So right now this is my face…

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Why is that, you ask? Well, a flurry of customers came into the store… three groups to be precise. All three groups were interested in seeking my help, but the group that got there first were keen to haggle – every price I gave them was too much, but they proceeded to waste so much of my time that I ended up being unable to help the other two sets of customers. Thanks very much for your unreasonable expectations on prices, and for wasting so much of my time that other potential customers walked out.


It’s five o’clock. On Saturdays, this is when my colleagues and I finish work. It is not therefore the ideal moment to wander into the shop. You’ve had all day, yet you’ve chosen the latest point possible. 

And in an age where finding out opening hours is a click of a mouse away (not to mention the option of making a phone call) ignorance is not an excuse. Save your muttering for people who can tolerate your lack of timing – we have families we might actually want to get home to on a Saturday. 

Yesterday a story broke about my former employers. It leaves me with decidedly mixed feelings, and it also serves up a reminder of the potential pitfalls of Brexit (something my current employers have also experienced, albeit in a different way).

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(my mood is lurching between this…)

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(… and this)

I used to work a major office supplies retailer, an international firm that I presume remains a major player in the USA, but to be honest I don’t know. Nor for that matter, do I care. What I do care about is that they are selling off their UK business, having finally decided to pull the plug on what was an ailing side to their company. The chances are the stores will close, leaving over a thousand people (including friends) out of work.

The writing’s been on the wall with this one since even before Brexit. Successive directors have come and gone and sought only short-term solutions to issues, failing to tackle the deeper problems within the business. You can’t cut back the hours available to stores and expect productivity and profitability to somehow remain the same or even improve. You can’t expect one store manager to cover three stores with anything like the effectiveness of having one manager per store. You can’t have absurd levels of red tape and expect stores to function properly. The upper management of this company (including some, though not all, of the area managers) failed to grasp what was going on at store level – that, or they didn’t care.

I get it. No really, I do. Businesses have costs. Sometimes they need to bring those costs down. But the employees of the business aren’t merely ID numbers on a computer somewhere – they are living, breathing human beings, who give up a significant percentage of their time for the sake of their employer. In the case of my former employers, they didn’t want to see their employees as people. It was all too easy to cut them out of the equation, reducing hours and somehow expecting this to resolve the problems. It’s hardly a surprise to learn that this idea failed miserably. During my time there (especially once I became a team leader), the pressure increased steadily, but the resources to handle that pressure diminished. Staff did not feel that the company at large gave a damn about them. No thought was given to cutting red tape or addressing the wasteful procedures the business had. Well now, they’ve fallen flat on their faces.

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Customer: I had this product in my possession for well over two years, but didn’t go to fit it until recently, and it won’t fit properly because of a fault. Why won’t you give me a new one (or the means to get one that will fit, given this product is now discontinued)?

Me: Well, as I explained madam, the guarantee is two years from date of purchase. They are the company rules (not mine), and the company doesn’t regard the product being unopened within that time as a mark of the guarantee being extended.

Customer: That’s unfair, it’s not opened!

Me: The company would argue it could have been checked within the two year period for damage or faults.

Customer: But we couldn’t have known it was faulty until we tried to fit it!

Me, thinking: (why didn’t you try to fit it for two years?): I’m sorry, but that’s policy.

Customer: I won’t be buying from you again!

Me: (I don’t even know if they bought from our store to begin with!)

I shouldn’t take too much glee from this, but I can’t help but be very pleased by the news I got earlier from a friend and former colleague of mine. Without going into too much detail, I learned that some rather important people at my old employer have left, rather abruptly.

When this happens, it’s usually a sign that they’ve not left willingly. Given the downward spiral they put the place on, I can’t say I’m surprised. I wouldn’t wish ill upon anyone, but if you cut budgets for staff and reduce the number of managers, whilst expecting the same results, you are asking for trouble. Short term gains were placed above long-term stability, and that is a recipe for disaster.

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So you think you’re right do you, Mr customer?

On Wednesday I had the dubious pleasure of once again dealing with the false and stupid mantra ‘the customer is always right’. This poisonous idea led a customer to expect that we compensate him for potential loss of earnings and fitter work.

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I mean, seriously?! There are so many reasons why this guy is wrong.

Firstly, he’s organised delivery of his goods for the same day that his fitters come round. All well and good, and time-wise maybe he didn’t have much choice, but this is hardly our fault – in fact, the Ts & Cs of our business advise customers to get their goods in a day or two early (earlier if possible) to check for damaged, incorrect or missing items. It’s unfortunate, but errors do happen, so it’s prudent to build in flexibility to your schedule.

Secondly, what would Mr I-Want-Compensation have done if the order had arrived late in the evening? His delivery was in the morning, but the company offers zero guarantees of this. We can’t influence this at store level and the delivery window is potentially any time between 8am and 6pm. This relates to issue 1 – forward planning, something this guy clearly doesn’t think about.

Thirdly, we were able to correct his issue within a day. In this industry, that is incredible. He’s acting like he’s going to be out of pocket to the tune of huge sums of money if delayed by 24 hours, and was moaning about the poor customer service, when in fact with other retailers he might have not only waited longer for what he needed but might have even had to pay for the new part (with a refund scheduled for later).

Finally, what company out there will actually compensate for fitter costs and loss of earnings? The latter is arbitrary – the customer can spout figures and there’s little means to verify them, therefore most (if not all) businesses won’t hear such an argument. In respect of fitting costs – well, we suggested he have the fitter source the missing part from a local supplier (yes, it was that simple), and we’d refund him what he’d paid us. Easy right?

