Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Customer Service

I have such mixed emotions about this term, especially having been on both sides of the counter. I used to be of the belief that if you were calm and unemotional, if you listened and you communicated, if you were cordial, smiled and looked the customer in the eye, customer service would take care of itself. HA!

For example, this weekend while working my second job at Williams-Sonoma, I came across this customer service issue. In case you don't know this, Williams-Sonoma will take back dirt as long as you have a receipt. And, for the most part, if we sell/sold it and you DON'T have a receipt, we will give merchandise credit in the amount shown on the register (which usually is the last sales price). All of this information is clearly displayed on every counter in our stores as well as on the website, in the catalogues and carved below the 10 on the original stone slab brought down from Mount Sanai by Moses. Yes, we pride ourselves in our excellent customer service.

So, that said, in walks a couple with a slightly used and extremely broken panini press, the model we stopped selling over a year ago. She is walking with a purposeful stride toward the counter and he is trailing her like the obedient lap dog he so proved to be. This is how it unfolded.

"How may I help you?"

"We want to return this we only used it once and the handle broke it must've had a flaw in it because the metal just snapped and we only used it once and we are not happy with it and we want to return it," all said rather abruptly by the female unit of the couple, in one breath, and definitely with lots of attitude. That alone makes my "you are so trying to get away with something" antennea go way up!

"Do you have your receipt?"

"Of course not, we bought it a couple years ago but we only used it once and it's broken and we think something must've been wrong with it to begin with because you can see that handle is just snapped in two."

"We no longer sell this model b..."

"I know that, but I want my money back."

"What I was trying to say is we don't have this model anymore but you can exchange it for the updated version. Of course you'd have to pay the difference in price."

"I don't want another one, I didn't like this one. I want my money back."

"I'll have to give you store credit as you don't have a receipt."

"I brought my American Express bill so you can see how much I paid for it."

"Ma'am, we can't take the bill as proof of purchase because the individual merchandise is not listed on the bill, but thank you for bringing that in just the same. I wish I could use it. Unfortunately I can only give you the value that we have in the computer." And I'm thinking, you save two years of AmEx bills but you don't save your receipts?

"But you can see how much I paid for it, I have my American Express bill. I've returned things before using my American Express bill."

"I'm sure if you brought in your bill you were told that we cannot take the bill as proof of sale. It is against company policy to take bills as proof of purchase unless the item is clearly defined on the bill. What I mean is, your bill indicates that over $100 was spent at one of our stores yet the merchandise you are returning orignally sold for $79.95. This is not a clear indication of what merchandise was purchased. If your bill said $80 something I would be more inclined to use it as proof of purchase but only after telling you that I am bending the rules as this is not store policy. Do you understand?"

I didn't bother to await an answer. Instead I looked up the SKU# and entered it on the cash register. Of course the cost is no longer $79.95 but rather $49.99, oh joy. When I impart that information I will just say I am glad that my uniform includes an apron. And, as predicted, after the verbal deluge which included projectiles of bodily fluids her next comment was "I want to see your manager!" Yes, I am not a very nice person sometimes, and since I've been with this company for 5 years as well as have held management positions, though not at the moment, I put a cork in her bottle by replying "I am the manager." Then I looked straight in her eyes as I wiped a wee bit of imaginary spittle from my cheek (damn I am a good actress). I smiled and reached for the large, 10x13 sign next to the cash register, in clear view of all to see, placing the laminated board in front of her. "And this is our company wide store policy should you have any more questions," I said smiling.

At this point I looked at the merchandise, and boy was this thing broken. The hard metal handle had snapped in two and was at this odd angle bent outward. It was a real struggle to get the top open (not normal for a Krup's Panini Press). Once I finally jimmied the top up I saw what the problem was. The press had been dropped, and probably off the counter for the nonstick coated hard anodized aluminum corner (which, by the way, is as hard as a rock) was bent inward. "Aha" I said. "This appliance has been dropped."

Boy, the woman jumped right on that and the man, ever quiet, turned bright red and looked positively abashed. "I didn't drop it" she countered in a vicously loud voice.

"But it has been dropped." I calmly replied.

"I didn't drop it"

"But it has been dropped."

"I didn't drop it." She was now yelling loudly and I was just above a whisper.

"I am NOT accusing you of dropping it, but it has been dropped, and it was not dropped in our store. Now, I can give you $49.99 in store credit or you can exchange it for another one and pay the difference, or you can send it back to Krups for a replacement, but those seem to be your only choices." Then I turned to the humbled man and said, "Which of those options is satisfactory to you?"

