Working with the public provides some CLASSIC questions and moments…who said the customer is always right?

Before I begin, I want to thank all of you for following along on the blog.  Apparently, I now have readers from all over the world, and it is a true joy to know that people are reading and enjoying the posts.  With all of the people finding the blog, a new Facebook page has been created, Bullshitterz Blog, along with a twitter feed, @bullshiterzblog.  We are not sure what direction these things are going to go in the future, but for now, you can find the blog using them.  At least that is what my social media manager said.  As always, it’s a work in progress, and I am learning along with you.

The last few posts have dealt with questions.  Questions from the kids.  Questions from the wife.  Like I have said in previous posts, I love asking questions, and I love answering questions.  It’s all a part of the quest for knowledge.  It leads to conversation, debate, discussion, points and counterpoints, arguments and who knows what else.  Sometimes, a question can lead to a really good answer, and other times, a question can leave us with a quizzical look on our face, staring upward looking for guidance.  Recently, both the wife and I have had some questions posed to us at work that I wanted to share, along with one of my all time favorites from years ago.

As you may or may not know, my wife works the overnight shift at a retail pharmacy in Las Vegas.  As you can imagine, she sees it all, and in the course of a shift, the questions are classic.  Keep in mind that the corporate handbook does not train you to answer these questions.  Instead, they give you that BULLSHIT “the customer is always right.”  For those of us that work with the public, I will be the first to tell you the customer is DEFINITELY NOT always right!!

Just the other night, I got to share in one of these while I was on the phone with her.  It was 4:30am, and I had just woken up to give the baby her binky and pray that she went back to sleep.  Mama has the drop cam app on her phone so she can watch the room while she is at work.  This way, if I don’t hear the baby, she can text me or call me to tell me to wake up and get the baby.  Thanks modern technology.  Anyways, I took care of it, and I took the preemptive strike and called her to say that I took care of it.  While on the phone with her, she got a customer call about a prescription.

“Is my prescription ready?”  Mama looks it up.  No, it’s not ready.  What she doesn’t say is that it was ready and sat on the shelf for 10 days.  When you don’t pick it up, it gets put back.  So, now it has to be redone.

“When will it be ready?”  As protocol allows, it will be ready in the morning, after 9am.  What she doesn’t say is that it has to be re-verified, filled, printed, etc, figuring that is understood.

“Can’t you just have it ready tonight?”  There is a long pause, then a deep sigh…I was waiting on the edge of my bed…

In the ‘pleasant phone voice’, the answer comes swift.  “Ma’am, tonight is over.  It is almost 5 o’clock in the MORNING, and your prescription will be ready after nine in the MORNING.  See you then.  Thank you.”  I nearly fell off the bed laughing.  I always tell her that her best material comes out in the show after midnight.

This exchange reminded me of one of my all time favorite exchanges with a customer.  It occurred twenty years ago, but I can remember it like it was yesterday.  I was working at our family business, Ralph’s Discount City, on Fifth Avenue in downtown Pittsburgh.  Fresh from graduating from Penn State and trying to learn the family business from my Dad, he took the time to teach me everything from the ground up.  I unloaded trucks, stocked shelves, rang a register, worked on the sales floor and talked to customers.  It was not easy being the “boss’ kid”, and there were many times where I was like a rookie on a team or a freshman in school.

Someone had to go get lunch, they sent me.  Someone had to clean the bathrooms, they sent me.  Someone had to unload the truck in freezing rain, they sent me.  Someone had to talk to a crazy person at the counter, they sent me.  Yeah, a lot of it was BULLSHIT, but I took it all in stride.  I knew the deal.  My Dad had a great saying that “respect is earned, not given,” and I would have to earn their respect.

Now, downtown Pittsburgh is like any other urban city.  You get ALL kinds.  Race, ethnicity, social class, wealth, we had it covered from A to Z.  Visiting ballplayers and hockey players used to stop in along with the panhandlers from the corner.  One time I sold Deion Sanders and Barry Larkin new Sony Walkmans while they were in town for a series with the Pirates.  We got everybody for better or worse from a who’s who to the everyday person who worked downtown and needed to pick up something before heading home.  I got a true PHD in dealing with people in my time at Ralph’s, from co-workers and customers alike.

