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The Upside of Bad Customer Service – It Can Save the Consumer Money

I remember my first experience with truly terrible customer service. I was 15 years old and had earned enough money at a part-time job to buy a really cool pair of shoes on my own – I was excited not having to get mom’s approval on the style. My money – my choice. Of course as a teen in the late 70s, cool shoes were pretty frightening looking to a mom in her 50s.

I went to Baker Shoes – to this day the place teens can buy trashy but trendy shoes. I went home with what I thought were the most fantastically cool platform shoes. After 1 day of wearing them, they started to fall apart. I couldn’t believe it – staples that held down the straps were coming out. I immediately took my new purchase back to Baker Shoes for a refund. The store manager explained to me that there was nothing wrong with the shoes – I just didn’t know how to wear them. I was stunned. I might have only been 16, but, well, I had a pretty high IQ and had successfully worn shoes that I put on myself each day for over a decade. He refused to refund my money or exchange the shoes.

To this day I have never bought a pair of shoes at Baker Shoes. Oh, I scan their wares occasionally and see something rather stylish looking, but at 16 I had made a pact that I would, under NO circumstances, EVER buy a pair of shoes from that store again. Anytime I waver, I remember what it felt like to be ripped off on my first major purchase with my own money – money I’d earned at a really crappy job working at a McDonald’s.

If I had not been so offended by Baker Shoes’ poor customer service, I guarantee you that by this point in my life I would have spent thousands of dollars in that store. I love shoes. I buy LOTS of shoes.

So what brought me to this idea that there is an upside to bad customer service?

Yesterday I went to TJ Maxx in my town, Culver City. Now don’t think I don’t already know that this particular TJ Maxx has always had wretched customer service – I’ve visited this store in many locations, and the Culver City location by far wins hands down the “Least Interested in Customers” Award.

They rarely have enough people on duty at the registers, the store often looks like a tornado hit it, and those who are at the register move at a pace that makes me suspect they hire people with metabolic disorders or pellagra – in fact, at times they move so painfully slowly that they actual slip out of the time-space continuum we are usually prisoner to and they go backward in time for a fraction of a nanosecond. I’m sure you have experienced this at movie theater concession stands – and maybe you didn’t even realize you had gone backwards in time.

Yesterday the line at TJ Max was 12 deep. Only two people were working the registers. TJ Maxx workers remind me of Howard Johnson waitresses who would somehow miraculously never notice the people standing at the ice cream to-go counter begging for a cone. There can be four or five wandering about, but no one seems affected by the long line forming.

I had in my cart a wonderful overnight bag by Ralph Lauren – it was a great deal and perfect for the 1 or 2 day trips I sometimes take for work. I had a cute but totally unneccessary suede purse, a blanket, and two sets of socks. Total bill would have been about $250. I really really wanted that overnight bag – I’ve been looking for one for a long time and it was PERFECT. However, I do have my limits, and I could tell by the pace of the line that the first 10 minutes would be multiplied times 12 as I watched the cashier move as if she were a lawyer who needed to make up some billable hours. I pushed the cart aside and left.

The upside is that I didn’t REALLY have to have that overnight bag and I certainly didn’t need the cute suede purse. Those two alone would have set me back over $200.

Therefore, I would like to thank TJ Maxx of Culver City for its terrible customer service. They saved me over $200 that I really should be putting toward a down-payment on a house for when the California real estate market crashes.

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