Rules of the Consumer by MA Cunningham:
by MA Cunningham - Posted Sun August 16, 2009 @ 3:19 PM
Far too many times, I read letters on this site that just absolutely blow me away with the outlandishness of the demands, arguments and situations they present. In fairness, some are genuinely valid and need to be addressed, but I think some OP’s may misunderstand what the expectations for a company are and what things they as a customer ideally should do. Yes, that’s right, I said THEY SHOULD DO! Believe it or not, the road actually goes both ways in Retailville!
Here are a few key rules that every consumer should be aware of. Not to say that companies don’t have their own set of rules that should be followed, but it’s hard to expect good customer service without knowing what constitutes a good customer.
1. This is perhaps the most important rule of all! You are not entitled to freebies, discounts or any other “perks” just because you live and breathe. Companies offer incentives to INCENT (or bring in) customers to shop with them. Not everyone may be able to receive them (limited offers) and sometimes you will have to do a little work (go to a certain store, show up by a certain date or purchase a certain number of items) in order to qualify for the discount. But nobody OWES you anything. There really is no such thing as a “free lunch.” All those gimmies and trinkets and discounts and rebates have to come from somewhere and the mere fact of your existence is not always reason enough for you to get them. This goes for people who show up "just a few days after" a sale or coupon has expired. You have to follow all the rules and jump through all the hoops to get the reward at the end. If you don't, you get zilch!
2. The definition of the term “loyal” states:
“1: unswerving in allegiance: as a: faithful in allegiance to one's lawful sovereign or government b: faithful to a private person to whom fidelity is due c: faithful to a cause, ideal, custom, institution, or product 2: showing loyalty”
Therefore, customers who threaten to never ever, ever, ever, ever, ever patronize a store again if they a) don’t get their way b) have one bad experience or c) walked out and never bothered to tell someone in the first place are not “loyal” customers! In fact, most retail and service organizations are well aware that the customers and clients who make the biggest demands for bonuses or privileges they aren’t due are rarely the customers who have the best standing or have been the most “loyal” to them.
And if you make a mistake with the bank or a creditor that costs you fees,understand that they set forth rules when you opened the account stating that if you botched your finances,they could charge you fees. No matter how trivial you think the error was, unless you can prove it was not your fault,you should expect to pay the penalties and take it as a lesson learned. It really does pay to be a responsible consumer.
3. Again, following that logic, while it is not required for a customer to speak up at the time of an incident, there are several reasons why it’s a good idea:
1) It gives the store the chance to deal with the situation right when it’s happening, thus giving them the opportunity to satisfy everyone immediately.
2) If you choose not to speak up, it calls into question how serious you really were about the situation. Occasionally, people will avoid speaking up at the time, claiming that they don’t like confrontation or “just didn’t feel like it” but then insist that the problem was so egregious and heinous that they are “due” some sort of “compensation” for the injustice they suffered. But again, how bad did you really suffer if you couldn’t be bothered to speak up at the time and actually get the problem handled?
3) How would you feel if you were a manager and one of your employees was doing a bad job? Wouldn’t you want to know BEFORE your boss was told by some angry, irate client so you could do your job? Believe it or not, so do most managers!
4. If you sign an agreement, any agreement, your signature indicates that you read, understood and AGREED to everything they put forth. If you blindly sign things and then complain that no one ever TOLD you – Sorry, but that’s on you. Not being verbally informed is never a valid excuse.
5. There doesn’t need to be a sign to make it so. Where, exactly, did the notion that something is not valid unless it is in print come from anyway? A policy is a policy is a policy, no matter where it is or who invokes it. Stores exist to run a business and good businesses establish policies that serve not only the interests of the customers, but the company as well. They're in business to make a profit, just like you are when you go to work each day. To bend these policies and rules for any reason (no matter how “good” you may think your reason is) puts the store and its employees at financial and possibly legal risk.
6. NO does not = rude, mean, unfair or poor customer service. Just because a store chooses to adhere to their policies and won’t bend for your unique, special, extenuating circumstance does not mean they have done anything wrong. Sure there is no harm in asking, but know when to walk away. If you know up front about a policy (Customers are charged $35 per NSF transaction) or even if you are informed of it after the fact (being refused a return because it is beyond 90 days), if they fail to grant your request for that “one time” exception, be prepared that the answer very well could still be “No.” You asked. They said no. Let it go already!
