"I'm just going to call it like it is: I am a CUSTOMER, and you are not being helpful. You are just going to tell me to drive 75 miles to see your store or shop online. I want your name and your manager on the line right now!"
Well that didn't go well. How could I have made it gone better? I watched the blinking light on the phone turn red as my manager took the call. The caller wanted a Christmas gift for his mother, specifically he wanted "the Last Supper" and "Did we have any on the shelves?" I had no idea. Why didn't I just say "Let me transfer you to someone who might know" or ask him to describe it? That is what I usually did.
Like most stores during the Holiday Shopping Season, ours was overworked, undermanned, and overwhelmed with the demands we simply couldn't keep up with. I knew the department head he needed wasn't in that night, I knew the few people on the floor were really busy and he might be on hold for a while—and I thought I might actually be helpful. It's just that I don't have every item in the store memorized. That's right, I am an actual human. That means I have limitations.
So I was trying to run the sales floor, run a cash register, and act as the Customer Service Manager all the while talking to a man on the phone who repeatedly could not verify if he wanted a framed piece of artwork, a poly-resin relief to be hung on the wall, a poster print or a small statuette. He had no part number or description other than his mother liked it. To me the logical thing to suggest was that he come look at our Inspirational product and try to narrow it down from there. Oops. Apparently that makes you sound like lazy employee who enjoys torturing people over the phone. The red light was still on—this can't be good. This was no ordinary complaint. This costumer was PISSED!
I should have explained what products I remembered us having, I should have asked him to describe it better—maybe with specific questions like "Does it hang on the wall? Or is it in a frame? How big would you say it was?"Finally, sometime later the call ended. I felt my blood pressure rising. Sure enough, my manager was walking towards me—and his face was flushed.
"Hey I am sorry about that," I quickly started talking. "I know that is the last thing you needed tonight, but I have no idea what set him off."
"What set him off was you telling him he needed to drive 75 miles to the store before you could even begin to help him."
"I didn't know he lived far away! After that I suggested he look online to try to visualize our product because I didn't know what he wanted!" I told my side of it—and I could tell my manager was listening, but still it was my word versus the stranger. Besides, he had been able to find out exactly what the man on the phone wanted and assured him that we did indeed have it in stock. Customers get upset. It happens. But when someone gets really REALLY pissed off it is usually because an unfortunate situation was handled badly. There was now a question mark next to my name and I knew it. Was I really cut out to be in this position?
I finished the night fuming at myself for being too tired to think "delicately" with that one customer, wondering if I had actually sounded rude over the phone without meaning to, and angry that an irate person could hold that much influence over my job. The store closed, and collectively the workers muscled up our last bit of nearly depleted energy to begin cleaning the store trashed by frenzied shoppers.
"Know what's Unbelievable?" My manager suddenly appeared behind me with an "If-I-wasn't-so-tired-I'd-be-smiling" sort of face. "You know Mr. Your-employee-is-incredibly-rude-and-unhelpful-and-I-live-so-far-way? Well fifteen minutes after I hung up the phone with him he came into the store and bought the Last Supper."
"FIFTEEN MINUTES?! How in the world did he drive 75 miles—"
"Clearly he didn't. If he wasn't honest about that, there is not telling what else he embellished on. You are good. I just thought it was funny he was all worked up about buying a holy picture and felt the need to get angry and lie about it all."
In his defense—he wanted the picture for his mother. He made no claims to being a prayerful sort of person himself. My blood pressure began to drop, and once again it was just another ordinary night at work.