Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Exceptional Customers

A woman called and asked for the store manager (SM). SM wasn't in, so I TRIED to help the woman. In a nutshell, the woman forgot her coupon when she was in last week and wanted to use it after the expiration date. (It was a little more complicated than that, but I don't want to go into detail about our store and its programs/policies.)

The customer INSISTED that she had talked with the SM and the SM was making an exception for her. Yeah. I explained how our system worked and how the SM couldn't make an exception for her. I tried THREE TIMES, but the woman did not understand. "The SM said that she was making an exception just for me." Uh huh. I'm so sure.

I called the SM, at HOME, on her DAY OFF, to check. She remembered talking with the lady, but DID NOT say that she'd make an exception. The lady is crazy.

I called the lady back and explained the situation for the FOURTH time. The lady still didn't sound very satisfied, so I told her when the SM would be in. The SM called me shortly after to get an update. I said I'd tried my best, but she might still have to deal with the customer herself. Lucky for her, she has a little more patience with stupid people than I do.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Not Good Business

This morning I was going about my normal pre-opening duties and another key-holder (who was scheduled to start work at the same time we opened) let herself into the store a few minutes early. An elderly man was waiting by the door, and was angry that she wouldn't let him in (several minutes early).

When our clock struck opening hour, I unlocked the doors. The man came in and immediately asked for a manager. "I'm the manager," I answered, knowing what he would say.

"You are?" he asked in a shocked tone of voice. "Well, it's not good business to leave customers waiting outside for 30 minutes."

"Sir, we opened on time."

"Not by my watch."

"I'm sorry, but that's what time our computers say. We have morning chores to get done before we open." {Our computers tend to run a little slow. We're constantly fixing the time to the correct time. It might have been a minute off of regular time.}

"Why couldn't she {pointing at the key-holder} let me in?"

"We were still getting ready to open."

"It's still not good business." He said this as if he, with his many years of experience, knew all about how to run a business and we young folk needed to be taught a thing or two.

I half expected him to ask for the main office phone number to complain about me not letting him in. I would have been glad to give it to him--I did nothing wrong. But he smugly got what he needed, paid, and left.

The other key-holder and I looked at each other in disbelief at the man's comments. We watched him drive off and then burst out laughing. He was the first conversation topic of the day. Or, rather, the first customer we made fun of for the day.

We're open quite a long time each day, and our hours are clearly posted. Certain tasks CAN NOT be done when customers are in the store. Among them are mopping the floors (liability), and messy tasks that require hand washing before handling anything else (like money or helping customers with products). In the morning we've got to get the computers ready to open, count the cash, go to the bank, take down old sale flyers/coupons and put up new ones, ETCETERA!!

Not good business? Please! He has no idea what's involved with running a business like mine.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Managing Conflict

Today this guy was three steps through the door and asked for help with a problem he was having. My boss politely yet somewhat bluntly told him that what he planned on doing wouldn't work. Out of the blue he started yelling at her that she couldn't tell him what he could and couldn't do, that this was ridiculous, we were supposed to help him, blah, blah, blah. He made quite a scene.

I tried to help by phrasing it a little differently, basically saying that we were trying to save him time and money because in our experience, what he wanted to try wouldn't work. That helped only slightly. By that point it was clear that while he didn't appear to be drunk, there was definitely some type of drug involved.

Another employee came up and asked if she could help him. He said, "I'm about ready to walk out because of HER" (as he pointed to my boss). Both she and I were about ready to say, "Go ahead," but we restrained ourselves. The employee helped him, showing him one thing that MIGHT help him do what he wanted to do. Then again, it might not. I give it a 5-10% chance of working.

Since he was so upset with the boss, she went off the sales floor until he was gone. It was totally for her safety! I stayed in the front out of his sight yet where I could see the register so that if there were any further problems I could intervene. He hassled the cashier a little, but nothing bad. He paid and left.

Afterwards the boss, always more uptight that she needs to be, was worried that he might report her to the corporate office. I reassured her that the guy was so out of it he probably wouldn't remember what happened. In addition, TWO of her employees saw the whole thing and agreed that she did nothing wrong. Other customers in the store were sympathizing with us about how unreasonable the man was, and that we were correct that what he wants to do WON'T WORK.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Rude and Demanding Customers

The customers were SO DEMANDING today! I thought I'd lose my mind. We were also about twice as busy as normal, which meant we had nowhere near the number of staff that we should have had if I had my mind-reading skills practiced up on how many customers to expect.

It's amazing how impatient and un-understanding people are. It was obvious there were a hundred customers in the store. It was obvious EVERY SINGLE employee was helping someone. Yet people still acted all put-out that they have to wait. For even one minute.

One older woman, AS I WAS IN THE MIDDLE OF EXPLAINING SOMETHING TO ANOTHER CUSTOMER, came up and asked if we had a certain item. "I'll be with you as soon as I'm through with this lady." "But I just want to know if you have more of these." DO I LOOK LIKE I HAVE MY BRAIN LINKED TO OUR COMPUTER INVENTORY SYSTEM?? "No, what we have are out." (We might have had more somewhere else, but if I had told her that, then she probably would have insisted that I "just check real quick" even though I was helping someone else FIRST.

Several times people interrupted with "quick questions," etc. My rule is, "First come, first served." If you have a problem with that, then you're an idiot and don't deserve my help. Great customer service, yeah, I know. But why should I stop helping a customer who's being reasonable, polite, and learning valuable info from me just before spending a couple of hundred dollars to help a rude, demanding, idiot who may or may not buy anything at all??

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Regional Manager Visits

My crew is good most of the time. However, when the regional manager is coming, they are GREAT. Each time we prepare for a visit, I am impressed with my staff. They do the extra work and stay late with no complaints. They know how important the visits are--too many bad ones and my job is at risk; a really good one means a better paycheck for me.