"We'll take the store credit." he meekly replied

"I thought so," and as I took care of the transaction I smiled and carried on polite conversation, never once looking at the anti-christ but instead choosing to deal with her subserviant counterpart. I reminded him of the stores in which he could use our merchandise credit and told him that if he had anything else to return, that the costs could be added to this card. As I handed him the receipt I leaned over the counter and quietly said, so both could hear, "If something like this ever happens again just be honest and say, 'I'm sorry, this dropped and broke. May I return it?' We'll take care of it for you and no one walks away embarrssed and with egg on their face. And that makes for a much more pleasant exchange, don't you think?" Then I stood tall and said, "thank you for your business and I hope we see you again very soon."

You know, sometimes I hate people!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Wasted Time

And so the week begins. I arrived to work about 10 minutes late, but it was no problem as I was the second drone to walk in the door and was seated at my desk, fingers on the keyboard and looking extremely efficient by the time the more important drones arrived. It took me all of 5 minutes to sort and read mail that arrived on Saturday, it took less than two minutes to read my email, it may have taken 10 more minutes to process check requests that were left on my desk. By that time it wasn't even 9:00 am. So I made another pot of coffee, went to the bathroom and returned to the desk waiting for life to begin. It is now 1:30 and I have done nothing more than search the Internet for inns and bed and breakfasts for sale, put together a half dozen online jigsaw puzzles, and read cleverly worded details about other's lives that they so creatively published on their blogs. And I feel as though I've been here for days.

Some of the blogs were actually quite refreshing. One woman, when asked her occupation, replied, "Research Associate in the field of Child Development and Human Relations". I love it. She's a full-time mother. When questioned further as to the intricate job details, she then replied "I have a continuing program of research, (what mother doesn't) in the laboratory and in the field, (normally I would have said indoors and out). I'm working for my Masters, (the whole darned family) and already have four credits (all daughters). Of course, the job is one of the most demanding in the humanities, (any mother care to disagree?) and I often work 14 hours a day, (24 is more like it). But the job is more challenging than most run-of-the-mill careers and the rewards are more of a satisfaction rather than just money." Oh my GOD, don't you love this woman???? I wish I had been clever enough to give a title like that when asked. I always fell back on domestic goddess, but this is SOOOO much better. Kudos to you BODEGALEE. You make me proud to have once been a full-time mom! You can read her blogs at the following: http://bodegalee-bodegalee.blogspot.com/

Another blog was also quite humorous. One gentleman couldn't understand our behavior toward animals, in specific, the duck that was shot, assumed dead and frozen, only to actually be alive. Apparently, said duck also was assumed dead on the vets table during the operation to remove shot from neck, wing and whatever, only to be alive AGAIN. Talk about miracles. Of course, my thoughts were: first-I thought CATS had nine lives then second-is the second coming supposed to be in human form? The writer did make a valid point. If said duck was first shot and thrown into the freezer to later become dinner, when the fowl was found alive, why didn't they just kill it and eat it like they were going to do in the first place? I think it must've resembled a piata or something holy!

Finally, I happened across this wonderful reenactment of Robbie Burns night (January 25th) by an American on sabbatical in the UK. http://ewaldsinengland.blogspot.com/ As I read it I smiled deeply and remembered my own experiences on Burns nights of years ago. I happened to love the haggis, hate the scotch, enjoy the bagpipes and barely understand the poetry spoken in the deep brogue of Scotland. I was at the Intercontinental hotel (in my mind) in Muscat, Oman, reliving the revelry when THEY walked by and knocked me right out of my daydream and brought me back here. THANKS A LOT.

Yes, they were headed to lunch again, sans moi, of course as I have never been approached and given an invitation. I should be quite satisfied with their inquiring as to whether I would like them to "BRING" me something. (Yeah, a 45 semi-automatic so I can blow you bitches away!) but I always say, "no thank you" because I'm nice (yes Nikki....you can gag now!). They probably know, at this point, that if they did deign to invite me I would just look at them as if they'd suddenly contracted leprosy and say "No thank you". Or maybe I would have enough khutspa to say, "don't you think it's a little late to try to be friendly NOW!?"

