“That Got Me To Thinkin’…?” “Customer Service” Chapter 52
By Bruce Williams
A woman called in to work this week asking to speak to a (non-present) manager about a sudden problem with her husband’s three-year old suit. Apparently, a spontaneous hole had appeared in the fabric, and as that was a form of “garment failure” she wondered if it might be possible to return it? After quoting her our standard credo of no sight-unseen return guarantees, I proffered the possibility that the hole might’ve been moth-induced. As I felt her hackles rear up over the phone line, she huffily retorted, “WE…do not have MOTHS!” Like moths know where you live and that you drive an Audi. Does she think the chalky fliers rest against her doorsill at night, conversing about how they shouldn’t go inside even if given the opportunity because the woman inside is just too classy? “Hold it! This wool is designer, Herb…” (moths talking here, and I imagine one of them would be named Herb) “…maybe we should go down to the trailer park and find a nice dog blanket to chew on instead.”
Years back, another woman brought in 17 old shirts her husband had become unsatisfied with. You see, yellow stains had been mysteriously appearing in the underarm region of each and every one of them, and did I have any idea why the shirts would ruin themselves like that? Had I ever seen anything so puzzling before and did this happen often with these particular shirts? Again, I boldly offered my keen analysis, delicately choosing my words as to not offend but essentially pointing with a pen and indicating that her husband pits out, and it was the shirts that were victimized by him and not the other way around. Her: eyes wide, mouth agape…this couldn’t be?! Could. Is.
Then there’s the wedding rentals…the suits so eagerly purchased on the eves of the big events and declared “just perfect” in the three-way mirror, only to be brought back crumpled in a sad, hungover sack. “It just didn’t fit right…” “Well, let’s pair you back up with one of our expert fitters and get to the bottom of it…” “No…the color was wrong.” “It’s still black—like you asked for (?)” Usually we jettison these post-tailored/worn garments back out the door with their owners, but sometimes the customer continues to insist and if they get a sympathetic or spineless temporary manager-in-charge they might have some success after an hour or so of pleading. Isn’t it bad luck to return your wedding suit after you wore it, though? Seems like it would be to me. After one guy threw a fit and worked his way up the managerial chain of command, the eventually-returned suit was sent back to our department for processing. Obviously worn and worn heavily, I was stuffing it into an out-of-stock, clear plastic sack when I discovered $600 worth of big bills in the front pocket. After discussing it with headquarters and seeing as we no longer had the poor fellow’s phone number, we went ahead and donated the found cash to the employee relief fund.
People attempt to return underwear. Socks with holes in them—“They’re only five years old!” Jackets with labels inside that we haven’t used in 20 years (I’ve been there for 25, and so I can appreciate the nostalgia). Sometimes stolen merchandise tries to make its way back onto the shelves—the trademark shopping bag operating as the thief’s briefcase, but without having any proof-of-purchase that particular endeavor has become increasingly problematic. The wrong shoes in the box (a shocked “How did that happen…?!”). When the transaction is a little iffy, though, there’s always a “tell”—too chatty (“How’s your day going?”; “I like your tie”), a nervous jitteryness; a crumpled bag that belies its repeated use; the tell-tale scents of chain smoking and day drinking; furtive glances for their carload of compatriots scattered about on similarly nefarious missions.
I got screamed at by a teenager and his girlfriend once because I wouldn’t return his old wallet that still had ticket stubs stuffed in the pocket as well as scratches all over it. My favorite line of his was when he assured me, “…his mom told him he could.” My ever-present curiosity then piqued, I inquired whether his mother’s last name matched the one on the marquee on the outside of the building. His girlfriend, just a teen herself but with all the earmarks of a future harpy, then spat, “You’re in big trouble, buddy,” as they spun on their heels with the rejected billfold and headed towards higher authority. Turns out I wasn’t, as I saw them an hour later as they leered at me while exiting the building looking bewildered and unsatisfied.
All good fun, working with the public that is. I’ve developed an incredible poker face so as not to betray my inner machinations. I’ve also learned not to blurt out my first inclinations, no matter how searing or perfect they may seem in my head. And the mask helps—hiding half of my expressions on a somewhat stoicly expressionless face. Usually it’s no big whoop to have people return stuff—it’s not my money anyway or if it was me that sold it, they’ll probably be back for something else later. But then there’s always that one…