24 September 2006

Dear Miss Manners ...

So today I was helping out at Rosie's from 1-5 p.m. (I say helping out, because I only work there very part time, when the usual full- and part-time staff can't make it on a weekend, or if they need extra hands because of a class. I really enjoy doing it!) It was a busy enough day, not hectic, but there was always at least one customer in the shop, asking for help with colors, types of yarn, etc., so I was glad I was there to help Laura, who was working today (whether or not she felt I was any help, you'd need to ask her!).

Anyway, on Sundays, the shop is open from 12-5. The hours are posted on the website, and a couple of people generally call to ask what the weekend hours are, plus the hours are painted on the door. Around 4:30, it seemed that everyone who had been there looking around or buying something, had left. So we started to get things organized to close. About 4:45, a woman came in to look ar0und, and left almost immediately afterwards, to walk down the street to an ATM, but she said she would be back. She mentioned that she noticed we were closing at 5, and we agreed with her.

She returned about 4:50, and said, "Do you really close at 5? Because I thought the website said you were open until 6 o'clock, at least that's what my boyfriend said." We assured her that on Sundays, 5 o'clock was closing time. She said that she was only looking for sock yarn, and some needles, and could we "give her a few minutes?" We said that was fine.

She asked specifically for the needles she wanted, and we handed them to her. Then she started to look through the Koigu, to decide what color she wanted. This was also fine. Then she asked what was new in the shop. OK, we pointed out a few new yarns. Thens she handed me a skein of yarn, and asked if we had one more skein. A quick look showed there wasn't one on the shelf, so I went to the back where the extra yarn is stored to look. I will fully admit that I did a quick and dirty check, but I didn't seen anything with the same number, or even close in look to what she had. So she chose two other skeins.

At this point, it was nearly 5:10, but since she was ready to pay, it looked like things were really wrapping up. But then she wanted to know if we would wind the yarn for her, because she lives in New Jersey, and wouldn't get back anytime soon. I will admit that I was silent at this point, because, well, I'm only there very occasionally, and Laura was the one who had to do the closing routine. Laura asked if there was another place she could have it wound, and the woman said "probably" at a yarn store near her house (followed by a dramatic sigh). So she took her bag and left, and we finished up what we needed to do before shutting down overnight. By the time we left, it was between 5:15 and 5:20. Not really a big deal for me, since the shop is only a few blocks from my house, and I was not on any kind of time schedule. Laura, however, had to retrieve her car, and drive home, also not a long distance, but still time-consuming.

OK, Miss Manners, here's my question: Should we have stayed later, and let the customer take her time, and then regardless of how long she took, wound the yarn for her? She did keep saying that she saw on "some" website that we were open until 6, and she spent about 20 minutes at a minimum looking for a place to park. I completely can appreciate how frustrated she must have been, and that it is disconcerting to feel like you should hurry and do something, when you figured you would have more time.

But on the other hand, when she first arrived, we told her it was very close to closing time. We were willing to let her choose what she wanted, because she seemed to know exactly what that was. But then it seemed like she assumed she could take her time, and look around until 6 p.m., which was her original plan. I think we treated her well, considering her situation, but in the end, it was her mistake (or her boyfriend's), not incorrect information from anyone at the shop. To be perfectly honest, I was going along with all of it until she wanted to know if we would "wind the yarn, because otherwise it would be a problem." It was at that point that I felt she was pushing it, and apparently so did Laura.

Maybe it's just to make myself feel better, but I think we did the right thing. We tried to be accommodating, and she just kept pushing things. At no point were we rude, curt, or unwilling to help her at all. I kept getting the feeling that she thought that since it was a yarn store, and not say, Macy's, that we should go above and beyond to let her take all the time she may have wanted.

Yarn stores are different, because they are generally not megastores, and they rely on repeat visits and purchases from regular customers, as much as new visitors. But it's still a place that is open for a certain number of hours, with employees that have other responsibilities once their workday is over. I think a lot of people feel that since they are so intimate and so much more personal, they should always allow special considerations to their customers. Because as you know, the customer is always right.

Except today, I didn't agree with that. So please tell me, Miss Manners, what do you think?


teabird said...

I think you were very, very kind to this woman. Whether the customer is in a local, small-business yarn store or Macy's, she should (at least!) respect the staff and the store's policies.

Retail is hard work - in fact, any job in which you deal with the public is hard work. Not only do you have to know and organize the merchandise, but you have to deal with the expectations of the customers.

Retail, typically, pays very little. Employees not, typically, paid overtime if they satisfy the demands of a selfish, entitlement-drunk customer.

We have become a selfish nation. We have no empathy, no sympathy, no sense that our privileged circumstances are both illusory and precarious. We want everything NOW. We have, basically, never grown up.

I believe that retail customers have some responsibilities, too. Respect for staff, for one thing. Respect for the rules and conditions set by the store. Gratitude for the ability to buy what you need -- pretty yarn, food, fuel for your car -- would be nice, but it's not necessary: just act like a human being.

As a librarian, I see this a lot - patrons who abuse the staff if they have to pay $1 in fines, or if they have to wait more than a few days to read a bestseller, or if all of the public computers are in use, or if (heaven forfend) the Internet service is spotty, or if they come in as the library is closing and they want to research stocks. We hear the "dramatic sighs" too.

All we can do - as you did in the store - is to be as polite and accommodating as possible, but firm about policies. Respect the customer, but don't disrespect yourselves.

Anonymous said...

Whilst many people assume it is up to the business to cater to them (after all, isn't the customer always right?), it is the customer's responsibility to also be courteous and respectful. She knew the store's policy, accepted your kindness, ergo it was up to her to acknowledge the she had only a limited amount of time and should use it wisely. A little amount of time at the end of the day for an independent store is always at the discretion of the workers, part of the beauty of shopping at little "boutiques" like that. But, again, the customer needs to be mindful. You did the right thing.

Anonymous said...

Gentle Reader,
Miss Manners believes you handled this one just fine. There is a split of opinion amongst retail yarn shop owners as whether it is reasonable for a customer to expect staff to wind yarn for them, as opposed to letting them provide the manual labor (with such assistance with the ballwinder as is required). If a customer is not infirm, then Miss Manners does not see why she should expect an overburdened sales assistant to do this for her, particularly when use of the skeinwinder is a courtesy provided by the yarn shop owner.

Miss Manners does not believe that a sales associate ought to be held hostage to the untimely customer. While remaining open for a few minutes to accommodate a customer is a kindness, should a customer take advantage of that kindness, Miss Manners believes that it is perfectly permissible to reiterate that regular closing time was half an hour ago. People who do not take "no" for an answer are themselves rude and discourteous; continue to repeat yourself firmly but kindly and usher them to the door.

the wicked witch of the east said...

well, it's not like she was oprah.