We keep the store looking pretty good all the time, but the company has some procedures that are unrealistic. Since we know ahead of time when the regional manager is coming, we do those unrealistic things just before she comes and while she's here. When she's gone, back to the normal way of doing things. She doesn't have to know everything!

Friday, August 26, 2005

Free Samples

We regularly give free samples of products to try to get people to try our brands. Policy says 1~2 per customer. If the person's a regular and I think they really might switch, I'll give 3~4. But we have this one guy who comes in once a week and demands 12+ of whatever we have at the time. There's an employee or two who gives in to him, thus when someone doesn't give in he gets nasty.

On several occasions I've told him it's against policy and I'm not risking my job just so he can have more free stuff. It really isn't risking my job, but it sounds better like that. The thing is, if I give him a dozen samples each time he comes in, then we'll run out and other customers, WHO MIGHT ACTUALLY BUY THE PRODUCT, won't be able to try any.

Today he got a new employee, pulled his nastiness with her, and used his "I'm not shopping here anymore" line. I witnessed the whole thing, from a distance, and she handled it BEAUTIFULLY. She didn't give in, yet maintained a professional demeanor and smiled pleasantly as she wished him a good day. I assured her that, unfortunately, he WILL be back, and that she handled it well. I also told her that she is to continue following our policies regarding how many samples to give to each customer, despite how rude the guy is. The purpose of the samples program is to convert people to our product, not to supplement one specific customer's budget. It's not our fault that he doesn't make enough money or spends too much on other things.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Lost Keys

Tonight it was a half hour to close and I was making my rounds, ensuring that my employees were on schedule with close-out duties. When I got to the front I saw two employees helping one customer. OK, that sometimes happens, but something wasn't quite normal. "Hey guys, how's it going?" Interpretation: "What are you doing?/Is everything OK?"

Well, the customer lost her keys, supposedly somewhere in our store, and so suddenly it's our responsibility to help her find them. I put one employee back to work and grudgingly let the other one help the lady, realizing it probably meant I'd be working late. Fifteen minutes later, and they had retraced the lady's steps through the store, and still no keys.

"I don't have any other keys to my car or my house. This is terrible! What am I going to do?" asked the bird-brained woman who should have had supervision while in public places. The lady's 6-year-old continued playing his video game, unconcerned. I'll admit I'm not very sympathetic to these kinds of situations: people are STUPID, IRRESPONSIBLE, and besides, I've been driving forever and have yet to misplace my keys (besides in my own house).

At that point, 15 minutes to close, I sent my employee back to work and I took over, knowing that the keys were probably somewhere really stupid. It reminded me of the time one of my crazier employees "lost" her paycheck when she had a lot of bills to pay that day. She checked the store, her car, her apartment, her purse, and where did she find the paycheck? In her back pocket!

So I asked the customer, "Did you check your son's pockets? Yours?" Yes, already done. "Did you go to the bathroom at all?" No. Then she went into the parking lot to look on the ground around the car, leaving her son inside, still playing his game. I went to the register and looked on the floor, around the displays, and then I spotted the shopping bag on the counter. "Is that her bag?" I asked the cashier. Yes. I opened it, suspecting what I would find. Yep, there was the stuff she bought, along with THE KEYS.

How can you buy something, put your keys in the bag, and then forget that they're there in the 30 seconds it takes to walk out the door??? HELLO?! Anyone home??

Luckily the evening was slow so we only got done a couple of minutes late. After a 10-hour workday, I'm ready to go HOME, not search for some idiot's keys.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Gift

After a second unsatisfactory visit at our store, the Queen of the Universe and All Time asked where the bathroom was. We explained that it was out of order. That didn't stop her from going on in. Another employee saw her enter and told her, AGAIN, that it was out of order. She said, "I know," and proceeded to use it, WITH THE DOOR OPEN. At least the light was off!

After she was done, an employee went in and found the grand gift that the Queen had left for us: the gift of her urine. It was all over the toilet seat, on the sides of the toilet, and formed a puddle on the floor, as well. I was ready to try out Duh Boy's method of cleaning the bathroom—with a water hose—but the store manager cleaned it up with paper towels, then locked the bathroom door so no one else could go in. (We've had several disgusting bathroom incidents lately.)

On the Queen's third visit I hid. Surprise, she had the same problem as before. Another employee helped her, showing her a product that was totally inappropriate for what she needed it for. However, she bought it, all five bucks worth. I hope she's happy with it, because I have a feeling that she's not into keeping receipts for returns. When you're the Queen of the Universe and All Time, rules don't apply to you.

Three visits, 90 minutes of employee time (100 if you count the time it took to clean and disinfect the bathroom), and a five dollar purchase. Wow. Some people.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


On the Queen's second visit to my humble store, I showed her the same products that I showed her before. But the same as last time, none of them were satisfactory. What REALLY upset me was when, after showing her what we carried (AGAIN) and explaining the benefits of each (AGAIN), she turned to me and said in a know-it-all, matter-of-fact tone of voice, "You don't know very much about [the specialty area of our store], do you?"

I nearly bit off my tongue trying to remain polite and held my arms stiffly at my sides as my hands made fists. It was all I could do to keep from strangling her/punching her onto the next planet on her journey. "Actually I know A LOT about [our specialty area]. But THIS. IS. ALL. WE. HAVE. I can't show you anything else because WE. DON'T. HAVE. ANYTHING. ELSE. THIS. IS. IT." I spoke very slowly, hoping she would understand. No, of course not. English isn't her first language, as Mars is her home planet. I once again explained the benefits of each product and then asked if she needed anything else. After at least 30 seconds she replied in an unsatisfied tone of voice, "No, I guess not."

