item at any time during the transaction.

    Long story short: sometimes I got into heated debates over whether I was going to shave a dime off the price of something. I wasn’t allowed to, but that didn’t stop people from claiming that half their items were overpriced, so that they could get angry and embarrass you, the company’s last line of defense, into bringing your price down.

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  122. Jean-Marc says:

    I appreciate when, while looking at various options, a service representative is honest in finding something that legitimately suits the customer’s needs, rather than trying to up-sell to the top dollar.

    For example, when a customer is looking for a television, a customer feels more valued if the TV they leave with has only the features that they actually want and needed, rather than being enticed towards the latest and greatest.

    Also, it helps if the sales rep tells the customer that the cable they need to connect their TV to their Blu-ray player really actually costs $3 at a computer store, rather than trying to sell them “gold-plated high-quality digital video cables” for $100, which are basically the same thing.

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  123. Adam M says:

    I have worked in retail a long time and there is an unwritten rule that people who are pushy and rude and yell will never get what they want from retail staff as a matter of policy but for people that are polite we will do something extra and maybe even bend a rule or two to help them out.

    Is this a measurable phenomenon?

    Can you tell statistically whether pushy and loud customers get more out of salespeople than polite people do?

    In retail we think it’s the polite ones who get what they want and we send the rude ones packing. Are we right?

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  124. Abigail says:

    Not sure if it’s too late to comment, but here goes. I have 2 comments, one from the customer side and one from the employee side.
    1) My absolute favorite store to shop at is a health food store called The Merc, in Lawrence, KS. I like it over other health food stores mainly because of the fantastic environment and friendly customer service. They hire quality, caring people there, who do a great job. It is always a pleasure to shop there.
    2) While in college one of my jobs was working at a copy center (that shall remain nameless). I always felt we were under-staffed, since the store was very very busy, and we only had a few people working in the copy center at a time. It was not uncommon to have a line of people about 20 yards long, from the counter to the entrance door, and only 2 people at the cash registers. (Plus the cashiers were also responsible for answering phones and faxes, and keeping the copy machines stocked, in addition to cashiering for a steady flow of people.) I’m pretty good at multi-tasking, and I always did my best, but one day I made some kind of mistake while ringing someone up (I can’t remember exactly what it was, but it wasn’t a big deal, and I corrected it). The customer, probably already very irate from having to stand in line so long, exploded at me, calling me names and yelling. I tried to keep calm, but when he stormed away I burst into tears, much to my embarrassment and the apparent embarrassment of the next person in line, a woman who tried to comfort me. My manager had to take my place for a few minutes while I went to blow my nose. About 20 minutes later, the woman who had tried to comfort me came back into the store–with a big box of doughnuts for the staff! It was the worst and the best of humanity all in one day. :) Aside from that touching experience, I eventually quit that job because they did not treat their employees or their customers well. I was paid barely over minimum wage, and expected to keep up with such high demands. Even though I and several other employees mentioned our concerns to the manager, she said she didn’t have the ability to hire more people to help relieve the stress. Our stress brought stress to our customers, who sometimes yelled it back to us… and it was just a big, nasty feedback loop of stress. A lot of companies pay only lip service to customer service, but part of that equation is treating employees well… and having enough of them.

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  125. Brett says:

    I started renting a house my last year of college and decided to get comcast internet. It worked great when it worked but in a 6 month period of time, 3 routers just stopped working and it stopped working for a few hours about once every 2 weeks. The router things was just plain odd and there was no explanation for why the routers stopped working. I never received any sort of discount on my bill even though I actually received about 5 months of service but paid for six. When I called to cancel my account, I waited about 45 minutes, answered some questions just to find out I had to be transferred to another department (not due to me clicking the wrong numbers on the phone, but due to an error in their customer service). I waited about an extra 10 minutes and hung up after receiving no service.
    That same day I ordered DSL.
    About 3 months later my Comcast internet was finally shut off due to me not paying the bills. They said I owed about $200 for bills and late fees. I went in to their local office and told them I called and cancelled my service 3 months ago and even ordered new DSL. I brought bills from the DSL to prove it. They looked at my call record and saw I cancelled 3 months ago and dropped my balance to “0.”
    Thank you Comcast for being terribly annoying but giving me 3 months of extra internet for free!

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