I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – if you want to experience the pretence of peerless customer service, but an experience that’s as much fun as having your testicles scraped with a rusty razor blade, New York City is the only place for you. Despite having lived in the city for well over two years now, it still somehow comes as a surprise to me when I’m inevitably regarded as an irritant by somebody who makes their living from ensuring that I hand over cash to the business which they represent.
Take, for example, a discount department store that shall remain nameless. We’ll call it “Century 22”, which should be enough to confuse at least 75% of the staff that work there. I would normally avoid it like the plague, but had the recent misfortune of being dispatched to explore its dubiously stocked aisles for some curtains for our new home.
As an aside, I would like to make it clear that The Special One had rightly not trusted me with making an aesthetics-based selection on my own – asking me to pick out appropriate curtains would be akin to asking Joseph Goebbels to judge the prestigious Humanitarian of the Year contest. But even I couldn’t mess up picking up some pre-selected curtains.
Inevitably the course of true drapery never runs smooth, and having discovered that the store only had four of the aforementioned curtains, I looked around for somebody who could help me. I can only assume that nearby staff had seen me piling into the racks of carpets with befuddlement and frustration on my face, as by the time I glanced up, I could have been forgiven for believing that an announcement over the loudspeaker regarding an imminent outbreak of anthrax had caused all employees to scatter to the four winds.
Now, at this point, I should point out that the staff of “Century 22” all wear a
badgebutton on their uniforms reading something along the lines of “I care – just ask me!”. So when I finally found somebody, I gave a winning smile and asked if she could check to see if they had any more curtains in stock. The response of “you’ll need to find somebody in drapery, I work in homeware” was almost certainly coquettish flirtation, although the fact that she turned on her heels and walked off would seem to be playing too hard to get, if you ask me.
After five minutes of wandering around, a manager finally and reluctantly disappeared off to a computer before returning to tell me triumphantly that they had fourteen more sets in stock, and introduced me to a colleague who would help me find them.
Which is when I met the true hero of the story. As long as the story we’re talking about is “How To Turn Customers Into Mortal Enemies”.
We’ll call our hero Marcus. Largely because that’s his name. When it came to ‘effectiveness’ being handed out, Marcus was infront of the mirror preening himself and making sure he could still fit into his skinny jeans. And let’s just say that he hasn’t exactly taken out a lifelong subscription to Enthusiasm Monthly, either.
After five minutes of sorting through the entire curtain stock of the store (something I had done myself in around three minutes flat), Marcus went back to the computer to check that a mistake hadn’t been made. On his puzzled return, he spent ten minutes repeating the entire process once more. And then he disappeared upstairs to check the stockroom.
By this point I’d already been in the store for half an hour, and there was a vague chance that the smoke coming out of my ears could have set off the sprinkler system. But safe in the knowledge that returning home with new curtains would bring a smile to The Special One’s face, I swallowed my impatience, and hung around pretending to be interested in pillowcases.
Twenty minutes later, and there was still no sign of Marcus. Store customers couldn’t get access to the kitchen appliance or luggage sections, such was the unbearable angry heat radiating from my cheeks and making it impossible to get within twenty feet of me.
And then I saw him. Marcus. Standing and laughing with some colleagues near the bathroom towels, about thirty yards away. My guess is that they weren’t discussing curtains. I’d go as far as to say that he would have struggled to tell you what a curtain was at that precise moment. As I approached with my face full of thunder, I began thinking of all the things I would say to him to make sure he never treated a customer like that again. I was almost looking forward to it.
Then I realised that I was English, and meekly asked him if he’d found anything. He told me that he’d have one last look through the stock on display. You know, just in case. And I let him. Fifteen minutes later – an hour or so after my arrival – I left emptyhanded, having thanked him for all his help.
I showed him who’s boss, I can tell you.