The customer is often wrong

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The customer is always right? Ha and bah! That is an ass-kissing myth propagated by people who want your money. For many small town, small merchants it is a sane policy. How many of them are left?

Mostly nowadays it is a fiat laid down by corporate bosses who'd kick a middle-class person out of their way should the former intrude into it. They make the miserable store clerks live it.

Well I own my own business and I don't pretend it is true.

Before I share a few of my acts of willing rudeness with you let me assure you that if you call or visit my shop you'll most likely find me an obliging fellow (unless I have a headache, you look creepy - then I'll either be terse or go hide while you deal with Yance).

Three anecdotes of the customer being wrong.

Way, way back at our first location and we were able to get the comic books early in the day. I'm trying to fulfill the subscriber list before I open up. Our Gregson Street shop was poorly ventilated. That is wishy-washy way it was like Hell - we had a dozen ceiling fans stirring the air trying to make summer days livable. I had the door cracked, blocked and a "Closed" sign on the door. A guy comes up and wants to browse. Explaining that we aren't open I tell him he'll have to come back later. You know those critters that think they are the only people on the highway? He must've been one of them. He keeps demanding to enter. I keep telling we can't open yet. Well damnit I had better things to do than talk to him. I open the door and yell at him so loudly I'm sure the people at Brightleaf Square a block and a half away wondered who was being murdered to go the fuck away. Lesson for the customer: you aren't special.

A member of the species joco homo (his t-shirt said he was on Duke's wrestling team) opening a bunch of back-issue comic books, took the comic out, put each one back in the bag backwards. What I said to him I can't recall but - he was in short pants - I'd never seen anyone blush to their ankles before. Lesson for the customer: don't screw the store up and make the people who work there do needless work replacing your carelessness.

Pudgy, sweaty comic book fan came up to the counter and advising me that he could buy everything in his stack for less elsewhere. He was a pink, heavy-breathing icon of righteousness frustrated. Telling him that I didn't want him to be ripped off I told him that I wouldn't sell him the comics. He protested. Then I told him to get the fuck out of my shop and never come back. There were plenty of people in the shop and they mostly smiled, a couple snickered. Lesson to the customer: rarely is a single person of economic significance.

I have no patience for the small-souled people who think they can make victims out of functionaries and clerks. You may be a patron or a clerk but really you are just an item in a list of people that we have to cope with. Many of these people probably object to similar treatment where they work.

It was in a Denny's many years ago that I first had the wish to be able to open a restaurant just so I could throw out the scum that were rude to the people waiting their table.

And it was listening to be people get pointlessly angry at the cashiers I learned to be extra polite to most of them. You'd think they were engaged in a dedicated conspiracy against the shoppers to listen to the latter.

I'm lucky; I can cast out the consumer demons. But the average clerk has no choice but to pretend that you matter, your opinion counts. To the corporations that own most of American retailing you really are nothing more than an invisible statistic.

Be nice to the minor folks, they'll probably be nice to you.


What you’ve described is one of the reasons I’ve always liked your store. I could go on for ever about this, but I’ll limit myself to one point: the best places I’ve worked at understood that encouraging rudeness was hard on employees.

Haven’t forgotten those days at Radio Shack?

I hear you! I manage a record/CD/movie and book shop. We are open 24 hours, so think of your most obnoxious customer and then imagine him with a few drinks in his system. Thankfully I have veto power on our customers and the owner is totally supportive of rudeness to people who deserve it.

Thankfully our rare tipsy customers have been amiably high. Though we did have a parking lot drunk who had me keeping a two-by-four at hand.

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Richard Evans Lee
The customer is often wrong
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