Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Can I "Help" You?

This isn't going to be a quasi racist rant about the cultural divide between the customer and customer service "specialist". I don't want to dissect the time I went into a Mcdonald's and asked the lady mopping the floor what the address was. I don't want to tell you that she lead me through a corridor of people into the children's playroom whereby she pried a small mexican child out of a high chair and attempted to hand to me said high chair with a satisfied look on her face. I don't want to tell you how I had to nervously negotiate with the confused and angered mother for information about the buildings address all the while explaining with my eyes that I did not intend to uproot their family fun at Mcdonald's by covertly heisting their high chair.

This isn't going to a rant about how back in my day retail employees knew the ins and outs of the products that they were selling. I don't want to nostalgically remember a past era and celebrate a nobler time that perhaps we the people of earth may have taken for granted. I realize that in order for progress to occur that time has to march on and with that marching on some of things that we are fond of are replaced, reinvented or removed entirely. The question I am out to answer in regard to customer service in the immortal words of Office Space is: "What would you say...you do here?"

Allow me to quickly set the scene. My wife has a yellow car and it has a long scratch on the passenger side door. Whether a mysterious stranger keyed the car or my wife secretly ran into something we'll never know. On a day when I was filled with ambition and a great sense of manliness I decided that I had had enough of the blight on the car door and I was going to once and for all (read: poorly disguise) the problem with some yellow touch up paint. Unlike other brave fools I wasn't about to go Autozone empty handed. Before leaving the house I logged onto google slash the internet.com  to make sure that the item was available at my local Autozone and that it was in stock for my car model. Thankfully it was and so off I went to ascertain the item.

As a rule of thumb I am generally curt with people in my neighborhood because I live in what can lovingly be called the ghetto and I don't like to invite any unwanted attention/conversations/pleas for drug money. As a rule of thumb I am generally curt with store employees because I am an express shopper. I plan my purchases  before I walk into the store, I have my cash counted or the card that I am going to swipe at the top position in my wallet to engender a quick and problem free cash-out experience. I generally view people in the store aisles as pylons to swerve around rather than potential new best friends.

However, on this particular occasion I was turning over a new leaf, there was a rainbow in the sky. The morning sunlight softly glinted off the crackhead sleeping in the ditch in front of my house in such a way that it told me everything was going to be okay. I decided that if I needed help I was going to ask for it instead of angrily rushing past people.

I walked into Autozone and immediately looked up to read the signs that indicated what items were in the aisles. I quickly found the "paint/touch up" aisle AND the touch up paint itself. Using a hunt and peck technique that I learned from my father's typing skills I was able to locate the "Ford" section and the "Yellow" subsection. Unfortunately the paint I located was not a bright canary yellow but a dull bronzy yellow. Immediately I felt the hate and distrust for the world begin to swell inside of me. BUT NO! I waved it off. Surely a nearby Autozone employee could help me solve my problem or at the very least point me in the right direction RIGHT?

Grasping the chrome yellow paint tube in my hand I walked out into the main aisle and waited in line until a "Specialist" was available. A gentlemen in his twenties (a fluent English speaker I might add) asked: "Can I help you?" to which I accidentally sarcastically blurted out: "I sure hope so."  Our following conversation went something like this:

Me: I'm looking for yellow touch up paint for my Ford Focus. (Pauses to make sure he understands.) Also, I just went to the TOUCH UP PAINT AISLE and the only one that I could locate was this bronzy yellow which doesn't look like my car color. (points left through a set of double doors where car is parked and in plain sight.)

Him: Yeah, that doesn't look like the right color.

Me: I didn't think so either. However, it does say "duplicolor" on the side of the container. Is it possible that perhaps this color is a generic yellow that somehow "duplicates" the original color when it is applied as a top coat of paint?"

Him: I wouldn't know...Let's go and see if I can help you find the correct color.

We walk back over to the paint aisle whereupon he locates the book filled with car models and their paint codes.

Him: What kinda paint U want? U want The big can...

Me: No, I want the tiny touch up paint bottle (holds up touch up paint in his hand) in canary yellow.

He proceeds to ask my make, year and model of car and looks it up in the book. Before he is finished he is called away by someone else. He leaves me with the book to look it up myself which I do. According to the book there is only one color of yellow available for my car and it just so happens that it is the very same bottle that I already have IN MY HAND.

A little bewildered I stepped back into the main aisle to ask for a second opinion. I located another gentleman dressed in Autozone attire who is sitting behind a computer. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: Hey I just talked to that guy (points to that guy) and we couldn't figure out if this paint (points to paint) is the correct color for that car (points through the window at my car).

Him: Well, the paint looks nothing like the paint that is on that car.

Me: Yes, I am aware. However, the only paint listed in the book for my car make/year/model is that paint and  my car is painted a factory color. While you guys might be out of stock where my car color is concerned don't you think the paint color would at the very least be listed in the book if it existed?

Him: Probably.

Me: Well...(waits expectantly for the employee to perform any action besides a dead stare.)

Him: That is not the same color.

Me: I realize that but perhaps the color inside is different and/or perhaps it contains some color match technology. As you can see this color (points to bottle) is an orangy, coppery, goldy color. Perhaps the color is different inside the bottle than the color expressed on the outside of the bottle because it is made to cover a range of colors???.

Him: I dunno.

Me: So If I buy this and it's the wrong color what then?

Him: We do not do refunds on opened merchandise.

Cue me walking off stage left, fade to black.

The point of this story (finally) is that I do not begrudge a low paid/poorly trained employee for having little to no interest in a meaningless job. Further, I do not expect them to know the ins and outs of their products BECAUSE of their limited training. What I do begrudge however is the lack of thinking critically to look for alternate solutions. The simple act of one of the guys going into a back room and rattling a metal cage  or making a phone call or feigning to look up something on the internet in an attempt to actually solve my problem would have increased my opinion of their customer service greatly. What is the point of hiring employees whose only skill it seems is the ability to click a mouse three times, swipe my card and occasionally remember to say "Have a good day." Further, what is the point of paying 12 employees for the same work that could be done by an automated kiosk and a security guard? Also, I later googled "Ford Chrome yellow" and the following is what I found:


  1. You Americans have reasonable expectations of retail, and I suppose it's rather annoying when you don't get it. Over here in the UK, we work the other way around. We expect shop assistants to be morons, and are often very surprised if someone turns out to be polite and helpful. So much so, that we'll write a letter of thanks before we write a letter of complaint.

  2. Good post. Maybe if they could've seen the car up close they would have been more caring. Like for instance if you drove it through the front door and parked it on one of them.
    Also, the first half of Office Space is so damn funny.

  3. @addman actually you are correct, the two "specialists" that I mentioned were vastly more skilled than the average. After all, one of them actually noticed me standing there while the other tried to help. I suppose I should consider that a blessing.

    @flip It's a great movie until all of that rom-com stuff gets in the way. Also, thanks for the advice I'll try that next time after I google what is technically considered manslaughter :)

  4. Great post!
    "The morning sunlight softly glinted off the crackhead sleeping in the ditch in front of my house in such a way that it told me that everything was going to be okay."
    Very poetic!

  5. It really did sound like you were shopping in England.

  6. Ughghgh. As an ex-retail worker, I feel your pain. My co-workers were often an ignorant evil lot of hatemongers who felt the world owed them for being such a shit. Thank godzilla those days are long gone.