Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Customers - Reasons Why I Have Come to Loathe Them - Part 1

When you have two Bachelors Degrees, in music and art respectively, you cannot help but be familiar with working behind a retail counter.  At this point I've had so many customer service and retail jobs that a healthy callus has begun forming in my brain between the part that registers annoyance and the part that channels annoyance into a bloody massacre. Some people refer to this as "patience".

This is an illustrated tour of my least favorite kinds of customers, how they annoy me, and what customers can do to improve this.

Some time in the past a man was born, he grew up, and his only major contribution to this world was a single phrase that has stuck in the retail lexicon of today. That phrase was "The customer is always right!" If I ever find that man I am going to kidnap him and force him to do phone tech support until his brain has turned to jelly. If he's dead I'm going to dig him up and place his remains in a secret bathroom where only veteran employees of the retail/ service industry can come and piss on his corpse. But I digress. My point here is that never has a more blatant lie been held as truth by so many ignorant people.

"In the UK, Harry Gordon Selfridge (1857-1947) the founder of London's Selfridges store (opened in 1909), is credited with championing its use. The Wisconsin born Selfridge worked for Marshall Field from 1879 to 1901. Both men were dynamic and creative businessmen and it's highly likely that one of them coined the phrase, although we don't know which." - The Phrase Finder. Time to get my grave-robbing shovel.

Lets not misunderstand, 90% of customers that one interacts with on a daily basis are perfectly normal people who know what they want, are courteous, and work well within the system society has put in place. This list represents the other 10% of insufferable boobs who unknowingly terrorize the retail and service community. It is the high level of annoyance they cause that makes them stand out in our memories. For example, I'm sure you remember the first time you ever crashed a bicycle, while the first time you rode without falling down is probably a blissful blur mixed in with the rest of the hours you spent riding. My time at work is very-much like this: A fairly uneventful sentence punctuated by an insufferable, memorable idiot.

Here is a helpful guide to help you identify the most common problem customers:

The Trapper - This is a person who has ventured out from the pale glow of their computer screen to come buy things they finally couldn't do without, like toilet paper, cheese doodles, or booze. Surrounding them is the terrible odor of loneliness and defeat. The "smell" has marinaded itself into the same pair of sweatpants they always seem to be wearing. (unless they have closets full of the same outfit, which is possible cause I'm pretty sure Sam's Club sells crates of sweatpants). Sometimes these people fall into a routine, coming by your establishment every day at a weird time to buy the same things. They normally wander around your store muttering to themselves for a little bit before picking up an odd assortment of things that could, had Macgyver ever used his powers for evil, be assembled into an explosive of some sort. They waddle up to the counter and they see the employee trapped behind a register/counter/bar and something primitive is triggered in their hot-pocked addled mind, it goes something like this:

It is all you can do but pray that any other customer comes along, but you can't just leave them unattended at your counter, they could steal something. The alternative is praying for death, but by this point in your career you've already gotten so many of those sent out that the "inbox" is hopelessly clogged with no hope of a timely response.

The "Expert" - I've run into this person in nearly every job I've had. Inevitably there is a customer that comes into the store and out of politeness or the paranoia to prevent them from stealing things you walk up and ask them if they need help finding anything. You are then regaled with how they know so much more about the things in your store than you do, that they always buy brand "X", (which is their favorite) and you don't have Brand "X" but you have Brand "Crap-i-never-buy", which is not as good. They inform you that they are settling on something sub-par and that you don't know anything about your job.  Allow me to put this entire thing in perspective, keep in mind I have ten years in the retail/service industry backing me up on this. Brand X is always, ALWAYS overpriced crap. People who prefer brand X look like huge douche-bags for talking about it so much and most likely have never tried anything else besides it.  A real-life example is Cristal. Cristal is a brand name of champagne that is priced anywhere from $200-$800 dollars a bottle. It is not that expensive because it is good. It is that expensive because the aforementioned customers see the shiny ads in magazines and will actually pay that much for it. I, myself, rang in the new year with a flute of Cristal and lets just say I would much more prefer living in my apartment for an entire month than have a whole bottle of it. Its just not that good.

Vague People - Nothing will annoy an employee faster than being repeatedly vague.

Vagueness can come in a variety of forms and normally it is avoided by a few qualifying questions, but when it comes accompanied with phrases like; "Whats the best cheapest thing you have?" that when tempers can run high.

