Saturday, November 29, 2014

New Tales from Old Navy: A Missed Opportunity

If you've ever worked retail, you've probably had that fantasy of telling a particularly difficult customer exactly what you were thinking. In real life and in civilized society, it just isn't logical to let fly all of our honest opinions. The person at the cash register often needs to hold his or her tongue in favor of holding down a job. But there are rare occasions where one has the opportunity to say what needs to be said without fear of retaliation or job loss.

A few weeks ago, I got a message from one of my former managers at Old Navy. She was asking if I would be willing to come around and help out on Black Friday. For those of you who have been living under a rock for the last 20 years, Black Friday is the annual sales event that takes place the day after Thanksgiving. It's that magical day where stores slash prices and people become the absolute worst versions of themselves in order to get a good deal. Its origins are mythic. No one truly knows when Black Friday first began. My theory is that it began when a panicked single mother beat a frantic father of three with the last Tickle Me Elmo in existence.

Anyway, Black Friday is, traditionally, a crazy busy day in retail. Everyone who forgot that you can still walk into buildings and buy things comes out of the woodwork and decides to spend money. Old Navy is not immune to this phenomenon. I don't want to say that my former employers were desperate for extra help, but they made it difficult for me to say no. "We won't make you go back through orientation," they said. "You can have whatever shift you want," they said. "You can do whatever job you want while you're here," they said. "If you just want to stand around and sing Christmas carols, you can," they said. Who could turn that down?

The way I figured, there wasn't a whole lot going on for my personal Thanksgiving weekend. Now, I had entertained the notion of doing nothing on Black Friday for the first time in years. After all, I quit working at Old Navy back in May. That meant I was no longer in retail. But they seemed to think I did a decent job when I was working there and I seem to have been missed. I had no plans for Friday, so I thought, why not? It's nine hours of my day and I'll get some extra money out of it. Oh, and the powers that be provided free food and beverage for the break times. Not too shabby.

I woke up early Friday morning and got ready to head over to the mall area. I wasn't due in until 9am, but figured I should leave earlier than necessary, what with the Black Friday traffic and all. Turns out that was an unnecessary precaution. All those early bird shoppers must have gotten started on Thursday evening, which is apparently when Black Friday officially begins these days. I assumed I would need to park pretty far away from Old Navy's main entrance. Turns out I was able to park in the same place I used to park on a usual evening of work.

When I walked into the store, I looked around and questioned if it was even Black Friday. It was no busier in there than it would be on a typical Saturday. Granted, it was Friday, so it was busy for a Friday morning at 8:30. But it was atypical for Black Friday. I found out that there were a lot of customers when the store opened Thursday evening, but was fairly dead overnight. I would later find out that the people would come in waves.

I spent my day moving between the sales floor and the cash register. Mostly, it seemed that I was there to cover lunch breaks for people at the registers. At first I was a little nervous that I wouldn't remember everything I needed to know to work the system. Turns out it was like falling off a bike. While I certainly didn't mind running a register from time to time throughout the day (constantly checking people out made the time fly), I was a little surprised I wasn't put in the fitting room. In my Old Navy days, I was the King of the Fitting Room. I know, I gave myself that title, but that doesn't mean it wasn't true.

You come across some interesting people when you're working a cash register on Black Friday. And remember how I mentioned at the start of this post that it would be nice to say what you're really thinking to customers as you're working retail? Well, I'd like to tell you that I unbridled my tongue and spewed forth my brand of brutal honesty. It would have been a perfect opportunity, right? Could I have been fired for offending a couple of customers when I was only hired to work one day? Probably, but would it have really mattered? The way I saw it, they came to me about working on Friday. Sure seemed like they needed me more than I needed them.

Sidebar: I say that, but I really do like the people I worked for and with at Old Navy. Which is probably why I didn't offer my honest opinion to the few customers that may have deserved a dose of truth.

I made small talk with a woman who talked about starting her shopping on Thursday evening. Then she complained about stores opening on Thanksgiving. "I hate that you all open on Thanksgiving now!" The response in my mind: "Then why do you go shopping on Thanksgiving?! If you morons would stop showing up at the stores that open on Thanksgiving, guess what? They'd stop opening on Thanksgiving! Supply and demand!" I smiled and nodded while ringing up her jeans.

Then there was the elderly man who was making several returns. I thought it odd that he wasn't buying anything. He just made a special trip to Old Navy on Black Friday to return two shirts and a pair of slacks. So picture it, he waited in a long line, just to return these clothes. When he finally got to the front of the line, he was lucky enough to find me without a customer. Maybe I was the lucky one. He was ill prepared for anything that was going on. He handed me a bag with the items to be returned. Also in the bag was an invoice for an online purchase... from another store. Meanwhile, he's digging through an envelope full of various receipts. He finally hands me a receipt and it doesn't contain any of the three items he's brought to return. He raises his voice and begins telling me that he bought these things around the same time that he bought what was on the receipt. Also, he used his Old Navy credit card, so the account number should be on the receipt too. He must not be aware that account numbers are blocked out, aside from the last four numbers, for the customer's financial protection. But knowing how irate he was becoming, I thought it best not to point out his stupidity.

I called a manager over to help me out with the situation. I knew I could look up his credit card information and I even remembered how to do this after all these months. I guess I just wanted a witness to make sure I wasn't doing anything that would be construed as inappropriate when it comes to customer service. It's best to have witnesses when dealing with difficult customers. Anyway, we asked this old-timer to input his social security number so we could look up his account. He typed it in wrong. We asked again, politely, failing to mention that the number he previously entered was invalid, and he yelled that he already did. He finally figured out how to work the keypad and we got everything figured out for him. He left in a huff with the money back on his credit card and the clothes in our possession. I don't know why he was so angry. Maybe he was mad because he forgot it was Black Friday. Maybe he was mad because he had to wait in line too long and his adult diaper was full because he crapped in his pants. Maybe his ancient status had nothing to do with it because some people are jerks from childhood on. Who knows? The point is, I again held my tongue. I was polite to this guy, but I pointed out to the manager that I really didn't have to be. And I'm sure she was thinking a lot of the same unpleasant thoughts that I was thinking.

I could go on and on about the Black Friday customers. But this post has already become a lot longer than I intended for it to be. Guess I'm making up for not writing anything on here for the last month. I end with this advice: be kind to your customer service representatives, no matter what they call themselves or what store they work for. I can almost guarantee that, if you're not, they'll be thinking some not so nice things and talking about you behind your back once you're gone.

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