I am spending more time in the stores these days, and for the most part, we have great customers. The unfortunate thing is that the occasional bad customer is the one that really sticks with you. Here are just a few examples of what our staff - and I - have experienced in the last couple of years.
1) The Grinch: Late on Christmas eve two years ago, I was doing my usual in Glenview, giving out samples and helping people with items in the freezer, answering questions about how to cook lobster tails etc. A car pulled up into the patio area outside the store - not a parking spot - and the driver came in and walked directly to the lobster tail freezer next to me. He pulled it open, looked at the prices and started swearing. I asked him if he would like me to suggest some alternatives, and he snapped "yes." I asked if they were doing "surf and turf," he said yes, and I made some suggesting for less expensive items he could substitute for the lobster, or as they were also serving beef, they could divide the lobsters in half. His response to my suggestions? He turned on me, and said if I didn't "shut up," he would walk out without buying anything. I was stunned. He obviously didn't realize that I was the boss's wife, and felt quite comfortable treating "the help" as he assumed I was, like dirt. On Christmas Eve. He bought a couple of lobster tails and left, and I hope I never see him again.
2) The Good Wife: Our credit card machines went down in Glenview, something that happens rarely, and something over which we have no control. A woman came in and chose some fish, but when she got to the check out, she had no cash or checks. The clerk suggested two solutions: she could go to the ATM in the parking lot and get some cash, or she could give him her credit card number, and he would enter the information manually when the machines were back up. (This is how people pay for party trays on the phone all the time.) Her response: "Give me the fish and I'll pay you the next time I come in." She was not a regular customer, and she said we should trust her to pay for the fish eventually, but she would not trust us with her credit card info. The clerk told her he couldn't do that because he might lose his job. She stormed out of the store, and had her husband send me an irate email, about how we didn't trust his wife. Never mind that she didn't trust us. I responded politely to the husband that his wife had put our clerk in a very difficult position, that he had tried to come up with a solution, but the only thing that she would accept was us giving her the fish for free. Had this happened in Macy's, for example, would she have expected them to let her leave with the merchandise without paying?
3) Forgetful: A young professional woman, probably early 30s, nicely dressed, came into the store with an unopened package of fish that had been purchased the day before on her lunch hour (one of the staff remembered waiting on her). She wanted a refund, because the fish was "off." It was July, and it was obvious to everyone that she had forgotten to take the fish into her office and refrigerate it, hence the rather smelly package. She had ruined her fish, but wanted us to give her money back, which we did. It was another customer waiting to pay who said after she left that "you shouldn't have given her her money back, she obviously left the fish in her car." But we didn't want an unhappy customer. When someone does this to us, we can't go back to our supplier for a refund, we eat the loss. Her screw-up became our problem.
4) Lobster Lady: Just recently, a woman called our Glenview store claiming that she had bought 4 lobster tails from us, and two of them were "bad." When asked if she had her receipt, a copy of her credit card bill, the packaging or the product, she said no. She was offered a store credit, even though we have no proof she ever bought anything from us. She came in when the manager was out, demanding cash. The clerk gave her a credit for over $50, but she just wanted the money. No receipt, no product, only an occasional customer.
We buy only restaurant quality lobster tails, which are shipped frozen, and we individually package them, so we can easily see if a tail looks like it's not good quality, and we return them to the shipper if they don't meet our standards. As far as we know, this woman never bought lobster tails from us - maybe she did, maybe she didn't, and yet we tried to make her happy. If she had bad tails, she probably got them somewhere else.
5) Crazy Like a Fox: Several years ago, we had a woman who would come in every Friday, and loudly complain to the staff (with other customers in the store) that we'd "sold her bad fish" and that she wanted a store credit. She had her receipt, but never brought back any of the fish. She did this 4 or 5 times, until the manager told her no more refunds unless she brought back the product. She showed up the next Friday with the same routine, so they got the Fish Husband, who gently lead her to the door, and told her that we would be unable to serve her any more, since obviously, we couldn't meet her quality standards. Of course we all knew that she'd eaten all the fish. She was stunned that she'd been fired as a customer. She actually came back in periodically and bought fish, but never again tried to get it for free.
Perhaps because we are a small business, some people feel that we should be more willing to give them their money back or put up with abuse. My experiences have been few in number compared to our staff who deal with the public every day. That horrible man telling me to "shut up" on Christmas Eve still sticks with me. It made me very aware of what a hard job it is dealing with the public, and I make an extra effort to be nice to sales staff wherever I shop.
I also now see that Seinfeld's "Soup Nazi" was on to something - rude customers never bothered him, he made all the rules, no exceptions. If we were in New York, I'd say "stop being so nice to people who are being rude/dishonest with us." But we're not. I wish I knew what the solution was.