Thieves - Isn't always that a few bad apples spoil the whole bunch. Technically no, bad apples aren't contagious to other apples, but that's not the point. The point is that people feel the need to steal stuff. Employees of any business are constantly balancing between maintaining the helpful "customer service" attitude of a magical British nanny and the watchful eye of a concentration camp prison guard. They never know whether or not someone is going to pocket something when their backs are turned. Thieves come in all shapes and sizes, but only the dumb ones get caught. Working at a stand-alone liquor store we were conditioned to be less helpful while constantly being on guard for shop-lifters and armed robbers.
In reality, thieves aren't all dressed as ninjas attempting to make off with valuable jewels. Lets face it ninjas have probably been stealing from your store for years. You might say things like "I have no evidence that this has been happening!"... Exactly....Exactly. In reality shoplifters are people who wear wife-beaters with ninjas on them and put things in their pockets while whistling suspiciously. 

The Elderly - Somehow the elderly have managed to streamline almost all of the customer pitfalls into one demographic. The elderly can be vague, "experts", lonely people that trap you at the counter, pay all in change, can be stupid, misinformed, or just plain senile. They are a veritable minefield of retail service possibilities who are bitter about paying for things that cost anything more than when they were young. For some reason old people like paying by check. If a place doesn't take checks they might as well just hang a sign out from that says, "Old people need not waste anytime wandering our store picking things out, your money is no good here."

Drunk People - If you're unfortunate enough to be anywhere that requires you to sell things to drunk people you deserve a medal. Being drunk is a one-way street of fun where you think you're getting funnier, when you are really slowly becoming louder and more annoying. The drunk ranges from mildly louder to completely sloshed to the eerily silent. Where there is drunk people there is vomit. Enough said.

Apparently Illiterate People - These are a group of people to whom you want to scream at the top of your voice "Can't you fucking read you dumb-ass!" (a helpful phrase in any retail/ sales persons toolkit) This phrase is often uttered in the following situations: Anytime menus are involved. Anytime there are prices listed for anything. Whenever the store hours are brought into question. When accidents or personal injury occur that is clearly the result of stupidity on their part.

Example: Working at the local movie theatre, the rush tends to come in waves that coincide with the movie start times. During the rush long lines would build up at the concession stand, especially if it was a Friday premiere day.  As any concessions hustler will tell you, when shit hits the fan like that, you start to function on a level of efficiency that makes car building robots look slow, time itself seems to slow to a crawl around you as you whisk buckets of popcorn and sodas over the counter with ease. There is nothing more frustrating than having your whole groove upset by someone who doesn't know what they want. This is a true story:

 Lets keep in mind, he has been in FULL VIEW of the menu this entire time.

Payment Aggravation - There is one correct way to pay for something. Exact fucking change. If you don't have exact change you get bonus points for having the closest amount in the least amount of currency. If you want to be nice you hand them the next largest bill and say "keep the change".

Customers don't realize this but money handling begins to take its toll on the clerk over the course of a shift. You try doing something a couple hundred times a day and not get annoyed with it. Every time they have to count out 95 cents in change or break a twenty when someone buys a stick of gum means there is just one more grain of rice tipping the scale towards complete homicidal breakdown. The worse thing a customer can do is buy something for .33 cents and pay with a fifty. This would require the clerk to take money from every slot on the drawer. If I'm ever elected in the legislature I want to introduce a law that exempts store employees from punishment for acts of violence if someone does that exact thing.

Change is not currency. Coins are for collecting in your pockets, taking home, putting in jars, and cashing in at the bank for actual money. In a perfect world, under no circumstances should the words "You mind if I pay all in [insert name of coin here]" exit a customer's lips.

Credit cards are being used with more and more frequency.

For those of you who don't know every time you swipe your credit/debit card at a store, the store gets charged a fee for that card. Normally it is somewhere around .50 cents, but "fancier" cards like American Express are about $2. This means that if you buy something for under a dollar with a card, the fee completely overshadows the profit margin of the store and they don't make any money. Also, someone has to count down every credit card reciept at the end of the night. All of the numbers have to match up and every slip has to be accounted for. Keep that in mind.

