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Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.
-Sylvia Plath

I’m not sure which is more disconcerting; the interaction I had with the cashier at Panda Express or my romantic dream last night involving Al Gore.

The dream took place at a Christmas party. And I was sitting on Al Gore's lap in a puffy red velvet dress and he asked me why I was so deviant around everyone yet so shy around him. I kept socking him in the arm. I think we were in love. Then today I googled images of him and he looks nothing like he did in my dream.

Oh, and I have replaced my blue cardigan. The one I lost at the beach in my earlier blog explanatorily entitled “I Lost My Blue Cardigan”.

Picture it: Forever 21. Hollywood, California. 2009....

Me: Hi! Do you still have long cardigans?

Small Employee: Umm.... (bites fingernail, looks around helplessly, as if I’ve just told her she has ten seconds to answer a trivia question or I’m going to tell the guy she likes that when she was in high school she put a Cheeto in her butt and had a dog eat it out) Ummm.... (then she doesn’t even say anything, just wanders out from behind the counter without saying “Follow me” or anything.

But I follow her, and when reach our destination, it’s not a table full of cardigans. It’s another employee. A Medium-sized Employee who is already engaged with two girls in baggy geometric tunics.

Me (to Small Employee, hoping my description will help): It’s a blue cardigan. No pockets.

Small Employee says nothing.

Small Employee (to Medium Employee, just above a whisper): Do we have long cardigans?

(Medium Employee says nothing, just starts walking. This must be a trend for Spring; alongside Magenta, the biggest "Fashion DO" is Saying Nothing. Small Employee doesn’t follow. She goes back to her register and hides.

I guess I am supposed to be following Medium Employee now. This is a whole culture. It’s like one of those movies where someone in armor takes the protagonist into a dungeon, announces her to the ruler of the dungeon, then disappears. It’s like that, but with out the torches and distant screams. So Medium Employee is taking me on a zoom-walk through the store pinching sleeves of things going “THIS is a sweater...THIS is a sweater...THIS is a sweater” and I’m wondering what kind of behavior I’ve exhibited to warrant this factory response. Then I think of Don Miguel Ruiz’s book The Four Agreements, agreement #1: Don’t take things personally.

Medium Employee comes to a halt, turns toward me)

Medium Employee (with a fake-chipper smile): That’s it! That’s all we have.

She walks away to not help the next customer.

Me: Cool. Thanks.

Then I turn and there’s a whole table of long cardigans that had somehow been excluded from Medium Employee’s sweater-lesson. My blue cardigan was right there, glimmering in a pile of acrylic waste.

And the Panda Express scenario...ugh, it pains me to write about how this jerk charged me twice for Orange Chicken and when I pointed it out he kept insisting "It's two entrees."

I pointed to my receipt and said "I only ordered one Orange Chicken and you charged me twice." Seriously, I'm broke and if I wanted two entrees I would have ordered something else besides a second order of Orange Chicken. He said, "No. Two Entrees." "How is that two entrees??" His answer? "It's two scoops." I said, "Ok, but I didn't order that. All I ordered was Orange Chicken. Two words. ONE ENTREE."

That sounds like a movie trailer. "In a world (explosion noise) where you can choose your own sides (another explosion noise) whose side are you on? This Fall...TWO WORDS. ONE ENTREE. Lizzy Cooperman complains in...ORANGE CHICKEN."

I may have looked like a crazy person, but what does that even mean? I had an acting teacher once who said if you don't stand up for yourself, if you just swallow your emotions, you lose who you are. I think I want to stop eating meat again. The only reason I started up again was that my friend shoved a meatball in my mouth at a New Year's party and I thought it tasted good.

Sometimes I feel like I'm leading a crusade to promote good customer service. Last year I hand-delivered this letter to Best Buy:

To Whom It May Concern:

I have written many Thank You's, but this is my first letter of complaint.

