In my three years of working in retail, I've had my share of interesting customers. There was the drunk and exuberant Scientologist who talked to me for hours about his "close friend" Tom Cruise. There was the customer who always smelled like a dirty diaper, and nobody on my staff could determine his/her gender. Or the customer we've come to know as "Bike Boy," who literally rides his bicycle miles to our store every few days -- in rain, snow or shine -- to buy a small amount of food (I even jokingly offered to set him up with a cot in my back room he's there so often).
But today, I encountered a customer I pray never sets foot in my store again. I knew right away she was a new customer, because she came from the opposite direction of where my regular customers come from. In case you missed it, my store is in a really hard-to-find location, doesn't face any streets, and has no decent signage visible from said streets. So when she walked in from the opposite direction, I was already prepared for her first words.
I started with my standard greeting.
Me: Hello, welcome to ___________, how are you doing today?
Worst Customer Ever (WCE): Well not very good, I've been trying to find you for hours.
Me: Well that's a shame, if you had called me, I would have been able to help you find us in a matter of minutes.
WCE: I came up Elevator 1 from the underground parking. They should put an elevator closer to your store.
Me: Actually Elevator 2 comes out right across there (as I point 200 feet away to a door to Elevator 2).
WCE: This store is so hard to find.
Up to this point, the conversation was going the way literally hundreds before it had gone with first time customers. I pointed to the sign behind my cash register that reads "Yes, we know we're hard to find. You are one of the lucky ones who found us, so SMILE!" Usually this disarms the frustrated customer, and they move on to concentrating on what they came in the store for. Not WCE.
WCE: Whoever put this store here should be fired immediately.
Me: Well we've been in this location for over three years now, so I don't think anyone is getting fired for it. What can I help you with today?
WCE: Oh, yes, I'm so flustered, let me collect myself. I have so many different coupons I don't know what to do.
Finally, after going through her small stack of coupons, I suggested that a combo package she had for $49.99 was the best bang for the buck. As I began grabbing the various boxes out of the freezer for this package, her body language told me something was wrong.
WCE: That's a lot of boxes. Since I parked really far away because your store is hard to find, I'm not sure I can lift that.
Me: Well, if you need help to your car, I can lock my store up and help you carry the bag for you. But really, this is a great deal. Lots of food for the $49.99 price.
WCE: Oh no, I'm sure I'll be fine as long as I can find my car. You're store is really hidden.
Me: I know. If I had a nickel for every time someone told me that in the last three years, well, I'd have a lot of nickels. (And if I had a dollar for every time she'd already mentioned it, I'd have enough to buy a pizza).
WCE: Does this come with the free knives and cutting board like on the coupon?
Me: Yes it does, I'm grabbing those right now for you.
I force a smile as I continue my usual sales presentation, and explain to her a few options she has for this particular deal.
Me: So this box of steaks that usually goes for $89 can be traded out in the package for just $20. Even though I'm not usually a big fan of top sirloin, I had one of the best meals of my life with these top-of-the-line steaks.
WCE: Well they look awfully big. I don't think I could eat all that.
Me: Well that's another nice thing about these steaks, they're really thick. I usually thaw them out and butterfly them so I can get two steaks out of each one.
WCE: I don't know what I would cut them with. I don't have any knives to do that.
Me (while fighting the urge to bring up the free knives she just made a big deal about): It's okay, you don't have to do the upgrade. I just have to tell you about it. You can do that anytime we have a combo with this other box of steaks in it for future reference.
At this point, I realized that this sale would take longer than normal to ring up, because it was a mail order offer. Usually I can type in an 8 digit code that automatically brings up all the items in a package, but for this one I would have to look in a separate system on the register for the price breakdown on each item, and ring each of the 10 items up by hand.