The Cell Phone Talker - This is a customer that can come out of nowhere. They take up space, completely involved in their conversation while trying vainly to complete a transaction. Sometimes they have the phone wedged between their shoulder and ear so they can use their Velociraptor-like arms to search in a purse or wallet for currency.  Someone somewhere down the line told this person that they were a good multi-tasker and from that point on they decided that a complete phone conversation and paying for things would be a feasible task.  Admittedly there is not a lot of conversation needed to buy something, but what little there is can be made all the more frustrating by that person being on the phone and not paying attention.

"We Reserve the Right to Refuse Service to Anyone trying to make a Purchase while on a Cell Phone." Where is this sign, and why isn't it where I work?

People with Uncontrollable Little Children -Some businesses are lucky enough to avoid having children brought to them (liquor stores/ bars), but other than that no place is safe from this inevitable headache. This is the only person on this list that I actually feel angry and sorry for. Normally this is a single parent, probably a mom, who has just given up. She goes about her business in a daze, vaguely acknowledging the very existence of her offspring as if she can will them away just by wishful thinking. Meanwhile her brood of rug-rats terrorizes the store by screaming, yelling, breaking things, fighting with each other, and playing hide and go seek... but mostly they're crying. Everyone of them has that distinctive smell of sour milk or urine about them, like they spilled breakfast on themselves yesterday and no one cared enough to change their clothes. There are some parents who seem to plan in advance for their children to be unruly. When working at the movie theatre I saw a family who had brought a blanket and toys for this toddlers to play with set up in the middle of the aisle. The kids were running around during the show in between the front rows and up by the screen, spilling popcorn all over the place, yelling and throwing things. When I asked them to control their kids the response is always the same, "Don't tell me how to raise my kids!".

I feel bad cause it's not the children's fault. They don't know any better and are just having a good time, but the parents should have figured out that only certain places are daycare centers...they are called "DAYCARE CENTERS" not movie theatres, not malls, or restaurants.

The "Comedian" - There is always someone who thinks he's the most hilarious person who ever lived. This is the guy who walks into your humidor and asks where the Cubans are, the guy who notices when something won't scan and utters the four words that will cause me to go take an immediate smoke break "Then it's free right?" (and I don't even smoke). He chuckles at his own witty remark and then when he fails to get you to laugh keeps on trying like Carrot-top at the Apollo.

"Then it's free right?" - Ok, I'll admit I just need to vent about this one. Over the years this has developed as one of my BIGGEST pet peeves of all time. Hands down, over everything else that ever happens ever, this one is guaranteed to alter the course of the day from alright to intolerable.

Allow me to present you with a scenario. A customer brings up an item, for the purpose of demonstration lets say it's a helmet to protect their fat head while walking around. They bring said item up to the counter and you attempt to scan in the bar-code. But the bar-code is damaged, or missing, or just shiny enough to not scan the first time. Whatever it is, you wave the helmet around in front of the scanner for a good 5-10 seconds. This means you have to go into the system and look the price up manually. Usually during this time is when the person will say those four unforgivable words. "Then it's free right?" It can be a variation of those, but they all mean the same thing. It is at this point where the clerk looks up with a murderous rage thinly concealed behind the guise of a scowl and says nothing.  Its not that they don't have anything to say. In fact quite the opposite is true, they are using every last ounce of self restraint to keep from screaming at the top of their lungs:


...but they don't say anything, they simply move on with their day, find the price of the item, ring up the customer, and suppress all of that pent up rage until one day they drop dead of a brain aneurism or burn the building down giggling maniacally.

There's more, oh so much more, but this is a start.  Now If you'll excuse me I accidentally drank out of the glass I used for the water colors and I feel uneasy.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I wrote a long message, but it didn't post for some reason... UGH!!! Not doing it again, so here is the illiterate shortened version:
    First off when someone says, "Does that mean it's free then"(referring to it not scanning part)... they are USUALLY kidding. I have never heard anyone say that who was, ACTUALLY, serious. It's a joke... That's why the laugh... Half of the people say it because they think it's legitimately funny, then the other half say it because they are making fun of the people who think it's legitimately funny by imitating them.
    SECOND off... Maybe you should have went to college for something that isn't irrelevant. I can only imagine how many people advised you not to do that. What jobs did you, SERIOUSLY, think a music/art degree would land you? Oh, wait, did you not know? You can work almost all retail jobs without a degree, almost always without a high school diploma too!