I think that whoever coined the phrase "the customer is always right" was confused. What qualifies me to challenge the wisdom of someone who probably ended up being a multi-millionaire because of this philosophy? Years of experience with the modern customer. Five years in retail and about twenty in banking have shown me that while the customer can be right, they can also be very wrong. I guess that means they are only human. Or at least something that looks very much like one.
I remember receiving a phone call from a woman who was very distressed about the state of the savings accounts in her children's names. There were two or three accounts, as I recall, and they were accounts that were set up to receive funds for the kids' maintenance. The funds went in monthly and the mother could withdraw them to get food or medicine or whatever was needed. Well, mom was in a panic because the automated phone system had given her the balance on the accounts, and the funds were really low. I mean nearly non-existent. I tried to gently calm her down while I looked at the accounts to see what was happening. Yes, the funds had been automatically deposited into all of the accounts just a few days before. But why wasn't there any money, she wanted to know. She was nearly in a panic. Then the truth came out. "Did you happen to go to Blackhawk last weekend?" Blackhawk, Colorado used to be a mining town. Nowadays people seek their fortunes there at slot machines and gaming tables.
"Yes, I went to Blackhawk this weekend." I asked her if she had made ATM withdrawals while she was there. Yes, she had. Several times, for two hundred dollars each withdrawal. "Well, ma'am, that's where the money went. It was deposited in all of the accounts, and then you took it out at the ATM." "But where's the money to feed my kids?" By this point, I was feeling two very different emotions. I felt sorry that these kids were going to have a very lean month. And I was angry that their mother blew all of their money on gambling. But I still kept my cool. I once again repeated the withdrawal amounts and times and told her that was where her money was. She must have had the crazy idea that we would give her money back because after admitting to taking the money out, she kept asking why she didn't have any in the accounts. "What am I going to do to feed my kids?" she asked. I had to just quietly tell her that I didn't know what she could do, and remind her again that she got the money out of the accounts and spent it all. That was definitely one of those calls you just had to tell your coworkers about later because it was too awful to be true.
I had another gross encounter with a mother when I was working in retail. I have mentioned before that I worked in a shop in a mall that is so ritzy it refuses to use the word mall. It is a shopping center. Whatever. If all of us worked at a ritzy shopping center we would all realize something that I knew long before I worked there - having money doesn't mean having class. I was generally the poorest person in the shop, meaning of course in comparison to the customers, but I had dignity and good manners. One memorable Sunday, on Mothers' Day, no less, I had an encounter with one of those wealthy but witless women. She had her baby with her, and was one of those women who, when the baby fussed, asked for the baby's permission to keep shopping. Seriously! We had lots of those in our shop. "Honey, can't you please let Mommy shop for a while?" She was also one of those people who thought my job involved staying by her side all through her shopping trip and taking items off the shelves for her and carrying all of her stuff around. Hah!
So here I was with a shop crammed full of people and a very demanding woman in front of me. And then the icing on the cake. The baby barfed all over the floor and counter. When I dashed over to get some paper towels to wipe the floor and counter, the woman started yelling at me. "Aren't you going to clean off my shoes? You're down there wiping up the floor and the counter. What about my shoes? Who's going to clean this stuff off of my shoes?" I looked up at her from where I was crouched on the floor. "Ma'am, my priority is the safety of the customers in the shop. Here's some paper towels for you to clean your own shoes." Needless to say, she didn't buy anything from us that day. I never saw her again, which didn't hurt my feelings even a tiny bit!
I worked all of those years in retail and banking because I loved working with people. I really enjoyed helping them with their problems, and being able to explain things in ways that were easy to understand. Luckily for us all, most people are kind and decent and just need a little help now and then. The next time you need to phone your bank or need some help in a little shop, maybe you can brighten someone else's day. They may have just had an encounter with someone that left them feeling a bit bruised. Perhaps after they talk to you they will realize that a few minutes ago they were sitting under a gray cloud, but now it's gone. And they won't need to ask "where did it go?"