Saturday, April 16, 2005

Having worked in retail and customer service for 20 plus years, I have come to realize that Customers are Stupid.

Now I'm not the first to articulate this idea. Scott Adams illustrated it clearly in The Dilbert Principle, where he includes himself in the generalization. And I inlcude myself as well..

Some random stories:

Way back in the late 70s, I worked at Super S Foods, in Fredericksburg as a stocker/cashier/bag boy. We used these square, dayglow price labels we hung from the shelves. There was a black border around the bottom and sides with little arrows pointing up. We hung the signs under the item being advertised. So if there was a tag on 8 oz tomato paste 5/$1, inevitably, every day, someone would get the 15 oz can behind the sign and below the 8 oz can and try to convince us the sign was for the big can. We would have to have the customer lead us to the sign, and read it aloud. When they got to the bit that read "8 oz can," they would get real quiet.

Same time frame, same store. We were always open on Thanksgiving Day, usually until about 5 pm. We would have signs on the front door weeks in advance. Every time, when we left after closing, someone would screech up to the door, push on the handle, and almost break an arm when the door wouldn't open. We had signs at eye level with our holiday hours. They would look on either side of the sign, above it and below it to see if we were open. They'd scratch their heads and finally see the sign. Then they would check their watch. Then they would slink off to the convenience store down the street. Jump ahead 5 years. I was working at a Diamond Shamrock convenience store. We were open on Thanksgiving Day, too. We put out signs up weeks in advance, too. This time, I hung the signs upside down. Every customer would laugh at us for being so stupid, and we'd ask, "Which sign?" "The sign that has your Thanksgiving hours, ha ha ha ha ha ha!" "Good! That means you read it!"

Another Diamond Shamrock, this time in Austin, a few years later. I'm a salesman servicing the account. A guy in a big pickup buys $10 worth of gas (this was when $10 bought a lot of gas), slaps a $100 bill on the counter. The manager informs him that they cannot accept a $100 bill. Tex decides to pitch a fit and complains that the store needs to have a sign to that effect. The manager walks over to the front door, pulls it open and points to a sign that reads, "We do not accept bills larger than $20."

In July of 2001, we took a trip to Colorado. We visited Royal Gorge. We rode the vertical train to the bottom of the gorge, where we stood and looked up at the spaghetti thin bridge across the gorge. When we were ready to get back up to the top, we started lining up to reboard the train. The guys running the rides had a world weary expression as the told us to stand on the outside of the steps with the yellow lines, which was every other step. Folks getting off the train were to exit on the unpainted steps and go down the inside. naturally, the great unwashed masses, excluding me, who has dealt with tourists, ignored these guys. They had to go down the steps and teach people what the color yellow looked like and where the outside edge was. As soon as they left, the tourists, who know more that the guy running the rides, went back to their former places. Naturally, as soon as someone stepped out of the car, these tourists were jostling each other to be the very first one into the car, so they could wait 10 minutes in their cage while the last person got in. As the operators rolled their eyes, they secured the doors on the train. I could see in their eyes a deep and abiding hatred of people--something everyone who works with tourists on a daily basis develops. Mentally, I sent them a beer. I didn't want to talk to them and piss them off.

See my previous post about my experiences with tourists.

On that Colorado trip, I made reservations at a hotel in Cripple Creek. I knew check-in was at 4 pm. We arrived in town at noon, and went to the front desk. I told the guy behind the counter, "I don't want the key. I know check-in is at 4 pm. I just want to pay for my room." The clerk, who was very friendly and therefore must have been new to the industry, apologized and said they did not take money until 4 pm. Just as I was about to start the "Let me see if I have this straight: I want to give you money, and you don't want to take it" tirade, I remembered the golden rule: Customers are Stupid. We went and explored Cripple Creek. Lovely town, by the way.

Once more, please be nice to the clerks and employees at the stores you visit. We don't intend to make your life miserable. But it is a nice bonus when we do.


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