Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A J.D. at H.D.?

Don’t get me wrong --- I’m happy about the way the economy is picking up, and that more jobs are available (even though the number of new jobs is still short of the 250,000/month needed in order to get our country back on track).  But I am stunned at the kinds of jobs people are accepting, despite their high qualifications.

Take last week, for instance.  I went into my local hardware chain store and was thrilled to see that the contractors’ line was so long it prevented pedestrian traffic down the main aisle. But, I also noticed that one customer had a slew of rebar on his contractor’s cart, a thick wad of metal about ten inches off the floor and extending two feet into the aisle.  It would not be easy to notice, if a person wasn’t already looking for it, and could cause some hapless shopper to trip over it and fall flat on the cement floor. (I did that once.  I don’t recommend it).

So, being the ever-helpful consumer that I am, I said to the customer, “Uh, sir, your rebar is sticking out,” to which he replied snippily, “I know, I’m checking out right now.”  Then, I tried letting the clerk know about the potential trip-and-fall hazard, but she also told me she was helping him check out (and therefore couldn’t be bothered to avert a potential accident).

So, with the kind of gusto Lois on “Malcolm in the Middle” would muster, I went to the assistant manager and explained that he should train his staff to be aware of potential hazards, to which he told me, “Well, if a customer trips and fall, it’s their fault, and we are not responsible.”  Then, I congratulated him on his work as an unpaid (and unlicensed) attorney.  Heaven help us if he passes the bar exam.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Vomit

Warning: Some may find the content of this post just plain gross!

I’m overly sensitive, and I hate to hear people talking about body functions - I get an immediate visual.  The incident I report below happened in the mid-2000s, and was one of the first times I experienced egregious customer service. 

I was the only buyer in a fabric store where there were two workers.  I brought my fabric to the counter to be measured and cut, then the phone rang, so my helper stopped to take the call.  It was a personal call, but the other worker just stood by watching and listening, and never offered to help me so I could pay up and be on my way.  I waited patiently (yeah, right) as the worker talked with her babysitter – evidently her daughter was sick at home.  She said, “She threw up?” and with no sense of shame or need for privacy she continued, “What was in the vomit?”

Yes, I was treated to a vivid description, which did not put me in my happy place.  It was bad enough that no one could finish helping me, but this worker didn’t even have the sense of decency to go in the back room to take the call; she made me hear it!  I’m sure I said something to that effect, and her response?  She began scolding me and accused me of hating children.  As if.

Do I need to tell you that they were out of business within the next year?

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Real Chicken

Those of you who’ve been reading my blog for a while know that I make a lot of comments about why businesses fail.  I usually bag on bad customer service, but that isn’t the only reason.  Sometimes there is just a disconnect between what people want to buy and what a business wants to sell.  For instance, in the ideal world, EVERYONE will tell you that they want to buy the highest quality item for the cheapest price.  That is usually not possible, so most people settle on one or the other --- low price, or high quality. 

Those of us who are “quality shoppers” often don’t mind paying a little more to get a little more value.

All this to say…

Years ago, where I grew up, there was a VERY popular restaurant/ bar.  It was so “hip” that there was no name or address on the building (which was set back from the street.  You had to KNOW where the place was).  A few years later, I found myself working there for a short time, and that in itself was considered local status.  The place had great food, great prices, and served a college crowd.  It was run by a good businessman, who began mentoring a young protégé.

About five years later, after moving away, I returned for a visit.  I arrived in town late one night and decided to dash in to my old haunt.  I was surprised it wasn’t jam-packed.  The young protégé was now the establishment’s owner.  He handed me the menu, and I saw that the prices had gone up drastically, but the food had always been dependably good, so I asked for a chicken enchilada.  Without batting an eye, he said, “Do you want the one with the REAL chicken? If so, it’s a dollar extra.”

And that’s why the place was practically  empty.  I took the real chicken, but I never went back again, and I’m sure a lot of other people didn’t, either.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

57 Years

I’m blunt.  I’ll admit it.  I say what’s on my mind, kind of like a female John-&-Ken-Show.  And, it’s easier for me when people are forthright with me, as well.  Many times, a “yes” or “no” answer (without the long explanation) will do just fine.

