Have your say

My wife had a harrowing experience at the local branch of a large national chain of home improvement stores this afternoon.  The details are unimportant for the purposes of this post, but it left the incredibly strong woman I’ve known for nearly two decades shaken, & in her words, publicly humiliated.

Her afternoon plans, and worse, her self-esteem, were in shreds. The lack of an apology for the mistake made by the woman at the check-out counter left her seething. The eventual success she had in recovering her own money from the store was barely any comfort.

The series of rather rudimentary mistakes – and the staff’s inability to figure out how to solve them – needed two corrections, drawn out over nearly an hour. She got home with three invoices, with the staff’s handwritten notes on a couple of them.

All three invoices all had an online survey link, one that I’ve rarely taken any notice of, despite how often we shop there. It felt like the only lifeline my wife had left to make her case to this behemoth organisation. She could have her say. I filled out the survey on her behalf, while the incident was still fresh & vivid, with as much detail as I could gather. I hit send, expecting a days-long silence before a polite “sorry you had  a shitty experience” auto-response email.

So it was a surprise when she received an email within the hour, asking if she was willing to talk to a human, about her experience, to the name listed on the mail, on the local store number she could call on.  Despite how shaken she still was, she did. The gentleman at the other end was patient, listened to my wife, empathised with her, apologised on the store’s behalf, & offered a token gift card for the trouble she’d gone through.


It’s unlikely my wife will stop going to this particular store. She knows that this incident was an aberration – not once in the last decade has she had to deal with someone as vitriolic & prejudiced as the woman at the customer service counter this afternoon.

It’s also very unlikely she’ll feel as comfortable in the store as she did prior to this experience.  She knows now that the person at the counter may not know arithmetic (which I would previously always say is okay – technology that solves arithmetic problems has existed for a long time now), may be unwilling to accept they’ve made a mistake, may be unwilling to listen, may be prejudiced against someone that doesn’t look or sound like them, may feel superior for any number of other reasons, may never apologise for something that may have genuinely been a common, honest, forgivable mistake, ad infinitum.

I’m also glad to have discovered a survey response system that seems to have worked as intended. The speed with which it elicited a response was, well, surprising for someone who’d never had to use this service. My wife & I are both glad that it was a human voice. That the person at the other end truly listened. An apology that wasn’t forthcoming from woman at the customer service came from someone likely paid to do so.

I hope that the store chooses to help their staff learn how to step in & solve the problem when they notice their colleague raise their voice or behave as if the customer was a thief as a response to their quietly expressed question.

I also don’t expect that prejudices will ever disappear – but one can entertain some hope, no?