Of course, on the way out Trishie baby handed me a pile of papers that need filing and it will take me all of three minutes to accomplish, but at least I'll be busy for three minutes. Then it will be back here, surfing the net, reading the blogs, and contemplating the dust bunnies under the conference table. YEEHAW!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Senseless War


Life with its emotions, conflicts, circumstances and how they all intertwine never ceases to amaze me. I have spent the last three days pretty much wallowing in self-pity. I was actually enjoying the feel of it seep between my toes and drip through my fingers. I had begun caking it on me like so much dead sea mud at a spa thinking maybe it would improve my complexion. Then I opened my email this morning.

Throughout my ex-husband's military career we made a plethora of friends with whom, I am happy to say, I continue to associate and correspond. We may not see each other for years and only send a Christmas card and some scattered email, but if we sat down over a glass of wine, it would be as though no time had lapsed from the last time we did the same. It was one such pair from whom I read some dreaded news this morning.

They have a son, Andrew, who is a very talented and charming young man but who couldn't seem to completely focus in college. Eventually he left William and Mary to come home and attend school locally while deciding which avenue in life he wanted to travel. Once that decision was made, entirely by him, he waited until the night before he was due to leave to tell his family that he had enlisted in the Army. Sadly, his unit is one that is a constant in this war in Iraq, specifically in and around Baghdad and they have been taking some pretty big hits in the last two days.

Roni and Dave were watching the news when NBC broadcast a story on the Military Hospital in Baghdad. Nine soldiers from the Stryker Brigade (Andrew's Unit) were being treated for injuries. This unit and, specifically his Company, had been at the heart of fighting in the Sunni neighborhood along Haifa Street. The report that was being aired contained video about this fighting. Later CNN reported that one soldier had been killed and two were wounded. Andrew had told Roni and Dave that when a soldier is injured or killed, the outgoing information is "quarantined", so right now, Roni and Dave are sitting on the pins and needles of worry until they receive some kind of word from our government.

So please, for all the Andrews out there, for all the Roni and Daves back home sick with worry, send your prayers. And don't sit on your laurels feeling sorry for yourself because you are bored at work. Get productive; write letters, go to demonstrations, talk to your friends and associates, volunteer at a local base, visit a veteran's hospital, talk to your congressman and let's figure out how, as a community, nay as a country, we can get our children home! There is no way we can end the war that WE started, but there must be a way we can begin peaceful negotiations.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


I have been working in this office for six months and I still feel like a child, face pushed against the glass watching everyone inside eating pastries. Sometimes I feel hurt, other times I feel helpless, lots of the time I feel useless, but mostly I feel as though I am wasting my time mentally, physically, creatively, socially and spiritually. I can understand the fact that many of these people have been working together or have known one another for years, but wouldn't it seem productive if not socially acceptable to make newcomers feel like they are a part of the "family"? I would say it is because they do not want to mix business with pleasure, which would be fine but only if they didn't speak of fun, television, their ideas on politics, their views of the Today show, etc. with each other. At first I tried to insert my two cents. This was always met one of three ways: 1)with a look that questioned why I felt I had the right to participate in the conversation, 2) with a snide comment, or, 3) with a complete refusal to acknowledge that I was even in the vacinity of the conversation. I learned to walk away, go to my own little corner in my own little chair, and cease trying to communicate with them about anything that didn't have to do with work.

And yes, I am a bit stubborn. Wanting somewhat desperately to "fit in", I decided to try a new tactic. For several weeks I brought cookies, cinnamon buns, and other desert items for the kitchen. I also brought in unusual crackers, trail mix, M&Ms, pretzels or other nibbles to put in a dish at my desk so that guests and co-workers could grab a little something on the way in or out of the office. During the Christmas season I was told, point blank, NOT to bring it anymore as some people in the office had health issues and could not control their eating and it was best not to have things like that available for them.

Last week I was speaking to the spouse of one of my bosses (she had telephoned him and I was asked to cover all calls). We said our polite hellos and I asked how she and the kids were doing. She began to tell me about her daughter (in Europe at boarding school) who had a very hard time fitting in at home now that she had been away at school for so long. She was worried about the job prospects this summer. I mentioned the State Department summer program, offered to email her the website as well as try to touch base with some of my old contacts to see if they could help get Caroline (Dan's daughter's name) into the program. Michela gave me her and Caroline's email addresses and seemed very grateful of the idea. Apparently Dan heard the conversation and wanted to know why I needed their their information. He did not seem terribly pleased with my "help" and I have not heard from Dan's wife or daughter since.

Lessons learned!

So now I sit here, doing online crossword puzzles and trying to think of interesting things to type in my blog. Calgon, take me away!

