Saturday, September 29, 2007

"I know my rights!"

Oh, I really should never get going about this type of customer. You know them, the kind that, upon failing to get their own way by kicking and screaming, will resort to inventing their own consumer protection laws.

It's a subject that can arise at any time. We often get customers who will attempt to play the legal card for the smallest of problems.

Wrong Price, Wrong Label
A very good example of this occurred last week. A gentleman had picked up a bottle of wine - one of the more expensive ones we sell - and taken it to the till. It scanned at £10.99, which resulted in a huge tantrum.

"The shelf said £6.99!" he protested.

Cue supervisor calls and checks being made. We located the item on the wines section and it was merchandised next to a price label that clearly stated the name of the wine in question and said £10.99. It wasn't long before the man came stomping up the aisle, pointed at an empty space, three shelves along, and insisted: "This is where I got it from. Look. The ticket says £6.99!"

"Yes, but that space is for the Hardy's Stamp variety, as it says on the label there. I can only guess that somebody has picked up the bottle you took and put it back in the wrong place. The price for the bottle you have is stated over here where it belongs - £10.99," I explained patiently.

I wasn't being a jobsworth. If there had been a whole case of this particular wine merchandised against the wrong price tag, I would usually admit that it had been a replenishment error and refund the difference in price. But when there clearly hasn't been a mistake made by the staff, I won't give refunds willy nilly.

"BUT IT WAS NEXT TO A TAG THAT SAID £6.99!" the gentleman roared in my face.

I calmly explained that the name of the wine that is £6.99 is stated on the label - and it wasn't the one he'd picked up.

"But you have it on the shelf at that price, therefore you are legally obliged to give it to me at that price!"

Oh my bloody God, not this again. You may recall I was reduced to tears by an evil customer whilst having the exact same conversation some months ago (here). As soon as somebody gets it into their head that they're legally entitled to something, they won't budge. Never mind the fact that they're completely wrong.

I remained as diplomatic as I could be: "If the ticket next to the wine you picked up bore the name of that wine, I would refund the difference. But it doesn't. The ticket says that £6.99 is the price for another wine. This one is £10.99. Would you like to chose a different one?"

He continued protesting that I was breaking the law and promised to call Trading Standards about it. I don't really know why I bothered putting up such a defense, because if it gets back to Food Place HQ, they'll only back down and shower him with gift vouchers to apologise for his trauma.

Electrical Goods
This post is being written thanks to an incident today that involved an electrical appliance.

This is, by a long way, the worst product category for producing angry, refund-demanding customers. I've seen it all - people demanding that they're legally entitled to a refund on a product despite having absolutely no proof of purchase, people demanding refunds for toasters that broke when they 'fell off' their worktops. Yes, I'm sure your toaster jumped onto the tiled floor! One man, upon being refused a refund for a DVD because it wasn't faulty, proceeded to remove it from it's box, right in front of us, and run a scratch down it with his car key! He actually thought that would help his case?

Today's incident was less dramatic, however. A lady brought back a small kettle, not boxed, and informed us that it had stopped working. OK, I thought, this should be nice and straight-forward.

"Do you have your receipt with you?"

"Yes, it's just here," she said, pulling out a slip of paper. As soon as I saw it, my heart sank. It was a yellowed, tatty slip of paper that had clearly been printed on our old impact-receipt-printers - when the store was operated by its previous owner. Knowing that we'd had thermal printers for at least three years, I knew right away that this product was far too old to be refunded as faulty.

"OK, when was this purchased?"

"Er, will it have the date on the receipt? I can't see, you look." She handed it to me.

"Right. You bought this kettle on the 6th October. Two thousand and one. Six years ago."

She looked at me, waiting for the refund. That she certainly wasn't getting.

"I'm afraid we only guarantee electrical goods for one year from the date of purchase."


"We will only refund items in store that were bought less than a year ago. Any faults that develop beyond that are covered by the manufacturers guarantee - which is usually just two years as standard."

"But I've paid you for this kettle! It doesn't work! I want my money back!"

"Well I'm not arguing that it doesn't work.." - it didn't look too healthy - "...but it has been in working order for six years. That's a bloomin' good life for a kettle in my experience." Particularly one that only cost you four pounds and ninety-nine-bloody-pence!

She wasn't amused: "Get me the manager! Trading Standards need to know about this!"

Terry was called. He told the woman exactly what I'd just told her. The product had clearly reached the end of its working life and needed replacing. He even offered to show her the ones we have in now. But no. She continued to demand her money back. By the time she'd finished ranting I was ready to grab a new kettle, throw it in her face and scream "THERE! Take it you tight-fisted old vulture!"