I walked off and started helping a customer in the next aisle. This customer was quite reasonable, knew the proper usage of words like "please" and "thank you," and could explain herself in a reasonable manner and understand my instructions, as well. Suddenly weirdo started jabbering about her problem again (English or Martian, I'm not quite sure). After a minute of no response from anyone, she looked up and all around, as if she had forgotten that I had left.

I moved onto another customer and the weirdo actually came up and INTERRUPTED US to ask yet another stupid question. "I'll be with you when I'm finished with these ladies." Of course, since she's the Queen of the Universe and All Time, she wasn't at all happy about having to wait, so she found another employee to jabber to in Entian/Marglish. Like the first time, she left without buying anything, despite having had an employee by her side for 30+ minutes on each visit.

Before she left, however, she decided to leave us a very special gift.

Concluded tomorrow.................

Monday, August 22, 2005

Queen of the Universe and All Time

We have this one weirdo customer who has been coming in once a month for the last three months. She's perhaps 60 years old, is incredibly rude, and wears a hat from the 1950s. Each visit, same hat. Each time she comes in she has the SAME EXACT ISSUE.

The first time she came in, I was the one who had the privilege of helping the Great Queen. However, the store was EXTREMELY busy, so after I answered all of her stupid questions I excused myself to help some other customers. Of course, her being the Queen of the Universe and All Time, that wasn't satisfactory to her, so she demanded another employee to basically just stand beside her as she considered whether to spend ten bucks or not. (She didn't buy anything.)

The second time she came I couldn't believe that she was asking me the SAME QUESTIONS as before. I figured she was one of those customers who think retail workers don't know anything so they keep asking different people at different stores the same question to see if we all give her the same answer. Alternately, she might be one of those customers who keeps asking the same question until she gets the answer that she wants to hear. I considered reminding her that she was in the month before with the same questions, but she didn't give me a chance to speak. Lowly slaves are to remain silent in the presence of the Queen.

After helping her the second time, I decided that she's neither of those. She can't function like a normal human being because she doesn't belong to our species. She travels to different planets and functions in a different space-time continuum than the majority of the people on Earth, thus can't remember what she did or where she went the last time on this planet in this time period. She also gets really confused about the latest fashions, thus her loud shirt. The hat, I figure, is to cover up the cerebral damage from all of the high-speed long-distance journeys that she takes.

Continued tomorrow.............

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Dropping things (on employees)

One of my teenagers was injured at work. Basically another employee dropped something on his head and back. Brilliant, right? The manager on duty called me to find out what to do. First concern—is he OK? "Yes, just a little sore. He's finishing out his shift doing non-physical tasks, then deciding whether to go to the doctor or not."

We've had a couple of the "Of course you're going to the doctor/ER" accidents—broken bones, blood, torn flesh requiring stitches—but for this kind of accident—a possible back injury—things are less clear because the actual damage doesn't always show up right away.

Even though the accident wasn't serious, it still needed to be recorded and reported. I knew the basics but referred the MOD to our regional manager for specifics since it needed to be reported to that level anyway. I told her that, last I knew, what happened needed to be written down, IN DETAIL, along with anyone who saw what happened. The accident scene and injuries needed to be photographed, and any employees involved needed to take a drug test. In this case, that would mean the injured employee and the one who dropped stuff on him (completely accidentally, I might add! They get along really well).

Well, our brilliant regional manager said pictures weren't necessary and that drug tests weren't necessary since it "wasn't anyone's fault." Uh, that's why it's called an "accident," stupid! So the appropriate documentation was done, faxed, and filed. The employee had some bruises and was sore for a few days, but no real damage. He didn't miss any work and we gave him physically easy tasks until he hit 100% again.

About a week after the accident, HR calls and asks where the employee's drug test results are. The regional manager said a drug test wasn't necessary. "Well, she was wrong." OK, so I sent the kid for a drug test, which he didn't have a problem with. He's really clean-cut, a good student, athlete, after-school activities; of course he wasn't doing drugs. But if he DID do drugs, the week would have been plenty of time for certain drugs to be out of his system. Hello! Anyone see a problem with that?!

Since he never visited the doctor, whether pictures were taken or not never became an issue. But the regional manager needs to get things straight regarding procedures, especially considering that I couldn't find any written policy regarding employee accidents. There should be ONE, company-wide standard policy on what to do for an accident, but it appears like each region is handled differently. That's not at all in the best interests of the employees.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Duh Boy

Duh Boy is really coming along (see here, here, and here for a reminder of who he is). He's becoming more competent and has a better attitude. He still needs more supervision and instruction than the majority of my employees, but at least he's trying.

The other day I had a list of things I wanted done. A couple of them I assigned to specific employees who had the knowledge and skills to do them well. The other tasks anyone could do. Well, Duh Boy generally picks the tasks that he considers easiest and that can get done quickly. Then he can brag, "I've done 4 things off the list!" when other employees might have only done 1 more complicated and time-consuming thing.

This particular day he stocked some shelves, built some things, and instead of starting in on cleaning the actual store, he decided to clean the bathrooms. Personally not my first choice of things to do, but it needed to be done and that's what he wanted to do. Fine.

Later I saw him emerge from the employee bathroom with a mop. I praised him, because some employees only clean the toilets, sinks, and mirrors, and conveniently forget the floors. He had the wet floor sign out like he's supposed to. I had been waiting and waiting to use the bathroom (busy with customers), so figured I'd go ahead into the bathroom and re-mop over any foot prints I left. As I entered he warned me, "You might want to wait; it's still pretty wet in there." That's OK, I'll fix the floor when I'm finished.

He returned to the sales floor to help a few customers before leaving for the day; I walked into the bathroom. It was, indeed, "pretty wet" in there. The floors were, indeed, wet. So were the walls. And the toilets. And the sinks. And the shelves (luckily empty at the time). Instead of cleaning the bathroom like a normal person, he had taken a water hose and sprayed all of the surfaces in the bathroom, using the floor drain to get rid of most of the water and minimally mopping the floor while conducting the rest of the water to the drain. Creative in a weird kind of way. I had to dry things off before use, but besides everything being wet, it looked clean. His mother still needs to teach him a few things before he goes off to college!

