Customers Behaving Badly

Written by Don Kaplan

Customer: “There’s a violin in it.”

Sales Manager: “What did you say?”

“I just heard a beautiful piece of music on the radio. It had a violin in it. I want to buy it.”

“Do you remember the name of the radio station? Was it the classical music station? If so, we can look it up on their playlist or call the station…”

“I don’t know. There was a violin in it.”

“OK. Was it a solo violin?”

“I don’t remember.”

“Was it a violin with another instrument? Perhaps a piano?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Was it part of a small group of instruments? A violin with an orchestra?

“There was a violin in it.”

“Without more information I can’t really help you…”

“I guess you don’t have it. Thanks for checking.”

After working as the sales manager at a classical music store for 17 years I’ve met wonderful customers and had the satisfaction of helping many enthusiasts find the recordings they were looking for.

I’ve also had to deal with arrogant customers, litigious customers, and customers who think they are entitled to impose their own rules on everyone else. Like the customer who raced into the store and announced that her husband had presented her with a gift certificate to the classical music store even though she had told him she didn’t want to shop there. After finding some discs to buy she threatened to sue me personally because I wouldn’t stop what I was doing to ring up her sale (I was still helping the customer ahead of her). I explained that only one employee works in the store during each shift and I would be happy to help her in a moment. She positioned herself near the counter, phone in hand with her lawyer’s number prominently displayed, and complained in a loud voice to anyone who would listen how she was being forced to wait while I finished helping the person who preceded her.

One customer who always behaves badly asked me to look up a very esoteric recording. After searching about a half hour I located it and asked her if she wanted me to order the disc. “Oh, no, I just wanted the information. I’ll buy it on Amazon. Do you have a pen and paper?” Another time I was playing a popular disc of arias and show tunes sung by an opera singer. The same customer screamed at me from the only place in the store that doesn’t have an acoustic dead spot: “You’re crazy! That music and singer you’re playing is horrible! You should see a psychiatrist!” Of course everyone in the store turned around to look at me—the guy with such poor taste in music he was in desperate need of therapy. I now make sure to play the disc every time I see her enter the store.

Then there was the customer who grabbed a handful of CDs and took them out of the store to show her friend who was sitting at a nearby café. She didn’t ask if she could borrow the merchandise. I didn’t say anything because I was able to watch her from the counter. When she returned she replaced the CDs and grabbed some more merchandise to show her friend. At that point I intervened and explained in a friendly manner (a major accomplishment since I hadn’t been to see a psychiatrist yet) that merchandise had to stay in the store until it was paid for. Nothing personal. It was a store policy. She admitted she knew the policy, apologized for removing the discs without asking, and had her friend come into the store to look at other selections.

A week later a “letter to the editor” written by that customer appeared in a local paper. She said she would never return to a certain music store because one of the managers accused her of stealing. She neglected to mention in her letter that she had told me she was aware of our policies and was wrong not to talk with me first. Or that I trusted her when she removed discs the first time. Or how I politely explained our policies without accusing her of anything.

We have customers who gather an armful of discs, decide they don’t want any of them, and drop them anyplace. It’s hard to locate a Mozart quartet if it has been filed under Stravinsky. Kind of like finding broccoli mixed in with the breakfast cereals. Decided against a disc? Hand it to anyone who works in the store and we’ll file it for you. And there are customers who seem to enjoy the hunt more than the catch. They ask for a particular disc, start inquiring about other CDs before I’ve had a chance to show them the first disc they asked for, race around the store looking for the next title they think of, find but don’t examine it because they’re already asking if we carry yet another CD (repeat this action several times)… then exit without considering any of the discs they were so anxious to look at.

My most entertaining customers are the ones who are intimidated by classical music. They march into the store eager to buy music and stop dead in their tracks. You can see them thinking “Whoa! It’s classical music! Which circle of hell is this?” When they realize we only sell classical music they pivot and run out, horror-struck, looking as if they had just seen an alien burst out of an astronaut’s stomach.

And so it goes. Come visit us anytime. Buy a disc of show tunes and you, too, can terrorize your family and friends. Looking for something else? Just remember to tell me if it has a violin in it.

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