Once again, she promised, Trading Standards would be hearing about us!

Personal Property
We've had a lot of cases of customers telling us we're liable for damage to their property. None more unpleasant than the lady who had her bicycle stolen from the racks outside the store (which are on the street and have nothing to do with the store). She ranted at us for about twenty minutes whilst waiting for the police to arrive, insisting we pay her £300 immediately. She tripped herself up, in mid-rant, by admitting that she hadn't put a chain on the bloody thing!

Once again, though, she was absolutely convinced that we were liable for any damage to her property. We're not. There are signs all over the exterior of the store and around the car park, that vehicles are left there at the risk of the owner. Now I can't be sure of the legality of these notices, but I'm pretty certain Food Place wouldn't put them up if we were in fact liable for such theft or damage.

You Can't Throw me out!
A lot of people seem to be under the impression that they have an automatic Human Right to enter Food Place and do whatever they like. A few years ago, a middle-aged woman was heard, by several people, making racist remarks about one of our cashiers. A few people complained to the duty-manager and the woman was asked to leave the store.

"You can't tell me to leave! This is public property! Make me!"

What? Public property my arse!

In the end, the police were called, the woman was escorted to the office and issued with a life-long ban on entering any of Food Place's stores. She continued protesting, and began repeating her racist insults, in front of the police, and ended up being prosecuted. Turns out she was a council worker and ended up losing her job, as well as being plastered over the local newspaper.

Bet she wishes she'd kept her big mouth shut now.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Fame at Last

Well, hardly. I was mentioned in the Guardian's blog roll. Big thanks to Al for pointing this out to me as I hadn't noticed - I actually read the Guardian on that day too! It was only a small mention, but in the three days since there's been an extra 100 visits per day. Not bad. So, to any new readers, welcome and I hope you enjoy what I've got to say about working at Food Place.

Which isn't a great deal at the moment...

The most boring week ever?
Perhaps it's because I'm not spending much time there recently, but Food Place has been such a dull place over the past week. The customers have all been perfectly well behaved, none of my colleagues have got on my nerves - though that's definitely got a lot to do with spending less time in their company - and Food Place haven't moved the shop around or installed new equipment.

To add to this tedium, I haven't had any stressful days. I've gone to work, got on with my daily tasks and routines, gone home again. No staff sickness, no workload of fiddly, time-consuming admin tasks that everybody else considers themselves too important to do. Even the wages were a doddle this week - not one person forgot to swipe and virtually everybody worked their flat contract - no overtime to process at all. Hitherto unheard of. I know I don't like stress when I'm experiencing it, but it does, at least, give me something to blog about.

So, no crack (as we say in these parts).

Time Management
You may recall my post that dealt with the new, and extremely unfair, attendance management system that Food Place is introducing across all of its stores next month (here). I'm pleased to announce that my prediction was, predictably, correct. There was mass-outrage and a never-ending stream of hypothetical scenarios were put forward by store managers that rubbished the system. What if there's a queue at the swipe machine? What if somebody is late for a genuine reason? What if somebody is at work on time, but is harassed by a customer en route to the swipe machine?

As a result of this, Food Place have backed down on the original proposal to force staff to swipe at very precise 15 minute intervals. We will now have a three-minute leeway. So if we swipe at twenty-seven minutes past, we'll be paid until half past.

A result.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Yet Another Catch-Up Post

It's been a while since I last posted and there are several reasons for this. First and foremost, I've started my university course over the last couple of weeks, so I've been settling into that. Another reason is that I've been ill. I was struck down (how dramatic) with a sickness bug - the sort that leaves you with bad chest pains caused by overly energetic vomiting. The other reason is, I've been so sick to death of Food Place that I completely lost my sense of humour about working there. But that's, hopefully, buried now, so I can get back to normal.

The frequency of my posts might well decline from now on. I've got my degree to think about and I'm still, rather foolishly, trying to cram in 27 hours of Food Place a week. I'm actually feeling a lot more confident that I can cope with this now that I've got started with it. My university timetable is pretty forgiving and, considering that I can work the majority of my hours over the weekend, I can still get another three shorter shifts in through the week and still get a day-off from both education and work - although it's probably going to end up being my 'frantic independent study day'.

So, back to Food Place...
The atmosphere at work has improved dramatically. Whether it's because I haven't been there as much or whether it's to do with people calming down, I'm not sure. I'm just happy that things have settled onto an even keel.

The first point to note: the powers that be have decided to make yet more changes to our store. Not content with doing a full refit early this year, installing new freezers in March, removing the deli and installing new checkouts, they now have deemed it necessary to install a 'queuing system' at the kiosk.