The story went something like this.  It was August, and it was HOT outside.  Think 95 degrees with 90 percent humidity.  You could smell the sweat in the air outside.  It was what I referred to as “Africa hot.”  Every person who came into the store was sweating, and we were selling fans and bottled drinks faster than we could keep them on the shelf.

Dial Deodorant Soap Ad (1949)

As I remember, it was towards the end of a long day, and I was heading towards the bathroom from the appliance side of the store.  I had to go before I left, in case there was traffic, because I have issues (see the previous post titled men are big babies when they are sick).  I was walking briskly past the deodorant aisle when I was stopped by a customer.  I could draw a picture of her today with the help of a sketch artist.  She was 5’2″ tops, weighed approximately 250, was wearing a tank top and shorts, and literally was sweating everywhere.  I actually smelled her before I saw her.

“Baby, you work here?”  Hmmm.  Moral dilemma.  Say no, and keep walking to the shitter.  Better yet, run.  Or, say yes and hold my breath.  Pause.  Here goes nothing.  Yes.

“I have to ax you a question.”  Oh, boy.  There I am, a deer in headlights, squeezing cheeks.  The bathroom will have to wait.  Deep breath.  OK, what is your question?

She raised her arm and wiped a gallon of sweat from her forehead with the back of her forearm.  “Honey, you know it’s so hot outside, and I be sweating all da time.  I need me some good dee-o-door-ant that will help me not sweat.”  Oh, yeah.  No problem.  The bubble over my head probably read something like ‘Lady, all the deodorant in the world will not stop that,’ as she was standing in a puddle of perspiration.  But, she is a customer, and I always try to help.

With a quick glance at the shelf, I see it.  Dial.  Anti-Perspirant.  Perfect.  I reach for it, pick it up, and with all the confidence in the world, I sell it.  “This should work.  It’s really good.”

I hand it to her.  Despite almost slipping out of her hand from the sweat, she holds onto it.  First question, “Do this smell good?”  Oh, yeah, it’s the fresh scent.  Smells great. Very fresh.

Second question, “Do it stop all the sweat from running down my side when I put it on?”  Again, in my head, in reality, nothing other than winter is going to stop that.  But I am selling it.  Well, when it’s this hot outside, you may have to put it on a couple of times a day, but it will help.

She pauses.  I am standing there waiting to run to the bathroom.  She looks me up and down like she might make a move.  She stares at the label again…then, as serious as can be, she goes, “Oh, baby, I don’t think I want this one.”  Really, why not?

“You see this right here?  It says ‘kills odor-causing bacteria.’  Hun-neeee, I want it to kill the odor, dat’s good…but I don’t want no bacteria on my body, dat’s bad.  No way.  Even if it do smell good, I don’t need no bacteria on me. I can’t be using stuff that be causing me some bacteria.”  WHOA.  WAIT.  YOU GOT THIS ALL WRONG LADY.  I remember looking around to see if I was on Candid Camera (google it if you don’t know).

QUICK.  THINK.  KEEP A STRAIGHT FACE.  NO BULLSHIT.  No, Ma’am.  I wouldn’t sell you something that causes bacteria.  I know that is the way you read it.  What it means is that the bacteria causes the odor, and this stuff will kill it all.  No more odor, no more bacteria, no more sweat.  This will take care of it all.

“Honey, you sure?  Why would they put on here that it be causing bacteria?”  Ma’am, I can assure you that this product will not cause bacteria.  We wouldn’t sell something that causes bacteria.  Would you like to try one of the other HUNDRED on the shelf that doesn’t say causes bacteria?  They all work good, trust me.  Another long pause.  She looked into my eyes through beads of sweat.

“Nah, bay-beee.  I believes you.  If you say it ain’t gonna cause no bacteria, and it smell good, I’m going to try it.  But, if I get me some bacteria, I am going to come back and return it.”  Please do.  I’ll be here.  But you are going to be just fine.

“Thank you, baby.  You really nice.”  Then, she hugged me, pressing those sweaty double D’s against my chest and grazing my cheek with her own glistening cheek.  Now soaked with sweat, I laughed all the way to the bathroom.

Have a great day.  Please share any memorable experiences you have had in the comments section or on the Facebook page.







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