Friday, August 19, 2005

Kids--the good and the bad

Usually kids drive me crazy at work. They run around, climb on things, mess up the store, are loud, and generally make my life difficult. However, sometimes something happens that surprises me and makes me think that maybe kids aren't so bad.

We have a regular customer (a family) that comes in once or twice a week. Sometimes it's the mom and daughter, sometimes it's both kids with the dad, sometimes it's the whole family. The kids are FANTASTIC! They behave, help their parents shop, act like human beings instead of spoiled monsters, and politely ask questions to learn more about the subject our store covers. I might be hiring the older one in 6 years! The parents encourage the kids to be independent, yet adequately supervise so the kids don't get hurt or into situations that they can't handle. A great family.

The other night I was closing and we were behind schedule. I was tidying up the store, putting things where they belonged, and straightening the merchandise when I saw a youngster, perhaps 3 years old, not far away. "Great, where are her parents?!" I thought. I heard people a couple of aisles away, and thought bad things about them for leaving such a young child unattended (from the safety angle and the wrecking my store angle).

As I continued to straighten things the child reached for merchandise and I SO wanted to stop her from messing things up. But then I looked again—she had just FIXED the merchandise! As I continued down the aisle, she stayed a few steps away, closely watching me and doing what I did to make the store look better. Another employee asked if I had a helper and I, still in shock that she was helping make the store look better instead of destroying it, said, "Yes, but I don't know who she belongs to." The child answered, "To my mommy." At that, I heard her parents calling her. She returned to them, and I continued tidying by myself. I wonder what I could get away with paying a 3-year-old? Oh, strike that, child labor laws probably wouldn't allow that, huh? Oh, come on! Just one hour every evening before we close!

The next morning I was reminded that I hate kids (at least when they're in my store) by the clan waiting at the door for us to open. Two mothers and . . . how many kids were there? At least 6, perhaps as many as 7 or 8. I just know that they were banging on the door and peering in well before we opened, and then sat on the sidewalk just outside the door until we opened. When they came in you had to shout for anyone to hear you, they were THAT loud. I was afraid they'd stay forever, but our customer bathroom was out of order and with that many kids someone's always got to go, so they left after perhaps 20~30 minutes.

When school's in session I must say my weekday days are much more pleasant, while my weekends are hellish and evenings aren't that great, either. Saturday, here I come. : (

Thursday, August 18, 2005

How to Handle Poor Service

The following is in response to Customer Service: WWMAD (What Would the More Assertive Do)?

The question was,

What would you do? How do you handle bad service?

I'd say, take it to the manager, then their manager, then the owner or corporate office if necessary. But as a retail manager myself, let me say that either you've forgotten your customer service days, or things have really changed since you worked behind the counter. I've worked customer service for 5 years, and in even that short time period customers are getting more demanding and just plain rude. Customers think the world revolves around them; they think that they "deserve" a discount for being old or because they had to wait 2 seconds. I've been at a computer with my "closed" sign up, obviously on the phone with a computer repair company, trying to fix our main terminal, and customers (MORE THAN ONE) will come up and ask, "Are you open?" DOES IT LOOK LIKE I'M OPEN?! I was not "fiddling" around with the computer (like in scenario #4). Managers have more important things to do than "fiddle" all day. I was trying to fix it so that the other computers worked faster and took credit cards again!

1. In the first scenario, unless it was an emergency, there was no excuse for the behavior. I agree with your analysis.

2. In the second scenario, possible reasons for your frustrations: stores are working with an increasingly limited number of employees/hours. The company head wants more profits, customers want low(er) prices, employees want more money. This means fewer employees/hours. It's sometimes hard to predict when people are going to shop, thus sometimes there are plenty of employees and others not nearly enough. I would love to have every register staffed with cashiers at all times, but most of them would sit idly for most of the day. Instead, I have one or two cashiers scheduled, with others as backup if it gets busy. However, if the backups are helping customers when it gets busy, then I'm sorry, I don't have any more employees to make the lines any shorter. If you want to get in and out quickly, don't shop at lunchtime or from 5~7. Shop at less busy times of the day. And no, I can't schedule extra employees for just those time periods. Who wants to come in to work for just 2~3 hours?

The employee who was dusting: I frequently start new employees on the easiest tasks and then move them to harder tasks as they show their competence. I have other employees that despite many years with the company, ARE NOT CAPABLE of running a cash register. The employee developing film may have had a deadline to have the pictures finished (one hour photo, perhaps?). The manager might have been closing the register down and making sure the money was accurate before opening it with a new cashier. Or he might have been trying to fix a problem on it.

Lying to a customer about having to take a break? Why? For employees under 18, there are strict rules about when whey must take breaks. Otherwise the company gets a fine of $10,000 PER OCCURRENCE. For those over 18, you're right, they might have been working for 7 straight hours. But why lie?

3. Making up your own price for an item? The 16-year-old cashier is qualified to do this in what world?! How about inventory control? The price isn't what matters, it's the 10 digit item number that matters, so the computer knows what to order more of. Ordering is rarely done by hand these days. Twenty years ago, maybe, but not today. What would stop the cashier from making up prices for their family and friends? "That $200 sofa doesn't look that well-made, so I'll charge you $5 for it."

The manager may have been doing something that kept him from coming to the front. Again, the world does not revolve around you. When paged I get to the front as soon as possible. But if I'm helping another customer at the time, I can't completely abandon them. Or if I've got the mouse cornered that we've been trying to trap for months, I'm not going to stop and let it ruin another couple of thousand dollars of merchandise. Stuff happens. You don't know why that manager didn't come to the front right away.