7. Use common sense. Yes, people do sometimes make mistakes; after all, we are all only human. But that doesn’t excuse anyone from using the good common sense they should have been born with. Yes, it might not say that you can’t leave your child unattended in a public place, but it’s not a good idea. You can’t read all the magazines from cover to cover in the stores, either. You can’t buy a car, drive it for a year and then be surprised that the dealership will only give you a fraction of what you paid for it and you shouldn’t jip a waitress on her tip because your food tasted bad but you never let her know and then left in a huff like she should have read your mind.
Some things we should all as adults just instinctively know. No one should need to tell us, it doesn’t have to be in bold print and the answer should be clear. There’s something to be said for accepting a little Personal Adult Responsibility in our day to day dealings.
8. What good is a written apology? If you have been arguing with a company for any length of time and they are not doing what you want, what benefit is there to them forcing some alleged executive to pen a mea culpa begging your forgiveness and swearing that you were right all along? If they haven’t already made it right by now, how are some insincere words on a piece of paper going to solve things? A forced apology is no apology at all.
9. Understand that a few bad apples really DO spoil the whole bushel. This was one of my Grama’s favorite saying when I was a kid. She was basically saying that while things may seem harsh or unfair to you personally, it only takes one other person’s stupidity, ignorance or selfishness to wreck it for everyone else. Kind of like in grade school where one kid said something snide to the teacher, so the entire class had to miss recess for it!
Yes, everyone recognizes that YOU would never stoop to shoplifting or fraudulent returns or lying to get something you aren’t due. But that certainly doesn’t mean that others are above it. If a rule is especially stringent, you can bet your life that it’s because a company lost money because of it and needed to ensure it wouldn’t continue to happen.
Additionally, no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. There are apparently a lot of “thin-skinned” consumers out there that have such a hyper inflated sense of ego (or paranoia) that they immediately jump to the conclusion that everyone MUST be insulting, degrading, or humiliating them if they are held to a policy or rule that they believe shouldn’t apply to them. Believe it or not, it’s truly not personal. No one is saying you are a bad parent or on welfare or a homeless bum if they tell you that you’re bound by the same rules and policies as everyone else. They are applying their policies evenly and fairly and in order to be able to say that, everyone must be treated just the same. No exceptions.
10. Last (but certainly no least) the customer is NOT always right. Yes, customers are the lifeline of any business – esp. in today’s heavily service driven marketplace. But no one OWES you anything because you have a credit card in your hand or a few dollars in your wallet. & just to set the record straight, no one individual person pays all a company’s salaries, no matter how much you think you spend there. Want to see the quickest way to get crappy customer service? Tell some clerk she better do what you want because you’re the reason she has a job!
“Customer Service” does not mean that anyone must 1) drop everything they are doing and tend to your needs the second you arrive 2) bend any rules or provide any unearned benefits or 3) tolerate disrespectful behavior or kiss anyone’s backside. No, cashiers should not be on a cell phone or engaged in a personal conversation with a co-worker when you are trying to get checked out. And no, stores should not be closing earlier than their posted times. However, it is not your place, nor your right to get belligerent or irate because a cashier failed to smile at you and tell you to have a nice day, nor is it good form to show up 10 minutes before close with the intention of a full out shopping spree. Regardless of what some people’s mothers may have told them as a child, the Earth definitely DOES NOT revolve around any of us.
And another thing that peeves me, even though this is far less incendiary than breaking “the rules”, is not including all the details in a business letter. When contacting a business, always err on the side of too much information and write as if you are educating your subject. Don’t assume that higher ups (or anyone else reading your letter, like PFB commenters!) will automatically know what you are talking about if you leave details out. It’s a good bet that if the people on this site reading your letter are not able to follow the story, the company rep reading it won’t be able to either. But do leave personally identifying info out – account numbers, addresses, phone numbers - no one needs an already bad situation compounded with identity theft!
So there you have it – my rules of the road for the modern consumer. It's too bad they don't teach this stuff in school! Can you imagine how few complaint letters would be posted if they did?