Seriously, when did the customer stop being always right? Or even right a small percentage of the time, like maybe on holidays or on the customer’s birthday? When did the consumer become the whipping boy of dictatorial high school dropouts in charge of setting policy, and when did this become so commonplace that we feel we have no choice but to accept it? Even well-meaning acts of charity now come with Terms and Conditions… some, with outright threats.
As I sat in my car outside a Goodwill store the other day, ready to go in and donate a few things I’d been saving, I read something that made me want to throw up in a trash can and donate that. The sign on the building bore a stern warning: “Anything left outside will be considered illegal dumping. Violators will be prosecuted. POLICE TAKE NOTICE”. Police? Prosecuted? Really? This charity, this nonprofit business, is going to press charges against John Doe for thoughtfully contributing a gift that they can sell for actual cash. Are they insane?
It gets even worse with the folks who take your money in exchange for a product or service. At every turn, they are dictating the terms to you, telling you how it’s going to be, instead of the other way around. Who said they could do that, and when did it happen? This disrespect for the business relationship can show itself in the subtlest of ways. I recently made an online payment to a credit card, and the confirmation number was accompanied by “Payment Accepted”. Accepted? I’m giving you the money, remember? It’s up to me to decide if I want to give you my business, and it’s up to you to be grateful as hell for it, not give me the impression you’re doing me a big favor and that you can, in fact, take me or leave me.
Then there are the more blatant manifestations. Have you ever noticed how used we are to being strong-armed into slapping a checkmark on the “Terms and Conditions” box for virtually everything? Most of the time we don’t even read it, because we know there is no room for negotiation. It was placed there by faceless lawyers long gone on their latest Scottish golf trip, who don’t even know you exist and don’t care. And what would be the point of asking a salesperson who showed up in North America fifteen minutes ago and doesn’t understand English (but somehow managed to get a driver’s license) to read it with you, much less explain it?
It never occurs to us that this is the exact opposite of the way things ought to be, and used to be, even if we’re not old enough to remember it. The truth is, if we don’t check that box – which usually means relinquishing legal rights if the business relationship goes south – then there’s no deal. And nobody cares but us.
Clerks stopped listening to what you had to say, when the owner stopped being the clerk. When on-site proprietorship gave way to absentee ownership, and traditional small businesses gave way to big business, big bucks and big CEO salaries.
When the rare business actually follows up on a sale with a “we hope you’re satisfied” note, we’re shocked. Immediately we suspect an ulterior motive. If the note comes via email, we’ve been banged around so much we presume we’ve been hacked or pfished, or that any reply will shoehorn us into marketing databases from here to Smolensk (which it will).
Businesses shag us at will, and they never respect us in the morning. While that Love Boat has sailed and there's nothing you can do, there is a way to take some of the sting out of it. All you need is patience, a telephone with a speaker (so your hands are free to multi-task) and the number of the corporate headquarters of the business that has disgusted you most recently. This will take hours, but it will pay off if you don’t give up.
I have a friend who went out of his way to take his car in for an oil change at a Wal-Mart where the posted hours clearly stated the auto shop was open until 8pm. When he got there at 6:50pm, he was told everyone had gone home, “just because”. He complained to store management, and eventually was compensated with a $10 gift card. Just warming up, he then called Wal-Mart Corporate and came away with a $100 gift certificate. His advice: Watch Perry Mason reruns while you loosen up; try to appear rational; be calmly unrelenting in explaining the compensation you feel you deserve, for whatever indignity you’ve been through; ask "What might be ethical in your performance here?"; note times, dates and individuals you contact. Most important of all: Enjoy it for the sport that it is .
At least let’s make ‘em buy us dinner.