4. Again, predicting customer behavior is IMPOSSIBLE. One week you might sell 100 of an item, the next week 5. We do our best to keep the proper number of items in stock, but working with a limited amount of space in which to store stuff, if we run out, TOO BAD. Come back another day, or find another store with the item in stock.

Of course, the most obvious answer to your question would be, "Shop somewhere else." I have customers who come in and find something to complain about EVERY TIME. Some people are never going to be happy. I'm not saying you're like that because you had some legitimate complaints, but you didn't seem very understanding of things that might have been happening behind the scenes. If you feel the service is that bad, then don't shop there. You'll be happier, and the employees might be happier, too.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Computer Monitor

It was a fairly busy day and I was at the phone trying to find out about ordering an item for a customer. It's not something we usually carry, but we can get it if given enough time. I had never ordered one before, though, and I couldn't find the paperwork that I needed.

I called another of our stores to talk to my friend the manager but she couldn't help. She suggested another of our stores where the store manager is well known for being knowledgeable in that area. I try to be professional on the phone, never knowing who knows who or who within my promote-from-within company might someday be my boss.

Well, I dialed the second store and just as the person answered the phone I saw a cashier heave a heavy item onto the counter. Enthusiastically. With vigor. On the way to the counter the item hit the computer monitor. Hard. The computer monitor went flying off of the counter.

Oh shit.

"Thank you for calling {Our Store Name, Their Location}, this is {not the big manager with the reputation but nevertheless a manager}, how can I help you?"

{{How am I going to explain this to not only my immediate boss, but her boss, as we ask for emergency approval for a new monitor since that computer is the only one that can do certain important things???? How about, "Sorry, but we had a little accident and the computer monitor is in like a million jillion pieces. Oops. Can you give us a new one?" That would not go over well. At all.}}


Time moved in slow motion as my cashier and I both lunged for the monitor. It hung by a single cord, swinging madly about. This is not a light monitor. In fact, it's quite heavy. But it hung. The cashier picked it up and put it back where it belonged, and it still worked. Not a scratch (that wasn't there already, anyways) on it.



"Oh yeah, sorry, this is {my name} from {our store location and number}. Sorry. Had a bit of a problem here. It's OK now. Anyway, is big smart manager there? No? Oh, do you know the answer? Yes, thanks! Have a good evening!"

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

An Awkward Conversation

The customer who was sexually harassing several employees was in today. I pulled him to the side and gave him the speech that I had been thinking about for several weeks: "Sir, I realize you probably think you're being funny and just joking around. However, some of my employees find your jokes offensive. As a manager, I have the responsibility to protect my employees from what COULD BE CONSTRUED as sexual harassment. So I need to ask you to stop." He made a few excuses, "I wasn't using any foul language," stuff like that. But nevertheless, he WAS saying offensive things. If it continues, I'll have to ask him to shop someplace else. And he really won't like that. The conversation was awkward enough as it was. Asking a regular customer to shop somewhere else would be REALLY awkward, despite my regional manager giving me permission to do so, if necessary. I'll have to wait and see.

Oh, and new employees suck. They really, really REALLY, REALLY suck.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Goodbye, Mr. Polite!

Mr. Polite resigned.

: (

He's moving on to better things, so I'm happy for him, but he was SUCH a good employee!! Usually on the official paperwork I only write a few sentences explaining why an employee quit or was fired, but for him I wrote a long statement saying what a great employee he was and how we hope he'll join the company again one day. He was so funny with the paper (he has to sign it along with me). He wasn't sure that he could sign it because by signing he's saying that he agrees with the statement. I asked what he couldn't agree with and he, in his humble manner, pointed out a couple of sentences about him being a model employee. Oh come on, you're good.......really good. He was obviously proud of it, though.......he made a copy to show his parents. Then after close we had a goodbye party for him. Good luck, Mr. Polite! Don't forget us!

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Shoplifter

We find empty boxes/packaging in the store more frequently than I would like. Our store has a less than stellar loss prevention program. OK, we have NO loss prevention anything. Customers think that if they remove the items from the package, then they're safe. I've had my suspicions about people before, watching them as carefully as I can, but I've never actually seen shoplifting occur.

One of my employees has.

Unfortunately I wasn't there to witness the whole thing, but the story got passed around so everyone heard all the details, more or less. Several boys from the neighborhood had been coming in nearly every day. They were perhaps 12~14 years old and obviously bored out of their minds. They were polite, though, and asked questions about our specialty products which I had no problem answering. I encourage curiosity and they never asked me questions if it was really busy. Now I know why.

Well, one of my high school employees saw one of them put an item into his pockets (not a small item, so BIG pockets). He did the right thing and told the manager on duty. She approached the boys and asked if they needed help. They, of course, said no, then left. The high schooler FOLLOWED THEM OUTSIDE and told the boy something along the lines of, "I know what you did. Give it back." Surprise, the boy HANDED HIM THE ITEM and ran off. The MOD called the police and about 10 minutes later they arrived (not an emergency, obviously). They said since the boys were no longer around that they couldn't do anything, but if they came in again, to call the police first. Don't approach them, don't ask them to leave. Just call the police. Sure, no problem. Good idea.

The regional manager was informed of the situation in case it turns into anything later on. The boys haven't been back in, and I don't expect they will. There are perhaps one or two managers who don't know the boys, but those of us who've seen the boys gave them a pretty good description.

I had a chat with the teenage employee the next time we worked together. I praised him for his observation skills and for telling the MOD what was happening and for trying to protect our merchandise. Then I asked him to NEVER follow a shoplifter outside to ask for the merchandise back. The kid could have had a knife or a gun or started throwing punches. The high school employee wasn't that much bigger than the pre-teen shoplifter. He laughed it off, "He was just a kid. He didn't have a gun." How do you know? I had access to a gun as a kid. Actually, quite a few guns! Just be careful. Protect the merchandise, but don't risk your safety.