Recently, I was at the doctor’s office.  I had some lower GI pain and was concerned about a possible bladder infection. (Turns out it was a pulled muscle; got a little too enthusiastic with an ab machine).  The new assistant asked me, “Do you have frequent urination?”  I answered yes, and she said, “How long have you had it?”  I replied, “All my life.”

I don’t think she was satisfied with my response.  She continued asking questions, then made her way back around to it:  “Do you have frequent urination?”  Again, I answered, “yes,” and she said, again, “How long have you had it?”  I replied with a little more emphasis, “All my life,” to make sure she understood my answer.

Have you ever noticed that when some people ask you a question and they don’t like the answer, they keep asking you the same question?  Why is that?  Do they think that if they ask you the same question enough times, the answer will change?

She worked her way back around to it a third time.  “Do you have frequent urination?”   “YES” (me, getting testy).  “How long have you had it?”  This time I said loudly, “57 years.”

She stopped asking the question. Wish she could have listened to my answer the first two times.

(c) 2013, Elena E. Smith

Sunday, November 25, 2012


Strange things can happen in the early morning, while waiting for the day’s caffeine to kick in.  I guess it can happen at other times of day, too, like years ago when I needed to set-up service at my new apartment and called the local electric company, saying, “Hi, I’d like to request a turn-on, please.”  Of course, the minute I realized what I'd said, I started laughing so hard I had to hang up the phone.

But that was my mouth, which is different from my ears, and the ears of others who’d had less than the necessary amount of coffee at LAX earlier in the week.  As we stood in the tunnel about to board the plane, a number of us noticed that a man was bringing his dog on board in its pet carrier, and one man asked the question we all wanted to know about flying with your dog: how much was the airline charging for this perk?  The pet owner cheerfully explained that - even though it was expensive - it was worth it to have Poochie with him.  To bring your pet on board, the airline charged $95 per leg.  I quickly did the math in my head --- that would be $380 for the dog to ride along!  Passengers exchanged looks, and, of course, many of us began thinking that it would be cheaper to have a dog with three legs.  One man even remarked that, perhaps you could tie back one of the legs and pay only $285.  Finally, the dog owner realized what we were all thinking, and explained that it was a $95 charge for each “leg” of the flight.

And then there was the early morning in Greeley, CO., when Nancy and George and I sat around, not yet through our first cup of coffee.  I was wearing some comfortable fur slippers that Nancy had loaned me, and stuck my leg up in the air, letting the rim of my pajama bottom fall back.  “What kind of fur is this?” I wanted to know.  Both of them looked at me in horror and informed me it was time to shave.  Friends, that’s not the “fur” I meant!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Mechanical Aptitude?

I hate to be sexist, but… I keep having this experience with female clerks who have a presumption that women do not have mechanical aptitude.

I noticed it several years ago when I was having a lot of keys copied for the mobile home sales business.  It is very hard to find a good key copier, because --- there is skill involved.  Some people do it well.  About 1/3 of the time you have to return to the hardware store to have it remade, because it doesn’t work.  I use all three local hardware stores, and the problem is “across the board.”  I even had one place explain to me that the time of the month makes a difference because the machine’s calibration slips little-by-little until it’s time for the regular tune-up.

At one hardware store, a cute young gal made some bad keys, so when I returned, I was pretty explicit that I wanted a Man to re-make them.  She almost burst into tears and told me, “Any one of us can help you.”  What she didn’t realize was that there is skill involved, and because she did not realize it took skill, it is unlikely that she would ever develop it.

Today, I was standing at the in-store coffee grinder at my favorite market, and noticed  that (after I’d cleared the chute and poured my beans in) the grinder was only letting a trickle of ground coffee out the spout.  I tried the second choice of settings… same thing.  By now, I had determined that something was wrong with the coffee grinder, and thought it would be helpful if I alerted store personnel.  Well, the gal I flagged down was having none of it.  The first thing she did was raise her voice and berate me, saying, “You’re not doing it right.”   In a tone that was equally snotty, I informed her that I have been grinding coffee longer than she has been alive, so in all likelihood, I have some proficiency at it.  I tried to explain to her that I had called her over because the machine was not functioning properly, and I thought she needed to know that.  Because she still believed that I was an incompetent customer, she offered to grind it for me.

At that point, I stalked off, deciding to return to the kiosk after she went to another aisle.

