Monday, November 20, 2006

Anger Management

When someone wrongs you, what do you do?

Let’s say you’re at the grocery store, and a cashier accidentally rings up a purchase twice, and you notice it. Let’s say it’s a cheap item, no more than four bucks. Would you say, “Hey, you just rang up that item twice?”

You probably would.

Now let’s say that the cashier is in a bad mood and doesn’t like you anyway, and he or she decides to get in your face. “I did not!” Would you push the issue?

I certainly would, because, hello, there’s a running electronic total right there and you can clearly see that the cashier rang up the item twice. If I were me, I would get a manager, if that’s what it took. It wouldn’t matter if the item was 90 cents, for me. It’s not about the money. It’s about BEING RIGHT, DAMMIT. The cashier charged up the item twice, he’s claiming that he didn’t, the proof is right there on the receipt and I WILL shove that mistake in his FACE if I have to. I’M RIGHT. The End.

But let’s say, instead, that it’s, say, a bullshit charge on a bank account, like overdraft fees, or a charge to transfer money between accounts, or a random service fee. Would you call and complain? I’ve successfully argued overdraft fees off my account before because it was the bank’s fault, and I’ll happily drive to the bank and get a cashier’s check and physically deposit it into another account instead of paying a transfer fee.

BUT, if I don’t have time, and need to transfer money, I’ll call the bank and try to sweet-talk them into waiving the fee. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. No biggie. In a case like this, whoever I’m talking to on the phone has a corporate policy, which he or she has to follow. Telephone Operator does have the privilege of waiving the charge, of course, but if he or she made a practice of that, someone would notice, and TO would soon be out of a job. I don’t take it personally if TO chooses to not waive my fee, and I can’t remember the last time I got mad about it. (Note: I am not a saint. See above case of the cashier who refused to admit he was wrong. I will scratch eyes out to prove that I am RIGHT.) But a corporate policy…well, that’s bigger than both TO and myself, and I’m not going to accomplish anything by yelling about it—it just adds to the unpleasantness of my day and their day. My mother always got great service—or almost always, because there are always a few bad apples in retail—because she is so good with honey and not vinegar, and I’m a firm believer that Nice Is Always Best.

So when the LT, his friend Tall Kiwi, and myself returned to a local mall last night, looking for a water bottle that my brainless self had left in a movie theater, and we couldn’t find it, and we returned to the parking pay station to pay our fourteen minute parking ticket, and they charged us three dollars, I was surprised, but not upset. The three of us had been expecting that our in-and-out ticket would be free, because it usually is free when under fifteen minutes, but they explained that there is no in-and-out grace period after five pm. So, no big deal, three dollars, right?

Apparently I was wrong. LT and M went apeshit. They raised their voices in arguing with the attendants. I was shocked. M stormed off, saying, “I can’t even talk to these people anymore.” LT claimed that he was never parking here again. I stared at their anger for a few minutes and then asked them to step back, saying, “I’ll handle this,” and I did—by paying the three dollars. The parking attendants were very nice, they apologized as they were running my credit card that it was a corporate policy and there was nothing they could do, and I believed them, although it didn’t matter to me if they couldn’t actually waive the fee or if they could and were choosing not to—I certainly wouldn’t have for the behavior of LT and M.

It was an interesting moment. I thought I would be embarrassed to be seen with two guys who were making such a scene over three dollars, but I wasn’t—the boys were technically right, it WAS ridiculous to be charged three dollars for fifteen minutes of parking. The fact that they were, perhaps, disproportionably upset, doesn’t invalidate the fact that they were correct. And I was touched that they were working so hard to protect my three dollars. But I was also a little upset that they were yelling at the parking attendants, who made minimum wage in order to deal with the public every day, and had no control over corporate policy. I’ve waited tables, I know how awful the public can be. LT and M were certainly not anywhere near the worst-behaved customers I’ve ever seen, but the idea of taking your anger out on the service-industry wage slave was so rank that it upset me.

The incident passed quickly, thank God, and we found the right elevators and made our way to my car and I drove them to the ferry, and we joked around and said our goodbyes and there were no hard feelings.

I wonder now: is it a gender thing? Was LT and M's collective reaction enhanced or magnified by their combined anger? Would another man have gotten just as mad? Would I have gotten more upset had I not had them around? What would my mother have done? What about my father?

It was a new moment.


L-T said...

A point of order here: there was a supervisor on duty, in the booth, and we didn't get TRULY upset until he came over.

The supervisor explained the 5pm policy: we don't give grace period parking AFTER 5pm. Huh? What? Why not? And what about the time we forgot to pay the ticket, drove to the gate after a similarly short period, and they let us through for free?

The frustration was that they DELIBERATELY made policy to extract money from someone for providing next to no service. We could have double parked for the 15 minutes and gotten away for free (most likely). It was the exploitation that upset us, not the three bucks. The corporate policy was geared towards taking advantage of someone. Whatever happened to customer service? This is the same type of thing we were discussing last night regarding USAA & American Express...that they DO care about the customers.

Another example: I just learned that master lock has a website that allows you to establish an account to log your combinations. It's not in their best interest to remind you of your combinations, in fact it's to their detriment. But they do it hoping you'll come back for another lock when you need a new one because of the SERVICE.

Kat said...

I'm going to venture that it's a gender AND a military thing. I'm married to a Marine and he's used to seeing action when he asks a question. He acts the same way with customer service reps especially if it's a manager because in the military you get action when you ask for it. He escalates far faster and much more than the situation calls for. In the military, sugar gets messy and orders get things done and you keep going to the top until you get what you need. Unfortunately that's not how it works in the "real" world where if somebody doesn't want to help you, they don't have to.

Also, in the future I would recommend speaking with the attendant before you park and explain the situation and I'm sure the rules can be bent and fees waived.

OH, and USAA ROCKS in their customer service!

OK, that was my 20 cents worth.

Dewey said...

Nope, it's not a gender thing, it's personality. The Boy is the calm, cool, collected one in our relationship. BY FAR!

I too have worked in customer service, and I know the kind of power these people wield (or don't) so I don't blow my stack at the grocery store cashier when the item scans at $0.30 more than it should have, because I know it's not HER fault.

I do, however, COMPLETELY. LOSE. MY. SHIT! when the Store Manager argues with me about the signage on the shelf, because as the person responsible for the point-of-sale display, it is their fault it's wrong.

The Boy, on the other hand, probably wouldn't notice he'd been overcharged, and likely wouldn't say a word even if he did. "It's only $0.30" he would say.

This goes a long way to explain why I have more money to spend on travel to far off lands, and he has WAY fewer grey hairs.

Aarwenn said...

WAY fewer gray hairs--ha! It reminds me of something Dooce said: "Jon takes everything pretty much in stride, whereas for me, if the wind so much as changes direction, my head bursts into flame. This has saved him a load of unnecessary wrinkles."

Also, kat, I think you're right. I'm used to the private sector, in which chain-of-command is more of a suggestion than a standard. In fact, it's less of a suggestion than it is a...well...let's just say that in order to get ANYONE to do what you want them to do, you have to really sweet-talk them. A lot.

LT doesn't have to do that, and neither does M. They obviously approach problems differently.