Monday, August 12, 2013

Don't take your frustration out on just anyone.

It's been over twenty years since I quit my first real job at Safeway, but I still have a lot of memories of the place. It was my introduction to the world of working for the public and just how infuriating that can be.

One story that I remember in particular was when I was rounding up shopping carts in the parking lot. It was Christmas Eve, so things were getting kind of busy. Also, the city was building an extension of the BART line out to Pittsburgh. (At the time, Concord was the end of the line.) The extension was cutting through the Safeway parking lot, which meant fewer parking spaces for a time.

So there I was, pushing the carts, trying my best to avoid the cars that were circling around the lot. Some guy drove next to me, rolled down his window, and then he asked if there was any more parking. I told him that, unfortunately, there wasn't. I don't remember exactly what he said to me, but essentially it was along the lines that I was stupid for there not being more parking. 'Cause, you know, the guy who pushes the carts has the kind of pull with upper management and the city that he should have ensured that there were more places to park.

There were similar incidents where people got upset at me because we were out of some product, something cost too much, or they read the price tag incorrectly. With the last one, I remember a guy claiming that I was trying to rip him off because the 2 for $3 sale sign was for a different barbecue sauce than the one he wanted to buy. He totally got me on that one, because I always made a little extra dough when people shelled out for the pricier, high-falootin' Bull's Eye sauce instead of the Safeway brand stuff.

Anyway, I got to thinking about this because I heard one of those "friend of a friend" stories of somebody who was getting all set to go down to a particular store and chew out the poor shmuck with the bad luck of working that day. Why? Because a particular item was discontinued. Mind you, this is one of those chain stores, the kind of you find in nearly every shopping mall. It's probably pretty safe to say that the average employee there has little, if any, say on what items they carry and which ones they don't.

Three years was a long enough of a period of time for me to sympathize with people who work for the public. If anything, I think that I err on the side of being too polite. Just the other day, at Walgreen's, the guy behind the cash register apologized because things were taking too long, the reason being that the computer was moving really slowly. My reaction was to call him a useless asshole and demand that he install some faster-moving computers POST HASTE! Nah, my real reaction was to tell him that it was no problem, as he couldn't work any faster than the machinery let him. I think it's pretty safe to say that if he could have a faster register, he'd get one. To what advantage would it be to him for things to go slowly?

I think that some people are just frustrated with life in general, and since they don't have the kind of control they want in their lives, they're eager to take out their frustrations on people who are both a captive audience and trained to treat complainers as though they have legitimate gripes, even when they don't. You know, the whole "the customer is always right" load of garbage.

Another incident from my Safeway days that fits this perfectly was a woman who marched into the store, demanding to see a manager to complain about our "blatant false advertising". She was standing there all smug, like she caught us red-handed. (The "us" being an assistant manager, myself, and a checker - absolutely none of us were in charge of any kind of advertising.) Even if it were fresh in my mind, it was difficult to figure out exactly what she had caught, but I recall it essentially amounted to a difference in a few cents on toilet paper. If only she realized that whatever the situation was, the store's checkers were instructed to give the lower price - even though the store doesn't technically have to do that.

Next time you're eager to go give an employee a good piece of your mind, ask yourself a couple of questions. First off, was that person even remotely responsible for the problem in the first place? If it's a big chain, then the answer usually is "probably not". Second, is this person even in a position to fix the problem? Obviously, if the issue is something like them putting a watermelon on top of the loaf of bread, yeah, go after the guy who did that. But don't expect the ones on the bottom of the totem pole of a huge corporation to have the influence to make any real decisions.

1 comment:

Tony from Pandora said...

Exerpt from Daniel Tosh's standup...

"Who here has NEVER worked at a restaurant?" (show of hands, small applause)
You guys are a**holes! Everyone should work at a restaurant for a year... so you can realize that your ranch dressing ain't that f***ing important!!!"