The Customer Is Always Right (And Sometimes High)
One of my favorite places of employment is unfortunately responsible for one of my least favorite customer service experiences in memory. To put that into proper context, you must understand that I once held a job which – owing to an extremely flexible return policy and one vehemently disgruntled customer – required of me to return, process and handle one pair of aggressively soiled underpants. This incident that I speak of, THIS was worse than THAT.
Several years ago I worked in a paper store that specialized in making invitations and customizing stationary, in addition to carrying all manner of crafting, book-binding and art supplies. Due to the nature of the store’s product (as well as a very generous employee discount), many of my co-workers were also artists and designers. Part of our job was to create window displays and product samples by hand, examples which were intended to inspire the crafty customer to want to make their own party invitations themselves.
The holiday season was always a crazy time for the store, what with the usual Wedding, Birth Announcement, Bat and Bar Mitzvah invitation-making traffic amplified by an influx of Christmas shoppers and it was one of our busiest days that brought Her to me.
At first glance (from far away and without my glasses), she was kind of attractive. Thin, blonde, expensively attired and wearing a diamond that I could see from the parking lot, she looked like a pampered Soccer Mom. She made eye-contact right away and swiftly made a bee-line for me, each subsequent step revealing more and more about her. As she approached and got closer, her well-kept appearance started to break down and fall apart. It was hard to guess her age as years of tanning had given her visage a leathery, worn appearance. Her slim frame was bony to the point of looking painful and her teeth – so bleached they almost looked see-through – wouldn’t stop grinding and chattering. The first words she spoke to me confirmed what I was quickly piecing together, which was that this woman was completely TRIPPING BALLS.
At first I was excited. I had heard of these super busy moms who used speed and I had recently watched a re-run of ER and one of the plot lines was about a woman who used methamphetamine to do all her mom stuff (I think she had a heart attack in the mini-van during a carpool or something and she fled the hospital and then nearly died again…I forget the details but I remember that she was in deep denial about her drug problem…FUN!) so I felt like I was well-equipped to assist this woman with her project.
Of course, curiosity and hubris had bested me again as I was not prepared for how quickly she would flit from one end of the store to another, her speed and unpredictability of movement not unlike a drug-addled hummingbird in flight. She continued to speak in incoherent, rapid-fire non-sequiters - occasionally stopping to stare at me and complain that I spoke and walked too slowly. I latched on to words which she repeated, hoping that the repetition held some sort of significance to her paper needs. As far as I could deduce, she was (possibly) illegally parked; she wanted to make birthday party invitations for one of her five children; and she only had thirty minutes to do this. After an hour of following her around the store, she finally paused in front of a wall displaying several of the employee-made card samples.
‘THIS ONE.’ She said, pointing over my shoulder. ‘I want the kit for this one.’
‘Ah…’ I said, ‘well that is actually just a sample that was made to be used for display….we don’t sell a card kit for that particular invitation…but I actually made that one, so I can show you all of the materials that I used and I would be happy to walk you through it and show you how to-’
‘So you don’t have a kit for that one?’ She asked, rapidly shifting her 85 lbs. body from side to side.
‘No, I’m sorry. I made that in store for a sample. But, I can show you all of the papers and stuff that I used to make that card and-’
‘So, can you make them for me then? THAT card?’ She asked through furiously grinding teeth.
‘No, I can’t make your invitations for you, but I would be happy to show you exactly-’
‘NO no no no no no no – you don’t expect ME to make that? Why can’t you just make 50 of THAT one and I’ll come back after I pick up my kids…’
We continued to go back and forth like this several times, with her interrupting me before I could answer her questions and becoming visibly more agitated at every impasse – and she wasn’t the only one. My patience was nonexistent and the novelty of waiting on a Meth Mom had worn off after the first 20 minutes. I could see it in her beady, darting eyes that she was winding up for something awful. The combination of drugs, extreme irrationality and fruitless exchanges were reminding me of the Annual Family Christmas Fight – a no-win situation if there ever was one – and it was my sigh of resignation what broke her.
‘SO YOU CAN’T HELP ME, IS THAT WHAT YOU ARE SAYING? YOU DON’T SELL THE KIT FOR THAT CARD AND YOU WON’T EVEN MAKE THEM FOR ME?’
She was raising her voice now and shaking with rage. I don’t know if her behavior was fueled by the uppers or simply because she was unaccustomed to being told no, but I decided the best approach would be the same one I take at home during the holidays - which is to say, I made to remove myself from the situation entirely.
‘M’am…’ I said, ‘I’m sorry that you feel like I’m not helping you – I can see you are unhappy working with me so I am going to excuse myself and grab someone else that might do a better job-”
Before I could finish my sentence, she reached behind me - and in one lightning-quick, blurred movement – she snatched the display card off the wall, waving it in front of me.
‘SO YOU WON’T HELP ME, THEN? I WANT THIS CARD RIGHT HERE -THIS ONE - AND YOU WON’T HELP ME? I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHY YOU HAVE THIS CARD ON DISPLAY IF I CAN’T HAVE IT!’
The next thing that happened was very unexpected. When she said, ‘IT’, she actually chucked the card at me – punctuating her grand mal tantrum with physical assault. I felt the corner of the (Stardream Opal, #10) card-stock hit me right in the center of my forehead and my mouth hung open in disbelief for a full 30 seconds.
‘WELL?’ She barked, breaking the silence.
A few years ago my sister asked my brother who of the two of us would win in a fight if it came to blows. Our brother said that my sister possessed superior hand-to-hand combat skills but that the advantage would ultimately be mine because my fighting style was BERSERKER. When you get hit in the face with a hand-crafted birthday card, you quickly process a lot of different emotions – none of which are pleasant. I knew that if I spent a second longer in her company, I would black-out and possibly wake up in either a mental hospital or prison with soccer-mom blood staining my hands. I turned my back to her and walked away to the stock room without a word.
It felt like Christmas.