Now, I'm not denying that this particular addition is more than welcome. Customers are notoriously useless at organising themselves into orderly queues - particularly at the kiosk. You get five people queuing at one side and three at the other; you get people barging to the front regardless. Well not any more! Next week, they're installing railings around the kiosk with 'impulse purchase' racks in the middle. And we'll be able to press a little button from any of the tills that will cause a robotic voice to herald:

"Next customer to cashier number two please!"

Very Post Office. I'm actually finding the whole prospect quite amusing. Ever since Peter Kay mocked the little voice you hear in Argos, I can't think of it without giggling. I can only imagine how bad I'm going to be when it's actually installed.

Bakery Disaster
On Sunday I was called upon to help on the bakery as Margaret had phoned in sick. It was all going to be so simple. I'd been left a list of exactly what I needed to put into the ovens, which setting to use and what times I should do it. I wasn't overly thrilled at the prospect, probably through the certain knowledge I was going to burn myself, but I nonetheless thought I'd cope.

The burn scenario popped up much sooner than anticipated. As I was removing the first batch of crusty rolls, I pulled the tray a little too forcefully and it shot right into my forearm. Ouch. My reflexes pulled me back quick enough to avert a major blister situation, but it still hurt.

And then I got burned again. I'd taken out the wholemeal bloomers, wrapped them all with the cursed sealing machine and placed them back onto the tray to take to the shelves. I prodded the tray to make sure it wasn't too hot and it didn't appear to burn me. So I picked it up with my bare hands and set off. It was fine at first, but at the very moment it was too late to turn back the thing suddenly became intensely hot. By the time I arrived at the shelf it was as though I was carrying a red-hot poker - I've never dropped anything so fast in all my life! I now have very red fingers.

Things passed without further catastrophe for an hour or so. At one stage I actually felt like I was on top of things. I had the shelves fully stocked with every single product line, it was all selling, quite literally, like hot cakes and I had my next batches in the ovens. Alas, sadly I hadn't timed things very well. When a load is ready to come out of the oven, a very loud siren sounds and refuses to shut-up until you open the oven door. All four ovens blasted off within five seconds of each other - it sounded like the Germans bombers were on their way - and I handled this sudden emergency very badly. I tried to get the sodding pastries out as quick as I could (the time between them being fully baked and turning black is roughly eight seconds) and ended up dropping a whole tray of Very Berry Muffins. Cue much swearing and further panic about getting the other trays out.

I muddled my way through it all though in the end. Considering I hardly ever work on there, my sales figures for the morning weren't bad at all. So I was, at least, praised for that. I got a nice little thank-you mention on the board for my efforts.

Still, I won't be doing that again in a hurry.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Office Politics

Malicious Bitching
The past couple of days at work have been particularly unpleasant. So much so that, for the first time in a long while, I've felt like I don't want to be there. I won't go into too much detail about what's made me feel like this. There's nothing more dull than listening to somebody droan on and on about the intricate details of their working relationships.

The whole situation has arisen because one supervisor got into trouble for poor job performance and, rather than accepting this and pulling their socks up, is attempting to drag everybody else down with them. They started with obvious targets like Ed - somebody who wouldn't know an honest day's work if it slapped him in the chops. But I didn't think for one moment the mud-slinging would extend to me.

There have been accusations made that my work in the cash office is "sloppy and full of mistakes". What makes it harder to take is that these slurs are coming from somebody who I'd previously respected and thought a great deal of.

My first reaction to hearing that I'm "sloppy" and "mistake-prone" was anger. How dare somebody accuse me of being incompetent at a job that a monkey could do - never mind somebody who's studying for a degree and has five A-levels. All the cash office entails is entering numbers into a computer, counting things and extracting information from printed reports. To even suggest that there's a level of skill involved, or more than a minimal level of concentration required, really annoys me.

My next reaction was to give tit-for-tat. Fight back and defend myself. Of course I'm going to make the odd whoopsie with the cash procedures -I'm the first to admit to it - when I sandwich the job in between running about doing so many other things. In my mind, if the checkouts are busy, I need to be down there supporting them. That comes before sitting upstairs doing admin jobs. But other supervisors who operate the cash office think differently. When the door swings shut, they're in the office and won't move from it. They spend an hour doing something I'd cram into twenty minutes.

My final take on the issue was influenced by my subsequent chat with Terry. As far as I'm concerned, I'm now satisfied that I do the best I can and I'm happy with that. If somebody else wants to go nit-picking and scouting for my mistakes, then let them. I'm not perfect.

But I remain very disappointed with the person who's said these things. It feels like a betrayal.