Friday, August 12, 2005

The store manager is back!!!!

The store manager is back!!!!

I can't tell you how much stress has been lifted off of my shoulders. Having another responsible person in the building and a more experienced person to ask questions is SO GREAT!!

Even when I wasn't at work, it felt like I was there. I was chained to my phone, receiving calls early in the morning and late at night, when I was at home or at the grocery store, when I was with friends, when I was in community meetings. Solving problems when I was half-asleep, handling conflicts between employees, answering questions about returns and policies, doing my usual duties plus the store manager's, it was a tough time. But now it's over!

I imagine I'll move up to store manager one day, and perhaps not that far in the future. After all, although it was stressful, I did a good job while the manager was gone. Both she and the regional manager were pleased by my performance. However, for now I'm content in my current position. I'm lucky in that I get along well with the store manager, and she's a great teacher. I still have a lot to learn about running a store and motivating employees and just the certain aura that surrounds a really good manager.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Lost and Found

People leave strange things in my store. Lots of time it's trash--cups, bottles, candy wrappers. Other times it's toys, hair bands, an earring, sunglasses--things that are easy to leave behind. But other things are insane. Wouldn't you miss a kid's shoe pretty quickly? One guy left his whole wallet, with credit cards and driver's license inside. We tried to contact him, but no luck. We never saw him again.

If there's a name or other identifying info on the lost item, we try to contact the person it belongs to. Most things we keep for a week or even a month, then if it looks like there's any value to it we'll keep it a while longer. But we can't keep everything forever! We eventually cut up and throw away credit cards that were left on the counter or found on the floor.

One lady dropped her checkbook in the parking lot--before she even got home we called and left a message for her. She came back later in the evening to claim it. Another lady left her ENTIRE PURSE sitting on the top of a display. Luckily it was found by an employee, who promptly turned it in, along with the $500 cash and cell phone inside. That lady was also easy to find. Another lady called us to look for her missing credit card. We had it and said we'd keep it in a safe place until she could come pick it up. That wasn't good enough for her, however. She lived SO far away, could we mail it to her? Uh, no. First of all, that's not all that secure, and second of all, I don't have envelopes and stamps. I can cut it up for you, and your CREDIT CARD COMPANY can send you a new card.

If someone loses something in my store, we do our best to find the owner. However, that's not our job. It's something we do because we'd like someone to do it for us if we ever get as absent-minded as some of our customers. The vast majority of my employees are honest. If they're not, I get rid of them. I know, I know--retail has a reputation for losing stock through employee theft, but my store doesn't tolerate that. If suspicious patterns emerge, we look into it and we have no problem with forcing employees to quit. Obviously, evidence of theft or misconduct is needed for an accusation or prosecution, but there's no law against lowering hours until the employee has to quit.

Anyway, I have honest people working for me. What REALLY bugs me is when someone calls and claims, "The cashier kept my credit card, I want it back now!!" I look in the safe and ask the cashier, and no credit card. "I'm sorry, Mr. Customer. We don't seem to have it in our store. Perhaps you left it somewhere else." "No," he insists, "the last place I used it was in YOUR STORE." "I'm sorry, but we don't have it. You might have dropped it in the parking lot, or any number of things. You should probably call your credit card company and report it as lost." "But I didn't lose it! Your employee stole it!"

The same thing happens with jewelry and other items. People insist on me taking their name and phone number in case we find their sunglasses or ring or whatever later on. "I left it on the shelf in the bathroom. Can you look to see if it's still there?" Sure . . . . no, your $100 sunglasses are not still there. Then they're upset and blame me for the loss, when all I'm thinking is, "How is it my fault that you're so irresponsible?"

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Misplaced Items

You've got to love the new employees. I make a point of showing some commonly-confused items to them, in the hopes that they won't stock the shelves wrong. Otherwise I end up with angry customers at the register, demanding the $12.99 that the shelf label said even though the item they're buying retails for $18.99. Big difference! The new employees don't know the product, and even some old employees don't pay enough attention to see the differences. I try my best to knock it into their heads, "When in doubt, CHECK THE SKU/UPC!!!!" Each item has a unique barcode that tells the computer what to charge the customer. If one or two items are in the wrong place I can explain it away as "some kid" misplaced the items (even though most of the time it was "some stupid customer" who put the items in the wrong place). But if a whole shelf contains the wrong item, then I've got to give the customer the cheaper price on it. And I hate doing that.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005


The coupon lady called to complain about me. According to her, I've helped her twice and made her feel like trash. First of all, if I had helped her more than once, I would have remembered HER stupidity and rudeness. Secondly, me reading the coupon makes her "feel like trash"???? She obviously doesn't care about the number of people who try to pay with expired or outright fraudulent coupons!! The person she complained to is lower in the chain of command than I am, but called right away to tattle to my boss. Whatever. My boss knows I do a good job. Many people don't pay attention to which employees are helping them. If more than one of our employees made her "feel like trash," then that's not my fault. Maybe she IS trash.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Price Matching (2)

Regarding the internet and price matching: I had a customer who bought an expensive item from us and when he bought it he asked if he found the item cheaper somewhere else, would we match the price. Sure, says the employee. If I knew which employee that was, I just might kill him or her.

The man came back on a busy weekend with some internet printouts. Ebay had the item for half of what we charge. I called the store manager (bothering her again, even though she isn't back or being paid!) but she wasn't sure if we could match that. So I called the regional manager to ask her. Surprise, she answered her phone on the weekend. She said that we don't match Ebay prices. I told that to the guy. He wasn't thrilled, but showed me ANOTHER printout, from one of our retail competitor's online stores. That one was $40 cheaper than ours. I said that we COULD match that price, but I'd have to add shipping and handling on. The customer didn't like the amount of shipping and handling that we're told to add on. I told him that if I had it in writing what that website charges for shipping and handling, then I could use that instead. OK, he'd come back later.

