Unhappy Returns

By Craig J. Clark

Christa knew she was going to have a problem the moment she reached the counter. Of course, the fact that she was being called to the counter at all meant there was some sort of problem, but she knew how to handle them. That was her job, after all. For an extra 50 cents an hour, she got to bear the brunt of the irate customers. Some were just bruntier than others. This one looked like he had taken a course in bruntiness.

The customer stood before her, fuming, holding an opened CD in one hand and crumpled receipt in the other. He looked like he was used to getting his way, and was openly contemptuous of anybody who contradicted him. This was not idle speculation on Christa’s part; this was based on three years of handling returns from customers just like him. She steeled herself. She had the impression she was going to need all the steeling she could get.

“Hello, sir. How can I help you?” she asked.

“Are you the supervisor?” the customer sneered. (Yes, sneered, just like an Imperial officer in a Star Wars novelization.)

“Yes, I am. You have a CD to exchange?”

“Not exchange, return. I want my goddamn money back. I explained that to your clerk, but I guess she didn’t tell you.”

“Let me see the product, please.”

The customer seemed reluctant to hand it over, like it was a trump card that he wasn’t ready to surrender so early in the game.

“Your clerk already looked at the CD. Why did she do that if you were just going to do it again?”

“Please, sir. I just need to see the CD and the receipt.”

“Oh, now you need to see the receipt, too?”

“If you’d like me to do anything for you, yes, I do.”

The customer sighed theatrically and handed over the CD and the receipt. Christa looked at the latter first. It was dated for three months earlier. Christa had to suppress a groan. Surely he wasn’t serious about getting money back on something he had bought an entire season ago. She decided to try reasoning with him. This almost never worked, but she figured it was worth a shot.

“Sir, were you aware that this receipt is dated three months ago?”

“Yes, I was. I can read. I’m not a moron.”

“I didn’t say you were, sir, but printed right here on the receipt it says all returns must be made within 14 days.”

The customer snatched the receipt back. “Where does it say that?” He angrily scanned the receipt. “I can’t read this, it’s all crumpled.”

Christa rolled her eyes. And whose fault was that?

“Regardless, that is the return policy. However, since you have your receipt, I can make an exception in your case.”

“So you’ll give me my money back?”

“Unfortunately, I can’t make that much of an exception. Once a CD has been opened, the only thing we can do is exchange it for the same item, if it’s defective.”

“But what if I don’t want the same item?”

“I’m very sorry, but our return policy is very clear on the subject.”

“You can’t tell me that’s on the receipt.”

“No, but our full return policy is posted on the wall right behind me.” She gestured to it. It was, in fact, very large and hard to miss.

“Do you expect people to read all that? All I want to do is return this CD.”

“And all I can do for you, sir, is exchange it for the same item, if it’s defective. It is defective, right?”

“Umm, I guess. But what if you don’t have another copy?”

Christa was already scanning the bar code.

“We have three. Excuse me for a moment while I get one off the rack.”

Christa found the CD with ease and returned to the counter, where the customer was glowering.

“Before you go any further, are you seriously telling me the only thing you can is exchange this CD – which I don’t want – for the same CD – which I also don’t want?”

“That is the only thing I can do.”

“But what if I don’t like the CD?”

Ah, now the truth comes out.

“That I’m afraid I can’t help you with, but I can give you a new copy of it.”

The customer groaned. “I guess that’s better than nothing.”

Christa completed the transaction, noting the return on the original receipt and printing out a new one. The customer tried to grab the unopened CD, but Christa held it back.

“Just one more thing, sir.”

She started taking the plastic off the CD, at which point the customer exploded.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

“I’m carrying out store policy, sir. All defective CDs that are exchanged must be opened in the store.”

“Bullshit! You just made that up! Where is that written?”

“It isn’t, sir, but that’s how I was trained.”

“Trained? Well, I’m not surprised since you’re being such a bitch.”

If this had been in a movie, all music, conversation and transactions would have ceased and everyone in the store would have turned to face them. (Furthermore, the music probably would have been taken off with a wacky record scratch sound effect despite the fact that almost nobody listened to records anymore.) As it was, only one or two people heard the remark, but out of embarrassment they pretended not to.

Calmly, Christa finished unwrapping the CD and removed the security strip. Placing the CD in a new bag along with both receipts, she handed it to the customer.

“There you are, sir. Now take your CD and go.”

“And do what with it?”

Christa told him.


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in the name of retail workers everywhere, dear sir, i give you a healthy bravo!

Good pace, and I like the word "bruntier." The paragraph where the customer realises he will get the same CD for the returned CD makes me laugh each time I look at it.

I also like, how at the end, she makes him digg AND submit!

This takes me back to my CSR days at Blockbuster. Working in a college town, we had tons of yahoos like this guy coming in and out of the store on a regular basis. I can't tell you how satisfying it is to read this story.

Also, I agree that "bruntier" is an excellent word, as is "steeling."

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This page contains a single entry by Craig J. Clark published on June 5, 2008 9:34 AM.

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