But, in reporting this incident to the manager, I mentioned that I believe this is an age-related issue.  I have noticed that a number of young people approach their work with the idea that they are all-knowing and fully experienced, and if a customer tries to explain or tell them anything, they immediately assume that the customer is an idiot.  For instance, when I go to write a check, clerks aggressively inform me that, “I need to see your driver’s license.”  Well, “D for duh.”  They do not seem to realize that if the Buyer (me) is age 55+, I have been writing checks since the 1970s, and --- guess what --- I already know, from experience, that you need to see my license.  (In fact, if you’ll just chill for 2 seconds, you will notice that I am taking it out of my purse as you speak.  Oh, you thought I was reaching for my lipstick?  Who’s the dummy, here?)  Yes, there seems to be an inordinate amount of bossiness among today’s Customer Service personnel.  They seem to believe that Customers need to be directed, and dictated to, because most of us would be too incompetent to make a purchase without their advice.

What is it with today’s “yoots”?  They seem to think we’re all “stoopit.”

© Elena E Smith, November 2012

Sunday, November 11, 2012


There used to be a day when consumers’ business was appreciated.  Not any more.  Often when I am shopping, I feel that the clerks speak to me as if I am their employee (and my rejoinder to that, in my head, is, “You can give me orders when you put me on your payroll”).

It seems the most difficult part of shopping these days is not selecting the merchandise --- it’s actually getting through the check out line so you can take it home and enjoy it. 

Yes, back-in-the-day, when people did math in their head, it didn’t take long to pay and receive your change.  But now, we have debit cards and computers, which only work right on your first try about 75% of the time.  Whether it is a loose scanner, buttons that you can’t depress without a sledge hammer, or something the clerk did that made it go back to the beginning and start over again --- who knows, do I look like a computer geek? --- checking out is a major ordeal.  Once you scan your card, you get to play “20 Questions” with an inanimate object.  Is this really the card you want to use?  [Are you sure?] Do you want cash back? Do you want it all on one card?  Are you using coupons today?  Makes you want to just go back to paying cash for everything.

And then, you get to deal with the clerk, who has a skewed impression of what “helping” you is.  Back-in-the-day, helping someone meant assisting them in getting their needs met.  It did not mean second guessing their needs, then getting snappy if you guessed wrong...  A case in point:

Me:  I’d like that all in one double bag, please.

Clerk:  Would you like me to put that in 2 bags for you?

Me:  No, I already told you what I need.  I need them all in one double bag,  please.

Clerk (indignant): I’m just trying to help you.

Me:  Why would you be helping me if I told you what I need, and you offer me something different?

Clerk huffs, then says in a snotty voice:  Have a nice day.

Kind of makes you feel like the star of ‘Monty Python Meets Candid Camera.’

* * *

And, how about the concept of “waiting in line,” or as some say, “waiting on line.”  The customer waits, and then it is the service provider’s turn (clerk/ cashier/ waitress) to “Wait” on the customer.  That concept has been lost in transition.  “Wait” would indicate that the clerk stands patiently as the consumer retrieves cash/ checkbook/ debit card from purse or wallet, to pay for the goods.  But I’ve seen many clerks get impatient when the customer doesn’t hop-to-it.  The clerk then: turns to a fellow clerk and talks about last night, begins texting, finds anything else to do other than “wait” on their customer.

Then, that same service person hands you a coupon you don’t want, your receipt, and your change (if you have any), all rolled up together.  Never mind that your receipts go one place in your wallet and the cash goes in another, because there isn’t enough room in any one place to fit it all.  Especially those receipts that are now 14” long when they print out.  You can barely find the purchase information because the stupid thing is trying to (a) get you to take a survey, (b) give you a list of legal disclaimers re: your purchase, or (c) advertise more stuff you don't need and don't want to buy from them.

Oh, and how about the staff who --- after your small hands are filled with all the items I just listed --- then picks up your bag and holds it in the air as if you must “drop everything” and take it.  I am now having to stop and explain to people, “I will take that as soon as my hands are no longer full; you can set it down, if you like.”  I also notice that many people aren’t able to judge the length of my arms, or anticipate my reach, so they actually hold the sack out in a way that I can’t take it from them anyway!

Egads, what is the shopping world coming to?  Makes me really appreciate my vegetable garden and the eggs I buy from my friend, Harry.

© Elena E Smith, November 2012