He did, indeed, come back later. I told him I'd do it like a regular return, then resell him the item. Suddenly he couldn't find his receipt, and accused me of keeping it. Do you WANT me to throw you out of the store?! He looked in his car again, and found it. Then as I was doing the return and selling it to him again at the cheaper price, he said the internet site doesn't charge sales tax, either. OH COME ON!!

"Sir, the internet stores operate under different laws than us. I can't NOT charge you the sales tax. The government wants their money. The state requires me to charge sales tax unless you're part of a non-profit organization, in which case I would need verification of that." (And my company certainly doesn't want to pay the tax for him.) He didn't claim to be a non-profit, so we finished the transaction, I CLEARLY marked the receipts as to what I had done and why (so if he tries to come back later he can't return the item for the full price, etc.).

All of this on a busy weekend, a combined 20~30 minutes of my time!

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Price Matching (1)

Price matching is something that I do fairly often. If another store sells the EXACT item cheaper, then we'll match that price to keep the sale. However, I need some kind of proof that the item at the other store is actually cheaper than us, as our prices are very competitive. It's easy when the customer brings in a recent receipt from the other store or an ad from the paper. When they expect me to *trust them* that our price is more expensive, that's where the trouble begins. I have to call the "cheaper" store to verify the price.

One time I called and the other store was more expensive than us. I told the customer that, and she said that I didn't call that store in {a certain city} 3 hours away! I told her that we match prices within a drivable distance and that if she wants the item, she can drive the 3 hours and buy it at that store. (I said it a little nicer than that, though.) She bought it from us.

Another lady dug a receipt out of her purse because we were more expensive than another store she sometimes shops at. Sure, I'll match the price. When I rang up the items, I found that they were on sale such that they were cheaper than the other store. Still want me to match the other store's price?

Internet selling makes things even more complicated. Internet stores have fewer employees than retail stores, lower rent and upkeep costs, no shoplifting, lower insurance costs, etc. etc. etc. In other words, they can sell stuff cheaper. Ebay further complicates things because some items are used or wholesale or otherwise not what you'd find in a retail store.

Next time, more on price matching.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

A Bad Driver

In the olden days when I was a regular employee I witnessed a car accident in our parking lot. Back then we did shipment a little differently than we do now. The delivery man would put the pallets outside and we would unload stuff onto a handtruck to take it inside. I was working with my manager out in the hot sun, but talking and joking kept it fun. A couple of ladies in their 50s or 60s entered the store, bought some stuff, and got back into their car. The lady backed up and turned entirely too quickly, putting a pretty major dent in the side rear of the car parked next to her. She pulled forward, presumably to park and find out whose car she hit, but then she backed up again at a different angle, and drove off! I stood there, shocked that she would do that, but my manager had the presence of mind to get the license tag number and type of car. We went inside, wrote the info down, and found the customer the car belonged to. She went outside to view the damage, then called her husband because none of us knew what to do. He said, "Duh! Call the police!"

At that point my mind started working, honed by hours of watching detective shows. I asked the cashier what the lady paid with, and lucky us—she paid with a credit card. So when the police arrived, we had a description of the car, the license tag number, what direction she was headed, a description of the lady, and the name of one of the ladies. The officer looked at the damage and took statements from the manager and me. With all of the info we gave him, he said there'd be no problem finding the woman and charging her with leaving the scene of an accident. So 6 points on her license, a nice sized fine, a HUGE insurance increase………I don't remember seeing her in our store again!

Friday, August 05, 2005

Normality Quiz

Here's a quiz to see how normal you are. Don't worry, it's short.

1. Which item does not belong?
A. apple
B. couch
C. banana
D. orange

2. What category do the following items belong to?
dog, cat, rabbit, fish

If you answered "banana" and "cooking utensils," you think like an astounding 10% of my customers. If you answered "couch" and "pets," congratulations, you're normal!

You've got to wonder how some people's minds work. Stores tend to sell related items, but many people can't seem to group items appropriately in their minds.

Let's pretend I work at a card shop. People will ask, "Do you sell tires?" What planet are you from?! What card shop have you heard of that sells tires??? Other people will ask, "Do you sell cards?" Hmm........let me think about that for a minute. That's the hardest question I've had all day. Oh, yeah, we do! In fact, about a thousand of them are right in front of you!

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Mr. S.

Mrs. S. has been in a lot lately. We hadn't received a certain item in several weeks, and it's the only thing her husband likes. She left her phone number with us and we promised to be on the lookout for it. But another shipment of none of that item. Her husband came in, ranting and raving and telling us to get our act together. He wasn't very nice, but it was obvious that something is not right with him, so we let it slide. They both have strong accents. He, however, seems to be having increasing trouble with English as his mind goes. (They're both at least 60, maybe 70. I don't know where they're from originally.)

When it was obvious that our warehouse has no interest in sending us that particular item, we called another store and had them send us several. When Mrs. S. came in to pick them up, she gave me a big hug and a very sincere "Thank you!" Mr. and Mrs. S. were in once together; he yelled a bit then and she stood and bit her tongue. She asked how bad her husband had been when he came in by himself--she was in the car (because she doesn't let him drive anymore) but she refused to come inside out of embarrassment. I didn't say much, but another employee (Miss Semi-Manager) was very blunt on how bad he was but that she likes old people so doesn't mind. Mrs. S. expressed her frustrations and how he's becoming worse day by day. She asked how we stood him, because some days she can't even stand him. Poor lady.