Me: This is going to take me a little longer than usual to ring you up, because it's not one that's meant to be done in the store. While I'm doing that, you qualify for a great deal as a first time customer. Normally, my customers, after they make a purchase, can go over to that board on the wall there and do a buy one, get one free from the list. You actually, to welcome you to the store, qualify for a buy one get two free.
WCE: So if I buy something more, you give me another item free?
Me: No, actually, as I said, for first time customers, they get to do buy one, get two free. You just pay for the highest priced item you choose, and get two more free.
WCE: Well I've never had your products before, how do I know if I'll like it?
Me: We have a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee on everything we sell. If you don't like it, we'll give you your money back, a replacement, or an in store credit.
She looked at me as if I had just kicked her puppy with steel-toed boots.
WCE: I am just so flustered, all I want to do is get out of this store because I spent all afternoon trying to find you.
Me: That's fine, I'm ringing you up right now. You can decide if you want to do that deal or not.
WCE: This is just too overwhelming. I don't think I can do this.
If this is overwhelming for her, I was wondering how she deals with such difficult life matters as "paper or plastic?" or "would you like the receipt with you or in the bag?" or "Is that cash or charge?"
I finally finished ringing up her combo, and she pulls out what appear to be two e-gift cards to cover the full amount of the sale.
Me: Okay, I'll take those for you. This will also take a minute, because I have to hand enter the gift card number into our register.
WCE: I really just want to go now.
Me: I'm hurrying, ma'am. It will just take a minute. I can't scan these like I can with an actual physical gift card.
The system we use to lock the gift cards flashed a message that told me these were not the typical gift card. They actually are cards that have to be rung in to the register differently, which forced me to have to start ringing up the sale all over again. In addition, I knew at this point it was a sale that my store didn't get credit for.
Me: Ma'am, I apologize, but this card isn't a typical gift card. I have to re-ring this sale up differently than I did, so it will be just one more minute.
WCE: I should have just ordered these over the phone.
Me: The 800 number is on the coupon, but just so you know you'd be paying at minimum $14.99 in shipping costs for that.
WCE: I probably spent that much in gas just trying to find your store.
I finally finished ringing her up, and got ready to bag up the 10 items she didn't pay one penny for.
Me: Would you like me to put these in two small bags for better balance, or one large bag?
WCE: One large bag is fine, if that makes it quicker, so I can leave faster.
I bagged her boxes up, and she now gave me a look as if I had just told her that her family had died in a fiery plane crash.
WCE: I don't think I can carry that in one bag. Would it be possible for me to get two smaller bags?
Me: Oh, definitely. Let me just re-pack this for you.
I quickly finished re-packing the boxes into two small bags, and told her I was sorry again for the extra time it took, but that I had never seen any gift cards like the ones she had.
WCE: Oh, well I got these from the airline because the last time we flew on vacation with them they gave us such horrible customer service. I complained about it, so they sent me these gift cards.
*What I WANTED to say: No shit? You complained about customer service? I can't imagine you complaining about anything.*
What I ACTUALLY said: Well it's always nice when a company goes above and beyond to turn a negative experience into a positive one.
WCE: I'll never fly with them again in my life.
Me: Well hopefully enjoying this hundreds of dollars worth of free food will be some consolation.
By now, I really wish I could have issued her a free flight with what ever airline originally scorned her, so I could keep paying it forward, so to speak. As I walked her to the door to point her to the closer elevator, I took the coupon she used and tucked it in one of her two small bags.
Me: You know, usually we have to keep the coupons, but I thought I'd give this back, and let you know that for your convenience, you can call the 800 number on here and have it shipped directly from our headquarters to your doorstep in the future. That way you won't have to go through the frustration of finding us again!
WCE: Well, let's see if I even like your food first.
Me: Oh I'm sure you will. Good luck finding your car, and I hope you have a wonderful day!
As I watched her walk away, I thanked Baby Jeebus for three things:
1) That she would likely never be able to find my store again,
2) That this twenty minutes of my life was over, and
3) That I wasn't her husband.