Friday, January 19, 2007

Kuwaiti Diplomat Accused Of Domestic Slavery


I was reading the Post and barely paying attention to the Channel 4 morning news yesterday when, from my periphery, I heard something quite fascinating. Charges were being brought against the Kuwaiti Ambassador and his wife by several domestic helpers (all from India). The Kuwaitis were being accused of enslaving their maids. I barked! Then I heard an interview with a naive neighbor who said there was no way these women were enslaved, that she was sure it was a dreadful misunderstanding and she thinks the Ambassador and his wife are two of the nicest most respectful people in the world. I barked again! Oh how clueless we Americans are of things beyond our own borders.

Okay, a little lesson in history here. Until 1953, Kuwait was a little know sandbar run by tribes from several different areas of the Gulf (to include India) who took over the area several hundred years ago. These tribesman made what little money they had by being traders (at one time, SLAVE TRADERS). With the discovery of OIL all changed. So, in other words, until 1953 (which was our 20th century) these people were pretty much living in the 14th century on normal days, the 18th century on a good day. The oil thing immediately immersed the wealthy ones into the 20th century physically, but mentally they weren't even close to being in the present. Even today, the wealthy Kuwaitis (and Saudis, and Omanis, and Bahrainis, and Qataris, and Emiratis, in other words the oil rich gulfies) have slaves but they are not called that. They are refered to as domestics. The rest of the world probably doesn't know they consider their domestics slaves and if they do they look the other way or they just don't talk about it. Sort of like the whole gay-Omani Sultan and young boy thing...it isn't spoken of, especially while you are there.

A regular domestic in one of these countries usually comes from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Korea, the Philippines or Palestine. These people come to the country and immediately are taken into a home of a wealthy local or an ex-Patriot (the latter being the far better place to work). Upon entry into a local's household all identification (Drivers Licenses, Passports, Visas, etc) are confiscated by the homeowner and, in my opinion, held for ransom. Most of these women work 7 days a week with a day off once a month, maybe. They are allowed to visit their country of origin usually only when they have reimbursed the homeowner for the cost of their work visa. Kinder locals will allow them to go home once every two years. (Keep in mind that many of these women are mothers with children in their home country, or young women who are looking to support their immediate families back home.) They are given very little money, and in no way does it cover what they do and the long hours they work. If they are lucky, they will work for an American who is associated with the Embassy because American Embassy personnel are expected to pay American minimum wages, allow two days off a week as well as one month of vacation a year, and pay for health insurance. I don't think any other country had those requirements and I will say that those Americans who were NOT affiliated with our government did not feel the need to follow that dictum.

And what do they do, these poor women? Act as nannies, house keepers, maids, gardeners, punching bags and prostitutes...no, prostitutes get paid...wait....oh yes, knot holes. If they should get pregnant, they are sent home in disgrace. I cannot count the number of those I've seen at the airport and it broke my heart every time. And they are treated this way by the wealthy locals in each one of these countries. And some of these locals are the nicest, kindest, most educated and upstanding people you would ever want to meet.

I hear people all the time say, "I just don't understand what they (the Arabs) are thinking or how they can do that." And that is hitting the nail on the head. Unless you are an Arab, unless you have been raised in an Arab society, unless you have become fully immersed in the Arab culture, you will NEVER understand, and they will never understand you. They are tribal, they have a flock mentality, they are like sheep and they do not, cannot and will not understand human rights, especially in their own countries. It's like comparing apples to triangles. We are different, period. I

Monty Python did this skit where a tourist came up to a fence that a farmer was leaning against. In the background you could hear "baaa-plop, baaa-plop". The tourist's curiosity got the better of him and he asked the farmer what the sheep were doing. "They think they're birds." The tourist was flabbergasted. The farmer went on to explain that the one big sheep, the most clever of the sheep, had convinced all the other sheep that they were birds, so all the sheep were climbing the tree and trying to fly. The moral of this story? "Never trust a smart sheep!" BARK!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Virginia Traffic

Recently, a study was done that proved Virginia drivers (this includes Washington DC, Northern VA and Southern MD) are the worst in the nation. Being someone who has driven not only in most areas of the United States but abroad as well and shares the road with these people I will say that I have to agree. Mind you, I am not the best driver in the world; far be it. I ride bumpers but not to push people along, more to prevent other screwballs from jumping into my lane when I'm trying to play safe. I've been known to run a yellow light, talk on my cell phone, honk my horn when I feel someone was behaving in a dangerous manner, speed, etc. But I will also admit that I have been much more careful in the last three years, since flipping the Beemer in a parking lot.

