Sweating the Small Stuff

Diane McCarty, Retail Princess

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I’m amazed when some people let a bungled burger or goofed gas pur­chase ruin their day. When I hear the blistering criticism from these custom­ers, I assume they are precisely whom the late Richard Carlson had in mind when he wrote “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.” Millions of people have read the book, but plenty more could benefit from tips on how to prevent stroking out over a messed-up meal. While I want everyone to experience exceptional ser­vice at our stores, it can be difficult to muzzle myself when a customer flips out over a mistake we’ve made that won’t affect their life a day from now, much less a week.

On occasion, a restaurant gets my order wrong, but I manage to hold my wits together and find a remedy for the fleeting frustration. Such a normal response lands most of us in the middle of the bell curve of complaints. However, our industry has the pleasure of working with the public, so we attract more than a few individuals who are a standard deviation or two outside the norm.

We received feedback online from one such customer who visited our store. This guy who called his tirade into Subway headquarters didn’t mince words as he sliced and diced our staff. I’m a bit crass and pepper my speech with some salty language, so I’m usually hard to shock. But there I was, staring at my computer with a more stunned look than when I learned that a manager of ours was moonlighting at a skanky strip club.

This “gentleman” used the F-word so many times as he described our staff ’s lack of talent and accuracy that it lost its shock value and turned comical. Nor­mally, I’m not subjected to overuse of curse words like that unless I’m hearing teenagers play “Call of Duty” on a Friday night. But instead of getting sucked into the guy’s hostility, I found humor in his ability to react so ridiculously over a sandwich as if it were his last supper.

Preaching to the Choir

Recently, I pretended to understand why a man became irate when we couldn’t cash in his $5 scratch-off because the pack of tickets had been stolen in a burglary the night before. Sometimes I really have to stifle myself from say­ing what I’m thinking: “Buddy, if this $5 brought you to an economic tip­ping point, perhaps you should have rethought that lucky feeling you were having when you bought it.” Instead, I feigned empathy for the devastating event that made him vow not to shop in our stores again. I marvel at these con­sumers’ capacity for explosive energy about things so trivial. I know this job has numbed me to a few emotions, but when it comes to botching a burger, I’m happy with my apathy.

We apparently struck a nerve with a local preacher, who contacted me three times when our store was out of the plastic gloves we offer at our fuel islands. On the third call, it was all I could do to keep from asking him if I’d missed the memo that hunger, disease and war had been eradicated and the only thing left of concern nowadays was our gas pump gaffes.

I like the complaints that come from consumers who are initially to blame, but who have no shame in criticiz­ing our staff for what they themselves caused. Last month, a man who was slowly killing himself with a fork called in about our cashier’s bad attitude. He had parked next to the pump—on the opposite side of his fuel tank—and stretched the hose over his car, inserting the nozzle upside down into his tank. When our team member asked him to turn his car around before pumping, he informed her that he wasn’t fit enough for that extra activity and called the woman a name rhyming with “snitch” before he left.

He actually had the nerve to contact us later, and he defended his behavior by saying he had not sworn at our team member because he was using Webster’s definition of the word. What I wanted to say to him would probably make only Don Rickles proud of me.

Some days, shoppers like these make it hard to live out the mantra that the customer is always right. But it’s on those occasions that I realize I’m a click off center too, because I take perverse pleasure in knowing that entertaining stories come from folks who sweat the small stuff.

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