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May 31

Troubled person or just a difficult customer?

Working with difficult people has been one of the biggest and most challenging aspects of running a retail business. I struggle with this daily. My gut tells me not to reward bad behavior. But when someone’s acting bizarre you don’t know if they’re just crazy or truly crazy. You don’t know if they’re just unhappy by nature, spreading discomfort where ever they go, to whomever they interact with… or if they’re at a final straw in life, ready to take out everyone and anyone around them.

You know nothing about their background.

You want to treat them how you would like to be treated, but sometimes you just can’t relate.

You attempt to handle things with fairness. But some interactions leave you scratching your head and a feeling bit uncomfortable. You think about these and wonder if the person is at home dwelling on it, believing that you were out to personally wrong them.

Things like this—

the case of the unlogo'd growler

Man walks into a beer store and presents an empty growler for a fill of delicious craft beer. Beer clerk writes his name down on the growler tag, sets his jug upon it. Together, the tag and jug move closer to the filler, approaching as other orders are filled, sealed, and sold. Another beer clerk takes an order for another fill, placing tag with the growler, in line with other vessels.

Beer clerk calls out the man’s name, “Rob, your growler is ready.”

(All names in this story have been altered to protect the customer’s identities; this is a true story.)

Rob walks to counter, emphatically and accusingly says to the beer clerk, “This is not my jug!” Points to another jug, “That is my jug! My jug had no print on it.”

Each beer clerk verifies the jug and person associated with it, management reviews the security camera video that clearly shows the man, Rob, walking in with and presenting the printed growler, on which his name is also tagged — and the tag accompanies the growler through the entire waiting, fill, and seal process. The growler tagged with Rob’s name, is indeed Rob’s jug.

But Rob won’t have it. His face red, his voice rising, he argues, “What type of place are you running here?!” He is inconsolable. We show him the video feed and he still refuses to believe this is his growler. “Preposterous! That is just a glare on the lens; it is no print! What type of scam is this?!”

The jug Rob is claiming is his, we cannot offer. We cannot give him another customer’s jug. A jug that was brought in and presented to us by the following man in line, Derrick. Derrick and the clerk confirm his jug is the plain one. The video also confirms the plain amber jug was brought in by Derrick.

Later that evening, Rob and his wife call the store, screaming accusations on the phone. “Theft! Terrible business! What type of scam are you running?! We have never owned a printed jug like this!”

Despite photographic proof, despite eyewitness testimony, the business owner agrees to ease Rob’s suffering, by providing him with a replacement growler jug. “We will have an unprinted, plain amber growler ready for you on your next visit.”

The next morning the business owner drives to a homebrew shop, buys a plain amber growler jug, brings it back and places it in the office, waiting for angry Rob, who won’t give his last name, to come in and pick it up.

The business owner tries to do good. The business owner tries to be fair.

Rob doesn’t return. Or hasn’t yet. Honestly, it is customers like this who I worry about. I don’t know if they are personally troubled or just difficult or some kind of scammer. I’m not sure I’m cut out for this part of retail.

I am left in awe; I am left with anxiety.

3 comments

  1. Sud Savant

    What a strange person! Not only do I not care what growler I bring in (unless it happens to be from a brewery I really enjoyed), but to get THAT fired up about it is out of the question. The fact that they didn’t even bother to pick up the new growler shows that their primary goal was to thrive on the conflict and not the resolution (and perhaps to not admit they were wrong). I’m impressed that the owner went as far as to extend the courtesy of a new growler to someone who extended no courtesies to him/her. Kudos to the owner!

    Also, very glad to hear another person in retail contemplate the customer’s background/circumstances. They can turn even the best of us into maniacs.

  2. Drunkard

    Someone who even refuses to believe their own eyes when they see security cam footage needs serious help. I hope anyone he told his story to about how ‘thieving’ and ‘unfair’ your store is laughed in his face.

  3. DonS

    Given the recent horrific events in Seattle with what was presumed to be a “troubled customer,” you are right to be at least a little concerned. If fortune smiles, you may have seen the last of grumpy Rob, whose inability to cope with his own anger-management issues will never be worth the small amount of profit he might otherwise contribute to your bottom line.

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