I had been online and picked out a keyboard I intended to purchase from your store. I also had a list of other things I needed. I was in the keyboard section for a good ten minutes without being approached. I then wandered around searching for an employee who wasn't already engaged in a conversation. When I finally got the chance to one of your employees for help with the keyboards, he said, "I don't work in that department," and went on to help another customer. I then found and asked another employee for help. He pointed to ANOTHER employee and said, "I don't work in that department. Ask him." I then went up to "him" and said, "Excuse me, could you help me out with some keyboards?" To which he begrudgingly replied, "What do you need to know?" I said, "Here, I'll show you."

I started walking toward the keyboards, relieved I had found someone who could help me, assuming he would follow. He didn't move. I said, "Could you please come with me?"

I asked him if one of the keyboards had built-in speakers. He said, "I hate to say this, but I honestly don't know."

I asked the price of another keyboard and got the same answer.

Then he said, "I hate to refer you to another store, but you might want to try Guitar Center."

"Okay...well, can you direct me to the USB storage devices?"

He vaguely gestured across the store, "They're between those two columns."

I searched around for the USB storage devices for a good five minutes until I found them, but still didn't know if it was compatible with my computer. I finally caught one of your employees and asked if it was Mac-compatible. He said, "Yup," and walked away.

I then needed to buy tv/dvd connecting cables. I asked yet another sales associate where they were and, again, he did not lead me, but instead mumbled, "They're in Home Entertainment."

I asked another associate in Home Entertainment where the tv/dvd cables were. He handed me a package of cables and said, "These will work," and sent me home with the wrong product. I had even taken the time to take pictures with my camera phone of the outlets on my tv and dvd player so I could be specific with whoever ended up helping me with the purchase. But the curt, unwilling- I don't even want to call it "help"-I received did not take the time to ask me what kind of devices I was using, and the effort I put in was wasted. Now I have to take time an hour out of my day off to come back to your store to return the product.

When I finally reached the register, the girl who rang me up was involved the entire time in a personal conversation with a fellow employee. The only thing she asked me was if I wanted to sign up for some kind of card. Again, no humanity. Just pushing product.

I have worked in retail and customer service for the past seven years of my life, and I have to say that this is the worst morale and/or the poorest training I have ever witnessed in my life.

I have worked for both privately-owned companies and major corporations, and I know that sales can't just be about moving product. I treated your employees with respect by assuming they had product knowledge and respect for their customers, and I did not receive the same respect in return. I left feeling not only uninformed and unsure of my purchases, but utterly disrespected, and as if every stereotype about major corporations treating people like numbers had been completely reaffirmed.

Had one person, just ONE person put some humanity into their work, not only would I have been satisfied, saved time and energy, and brought back my business, but it also would have saved your employees time and energy, and maybe that ONE PERSON would have felt a sense of satisfaction from knowing that they contributed to my experience. But that's the exactly the problem, as I mentioned above. Your store operates like the stereotype of a major corporation and misses out on the one aspect essential to repeat business: The Individual.

Feel free to contact me if you have any more questions about my experience. I would be more than happy to share.

Elizabeth Cooperman

Also, have you ever found an old journal and realized you’ve been dealing with the same themes in your life as you were in 2007? My journals are still littered with the phrases "I have to go to Kinko’s" and "O Great Creator!" I am the same, identical woman.

1 comment:

  1. At least you replaced your blue cardigan. Next to your towel, it really is the most important thing to keep track of. Perhaps the medium employee was employing Zen Leadership. It's an offshoot of Zen Navigation (follow someone who looks like they know where they are going; it may not get you where you want to be, but will often get you where you need to be). Zen Leadership involves, it would seem, travelling randomly and constantly checking if you're at your destination and relating where you are instead. Once you've reached the destination, if you ever do, the process is complete so you don't need to relate that fact, so simply wander off aimlessly.

    So, she took you on a store to show you all the things you don't want and by process of elimination you were able to find what you did. It's a tricky method, and it's not for everyone. The sane, for example -- It's not for the sane.