When I was much, much younger, "The Wonderful World of Disney" would entertain me every Sunday evening. These fun adventures would include everything from Disney movies to short cartoon flicks. As I drive east on 66 or west on the parkway, or north on 495, a particular cartoon comes to mind (Motor Mania-1950). In this entertaining bit of toon-cinematography Goofy, ever loving family man/dog, would kiss his wife and children goodbye, pat the tots on the head and hop into his car. Once he left the neighborhood, his face began to change and with every new road he took he became more maniacal until he was completely transformed into this horrible, scary, evil shadow of his former self; Jekyll to Hyde. And this metamorphosis would occur because he entered the world of rush hour behaving in a truly dastardly (don't you love that word?) manner: tailgating, cutting people off, changing lanes without using the turn signal, not allowing others to merge, etc.

Today, I was surrounded by Goofies: almost all of them a rabid form of their former selves. And I had to wonder if they realized what they had become in these early hours of our work day. I am curious as to what circumstances forced them into this transition. Could it be the small amount of drivers who AREN'T stressed but aren't very bright either? You know the ones: they speed through yellow lights but ride their brakes through green ones; or they drive slowly in the left lane which used to be reserved for faster vehicles; or worse yet they want/need to follow the speed limit even though everyone else around them is desperate to go 10 to 15 miles over it. On top of that they feel it is their bound and duty to try to force others into compliance of their own stellar example so before they even enter the freeway, three or four of them will communicate telepathically. These individuals will drive down the highway, side-by-side, hindering the passage by other vehicles and creating a backlog of some very angry drivers behind the wheels of what have now become WMDs. (And Shrub thought Iraqis were dangerous!)

Maybe the cause of this personality transformation is caffeine and the fact that there is a Starbucks at the beginning and end of every block as well as included in all strip malls. This over abundance of coffee and coffee products made available to those individuals behind the wheels of motor vehicles could possibly be detrimental to the highway safety of our area. The drug seems to cause humans to need to move faster as well as more eratically. It also gives them the feeling they have to be number one so therefore they are all striving to be the very first in line. What this caffeine also tends to do is make them forget that the world is round and it's virtually impossible to actually hold the "first" position. The shape alone prevents it!

Or could it be that the real reason all of these people, so intent to reaching their destination in record time, causing mayhem and havoc in the minds of other drivers along their path, LOVE THEIR JOBS! ... Hmmmm...If that's the case, just let me ride slowly in the right lane, listen to NPR and watch these lovers of the rat race fly past me. I am in no real hurry to reach my destination. Apparently they don't work in my office.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Virgin Blogger

The funny thing about writing is it's best done when driving in the car (but I've noticed that can be extremely dangerous to other drivers). I find as I drive to and from work, I think about all the things I would relate if I had a blog page. During those times of the day I feel I have so much to say, words crowding each other like the cars on the Fairfax County Parkway, bumper to bumper, end to end, thoughts against thoughts. The ideas run on and on resembling those sentences your 6th grade teacher abhored. Yet, when faced with the blank page the mind becomes vacant, empties of all verbal creativity and the vastness of the white blank screen is blinding.

... minutes pass ....

I could speak of work, but as I'm there now surrounded by dusty silk flowers and people who are incapable of sincere smiles or clever reparte, I would just as soon shove salt into this slit I have on my lip from licking these stupid envelopes...so work is tabu...for now.

... more minutes pass ... I answer the phone ... twice ...

Then there's family, the extended kind consisting of siblings. We, my siblings and I, are on the outs now, inheritance and all the selfishness that intails, the finger pointing and recriminations, etc. I probably need to go see a psychiatrist or something before I begin complaining about my family. I think maybe I'll touch on that later when my skin has thickened a bit.

... I watch a cobweb float above the credenza ...

What about children...I have two...22 and 17...students....at home...no, I don't think I'll travel down that road at the moment either.

... heavy sigh ...

So, instead, I rest my head in my palm and stare at the keyboard; then at the silk dogwood in the corner; then at the conference room table that has some empty soda cans that I will eventually have to throw into the trash, or maybe not; then back at the keyboard hoping my fingers have miraculously found something clever and witty to say... and I wait...

Damn, Harley has returned from his meeting so I suppose I should APPEAR to be busy...it's going to take all the acting skills I possess. If it's entertaining enough maybe I'll win a Golden Globe!