Brand building through storytelling

Adventures in customer disservice

Among the unsung rewards of growing older is the confidence to voice my displeasure–emphatically, insistently and sometimes loudly enough to turn heads—when my legitimate concerns go ignored by those whose job it is to serve their customers.

I remember feeling cowed by such people. They had two or three decades on me then. On the phone they could read from a rule book and I wouldn’t dare push my point (what did I know, a 23-year-old with spit-up on the shoulder of her granny dress?). In person they could chill me with a look that said they hadn’t achieved their station in life by kowtowing to riff-raff like me.

The day I went shopping for my first office-worthy bra, which I would need to land an entry-level job after finally ditching the nursing bras, I had the colossal bad luck to encounter an aging sales clerk with a prim gray bob, a sour expression and ill-concealed disdain for 20-somethings like me who had spent their feckless youth going braless. (If you’ve read this story before, you might want to skip this reprise of customer abuse masquerading as service.) In the fitting room she looked me over with all the warmth of a prison guard sizing up her greenest miscreant. “You’re very flat,” she declared. “And you’re very fallen.” She still had one more poisoned dart in her quiver, and she aimed it right at what was left of my ego: “Two fried eggs.”

I actually bought a bra from this woman, who did not deserve to keep her job. But now I’m the one with intimidating facial grooves. They have their uses.

Last Wednesday at our local bank, my husband and I applied for 10 days of bridge financing to cover the period between closing the purchase of our new condo and closing the sale of our loft. A slam-dunk, we assumed. We’re mortgage-free, we have assets and we’ve banked with TD for 30 years. A young woman I’ll call Amy promised to get back to us within 24 hours. Silence. Amy had hinted, no doubt because the rules require it, that we might be asked to verify our income. (Income? For a 10-day loan? Didn’t our investments pass muster?) With the closing of our purchase practically upon us and no time for glitches, I left Amy a voicemail on Friday morning. At 1 I followed up with a second message making it plain that if I didn’t hear from Amy, I’d be speaking to her boss.

Instinct told me I should head for the bank to check things out in person. An anxious receptionist informed me that Amy was home sick and the manager was new, with no time to see me and likely no knowledge of my file. Who was in charge here, Basil Fawlty? “It’s not Amy’s fault that she’s ill,” I said, steps away from a long line of foot-shuffling customers, “but I need an answer and I was promised one yesterday. My husband and I have a 30-year history with TD. We’re running out of time to sort out bridge financing. This is not acceptable.”

Out came the manager, a slightly older and vastly more frazzled version of the students I just addressed at a Queen’s University conference for women commerce majors. She proceeded to me her troubles: booked solid with appointments, understaffed, just look at this line (look at it? I’d been venting to it!). What are they teaching commerce students these days? Was this woman’s bad day my problem? “I can’t even look at your file before 6 o’clock!” she pleaded, as if I had asked her to crawl to head office on bloody knees with the file gripped between her teeth. Six o’clock would do, I said. We agreed that I’d e-mail her the particulars our application. As I left she called after me, as if the thought had struck her for the very first time, “Don’t worry! We’ll deal with this!”

Just what I’d wanted to hear! Had she said it at the start, her customers would never have witnessed my ire.

Oh, well. She was young, perhaps nudging 30. Back at my desk, I sent her the promised e-mail, appealing to her sense of corporate duty. “You are now the guardian of my trust in TD,” I concluded. Shortly after 6, the phone rang. Application approved.

There was just one step left to take, which dawned on me a full day later. I had left a snippy, mildly threatening message for Amy, a pleasant enough young woman whose rigid posture and scripted conversation suggested a hunger to excel. I could picture her stewing over my words. So this evening I left her a voicemail: “I didn’t realize you were ill. I just needed to know the score.” Now I can sleep. And when Amy breaks into management, she can pass the message along. Good luck to her.

Click here to read a related post on the joys of patronizing a retailer who cares about my needs and my business.

Posted by Rona

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