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Nope! Apparently this wasn’t feasible, though the customer declined to elaborate as to why.

So, to sum up, Mr Customer didn’t forward plan, didn’t take up an option to resolve the issue that same day, wasn’t happy with a next-day resolution and expected compensation to the tune of whatever arbitrary figure he plucked from the sky.

And people wonder why I rant about customers.

Interestingly, his wife came in to collect the part and drop off the incorrect one when I was off work yesterday, and didn’t say a word about my conversation with her husband! What a shock.

The title aptly sums up the working day I’ve had. Today has been a case of running to simply stand still.

It began with a refund, which immediately put me on the back foot. From there, I enjoyed a decent enough sale… And from that point onward, it was bitty enquiry all the way home.

Some of it might well lead to further sales – in fact, I’m almost sure of it – but one woman decided to faff around for ages, uncertain of what she wanted and unable to take suggestions. In the midst of all this the phone rang virtually nonstop – here’s a hint: if I don’t answer it the first couple of times, immediately ringing back another twenty or so times isn’t likely to suddenly make me unbusy.

The enquiry-driven nature of the day culminated with one customer outstaying his welcome (he was still faffing about ten minutes after I was meant to close), and I foolishly decided to respond to the voicemail – big mistake. The end result? I eventually left work nearly 40 minutes after I should have, all because today, people were seemingly more concerned with being counterproductive than actually working with me.

Stupid people.

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As 2015 slowly winds down (I’ve started to write this at the end of November), I find myself moved, as always, to compose my thoughts on the year gone by and jot them down. Where to begin?

Work

It’s my professional life that has seen the most change this year, with drama from the start. My manager at my (then) job in office supply retail resigned at the end of January, having had enough (understandably!) of the company’s ineptitude. I don’t exaggerate when I say he was sorely missed, not just by me but by everyone, and I consider him to be a friend as well as a manager I respected. His departure from that place sparked my own quest to leave, and I had several interviews – including one with a pretigious London department store, a job I came very close to getting, but agonisingly, just missed out on.

I won’t lie, missing out on that particular job hurt, and it still does. It would have been a remarkable thing to note on a CV, and I would have been honoured to work there, even despite the stress and hassle of traveling into London every day.

My now former employers slipped further and further into decline, with head office taking forever to appoint a new manager to the store. This left myself, another team leader and a part-time sales manager to somehow juggle the responsibilities of a general manager on top of our regular duties, and whilst we did have sporadic support from other stores, the area manager paid very little attention to our plight, and visited us just once. He left us to sink without offering any help, and I am very, very disappointed in his attitude to our situation.

It would be fair to say I was unhappy at this point. The month of February was a long one, as was half of March. We struggled – I struggled, and felt there was nowhere to really turn. The area manager was useless and uncaring, and this was also the case with the company as a whole.

Then things began to turn around. The new manager started, and for a time, things began to improve. The store got organised again, and I felt I could flourish once more. Oh how wrong I would prove to be.

Without going into specifics (former colleagues may be reading this and I don’t want to land anyone in it), it was suggested to me that certain (untrue) suggestions had been made about me. I had to explain myself to the area manager in person (which I did, and was no bother), and afterward, I asked my manager to have a word with the person who had made these suggestions. To my knowledge, he never did.

Ultimately, leaving was as much for the sake of my sanity and health as anything else. Stuck in a job with no prospects and an atmosphere that was becoming poisonous, combined with a head office that had no clue how to run a business, I realised I had to leave, not only for the sake of my career but for my well-being. Leaping into the unknown was risky, and to be honest, I feel very bitter about the circumstances, but I had to act in my best interests, and I did just that.

The upshot of it all is that I have ended up in a career that plays to my strengths, even if at first I wasn’t at all sure of the industry. My former colleagues and manager have repeatedly told me I’m a good salesman, and you know what? I am.

I’ve heard several stories come out from my former employers, regarding how the store has been over the course of the past few months. If I ever needed validation of my decision to go, these stories are very much it!

As the new job has progressed I’ve sharpened and honed my salesman skills. I am bloody proud of what I’ve managed to accomplish so far there and I look forward to seeing what else I can do!

Personal

I am fortunate that, after what was a difficult year last year, 2015 has been kinder on the personal front. My loved ones and friends are healthy and I had the pleasure of meeting an old friend earlier in the year for a few drinks and merriment! My wife is well and my daughter continues to astound and amaze me. She is now at school proper – where has my little baby gone? Her personality is shining through now – she is a very relaxed and chilled little girl, with a wonderful creative streak – she likes to draw, she likes to bake (yes, she loves making cakes and biscuits!), and she likes to make her ponies… erm… do battle?!

It’s been the love of my family that helped me get through the tough times earlier in the year. I owe a lot to them this year – more so than usual. My wife, my mum and my dad have in particular shared my tumultuous journey and got me through it. Without them it would have been all too much for me.

Despite the tension, stress and pressure at the start of the year, I feel like the shackles have come off this year. Being free of my thankless role with my previous employers has given me a new lease of life, and I feel like I’m appreciating the world around me a little bit more. I enjoyed a wonderful trip to the Tower of London earlier in the year with my mum, wife and daughter, and back in May had a much-needed week in Yarmouth with my wife, daughter, step-daughter and granddaughter. These were much needed family occasions that gave me the chance to recharge my batteries and get myself back into a good place (my little girl got her first experience of a horse and carriage ride too!)

2015 can best be defined as a transitional year. It started out tough – very tough. It’s ending on a positive note. I have to be happy with that!