When she left she said she would hide several of the item from her husband so it takes him longer to go through them. Since we didn't get any of them this shipment, either, I guess I should start calling around to other stores to arrange for another store transfer. I'll be in another, larger, city for a visit soon. Perhaps I should call all of our stores in that city and stop by to collect some of the needed item. Help Mrs. S. out, get ideas for merchandising in my own store, network with other managers, I could get a lot done in just a couple of hours.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

A More Positive Outlook

I am exhausted.

My throat hurts.

My muscles are sore.

The stress of being totally and completely in charge is getting to me.

The meeting was OK. The store manager agreed with everything I wrote on the disciplinary papers, simply signing her name next to mine before we took the semi-manager into the office area to talk. It took 20 minutes or so. She knew she was in trouble even before we asked her to come with us; she only made a couple of excuses. She cried a little, disappointed in herself and realizing that this makes her chances of ever being promoted even slimmer. That is, if she makes it past the probationary period.

Everything the manager said was perfectly worded and well thought out. I didn't say much because she covered everything. I'm not exactly sure why I was there. I suspect one of two things. It might have been to reinforce my authority as the semi-manager's manager, or it might have been as a witness in case the semi-manager lost it or tries to say anything against the store manager later on. Or perhaps some of both. But anyway, it went OK.

I had some decent people working today and the incompetent cashier was a little more self-sufficient than normal. Someone called to check on the status of their application; usually that annoys me but in this case, I couldn't find the application and the person had 2 years of experience in our rather specialized field, so I had her come in to fill out another application and interview with me. A call to the store manager, and she's hired! All right! Just one experienced person makes me feel better about the staffing issues. With our "now hiring" sign up, hopefully we'll fill the other positions soon.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The Day From Hell

You're still reading? The title isn't enough?

OK, so here's my day:

A new employee showed up just long enough to quit (better than another new employee last week who worked just one day and then disappeared off the face of the earth). No notice, just quit. It wasn't the reason he gave, but I had heard from another employee that he couldn't stand one of the other managers. It pays to be nice to your employees because they tell you important things! One of them clued me in earlier in the day that he might not show up at all, so I had a backup employee ready. The manager he had a problem with is on a major power trip. I've talked with her about being the boss without being bossy, but she is still very certainly bossy and mean and overbearing and if she were my boss I'd quit, too. As it is she tolerates my authority over her, but isn't always happy about it.

I found out some information that means I have to discipline 3 employees, one of them the girl who's a semi-manager (but I have more authority than her) and thinks she should have my job and that I'm out to get her. I called my boss's boss (remember my boss is out for a few weeks) to find out what kind of discipline was appropriate, considering this is the third time for the same issue. She told me to put the girl on "probation," which means if she does anything wrong in the next 30 days she's fired. I expressed my concern that the girl will not take it well coming from me and the big manager agreed, suggesting that I wait until the store manager gets back. That's still a week away! I've already disciplined one employee (by itself a stressful event) and the other will happen tomorrow; I can't save the semi-manager for next week and let her think she's getting away with something. So I called the store manager and asked her if she could stop by to sign the disciplinary papers, showing that she knows about and supports my action (even though it's HER boss that told me to do it). Instead she's coming in tomorrow and the three of us are going to sit down and deal with the issue.

A shipment came in that was more than what I had authority to order. I double- and triple-checked my numbers and figured out that I had ordered correctly but they had sent me too much stuff. Big manager said that it was OK, just order less next time to make up for this week's vendor error.

The stupid customers were everywhere, and they all seemed to find me when they needed help.

It was a big shipment day, plus several smaller ones, so lots to do everywhere.

Minor bug infestation/damaged product to record.

On a good note, the incompetent cashier didn't mess up too badly and most customers left before the store closed.

I am NOT looking forward to tomorrow's meeting to discipline the semi-manager. She's going to be pretty nasty to work with for a while. Hey, maybe that's good.....insubordination would be enough to get rid of her at this point. She's not good for the store or the company, so might as well get rid of her in the next 30 days while we have the reason to.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Starting but not finishing

Some employees amaze me. The girl who wanted my job and still expects to get promoted at some point is constantly doing things that show me she is nowhere near ready to be a manager. She is sort-of a manager now, but not really. How to describe it? Occasionally she'll be the closing manager, but if a regular manager is in the building then she isn't supposed to do any manager stuff (like returns or getting change from the safe). She has a major problem with my authority and has an attitude whenever I tell her to do something. She thinks I'm "second-guessing her" or "treating her like an idiot" if I make sure she's doing things right. If I question her taking too much time to complete a task, she whines about how busy the store was and how she was trying her best and I'm expecting too much.

Today she started four tasks and didn't finish any of them.

1. Despite having a shipment of stuff to put away, she started cleaning/organizing an employees-only area, then it must have struck her that we had the shipment to put away so she stopped cleaning. For the rest of the day the stuff was on the floor, ready to trip everyone who walked by. Mid-afternoon someone picked up all the stuff and threw it back where it belonged. So the stuff actually ended up messier than when she began, besides threatening a few lives.

2. She put away a little of the shipment, stopping to re-tie her shoes and complain about how hot it was and how much her back hurt.

3. In the middle of putting away the shipment she stopped to do some routine tasks that could have waited until later. In the meantime we finished the shipment without her. She came back, commented on the shipment being finished, "too bad I missed it, ha, ha," {flippant toss of her hair}. Then she went on break and conveniently forgot about finishing the other routine duties, leaving them for the closing crew.

4. For her last hour at work I asked her to finish putting away some boxes that the evening shift hadn't done the day before. The hour should have been plenty of time for her to finish (it would have taken me about 30 minutes, but I had other things to do). HOWEVER......while she was putting the boxes away she decided that the shelf was dirty so she'd take EVERYTHING off of the shelf to clean it before putting away the boxes. Well, guess what? By the time her shift ended the boxes were only half put away, and someone else had to finish that task, too.

Ready to be a manager? I don't think so. You've got to be able to prioritize and maintain a workplace free of hazards and FINISH THINGS.