Day 3: We don't need to call the manager.

Welcome to 12 Days of Retail. My last day (for real this time) at Old Navy is quickly approaching and this series serves as a sort of wrap-up to my time there. I've rounded up the worst customer offenses into 12 general categories. Some are truly terrible and some are relatively minor, but together they cover almost everything that is terrible about working retail, in my ten years of experience.

When you find yourself in need of help at a retail establishment, you don't ask for a manager right off the bat, no matter how advanced or complicated you think your question is. You walk politely up to the first employee you see and you explain your issue to him or her and you ask him or her what you should do. Here is why this is the best course of action.

Pretty much anyone you see can probably handle whatever dumb, tiny problem you have.

Now, I want to be delicate here, because your problem isn't really dumb and tiny, and I really do want to help you! What I am saying is that it's very easy, as a customer, to not see the full picture when it comes to whatever difficulty you're having. You don't know our computer system like we do and you don't know our policies like we do. It's often the case that a customer will come in thinking they're asking for something incredibly inconvenient when that thing actually only takes the push of a button. You're probably asking for a manager right away because you think it's going to save the employee and you time, but in reality that's often not the case.

Here's an example. Do you know that Old Navy does price adjustments within 14 days of a purchase, and all we have to do is click one button and then scan a receipt? That's great, right? Yes, but some people don't know that, and so they come in towing every item they bought that day, thinking they'll need to do a return and re-buy and get permission from a manager to get the better sale. So they ask for a manager right off the bat instead of explaining what they need to the associate. This is unnecessary and actually takes everyone more time, especially if the manager isn't near the register.

I'm not saying this as a person who has worked there for ten years. I distinctly remember having this opinion as early as three years into my time with Old Navy. It doesn't take that long to have full knowledge of the Old Navy policies. I'd say two years does it, actually.

Obviously, the longer you've worked somewhere, the more very specific situations you have personal experience with, but overall you'll be able to fix the vast majority of issues after a few years at a retail company, and you'll also have the knowledge of when you need to call a manager to fix something.

So when you walk into the store with a very basic problem and assume you need a manager to fix it, you just seem ignorant, honestly. And it's not like I'm expecting you to understand every rule that the store has. All I expect from you is to not assume I am incapable of handling it. Just don't come into the store expecting your problem to be something I've never dealt with before.

What is it? A complicated return? A price adjustment? A bulk order? Like, this is a retail store. We sell clothes, accessories, jewelry and makeup. It's actually not that complicated at all. Please, try to stump me. I would love to be confused by something. Your problem is not special, I've probably dealt with it a hundred other times, and I'm not going to waste my manager's time on this before I assess whether or not I can handle it.

Let's hone in on the "wasting my manager's time" thing. Retail management is a pretty high-stress job, all things considered. One major reason is that the buck stops with them. Retail is one of those jobs where all the employees know that if they're dealing with a difficult customer or come across something they don't know how to fix, they can just call the manager. So managers end up troubleshooting and problem-solving for a lot of their day.

We have to call managers and take them away from the other things they need to be doing plenty throughout the day without you insisting we call them for something we can actually take care of just fine on our own.

Today's pro-tip: Well, this one is obvious, but just assume the first person you talk to can fix your problem until it becomes apparent they can't. Then, and only then, you can politely say, "Maybe a manager would be able to help us here." Wording it this way frames it so you're on the same side as the cashier, which keeps the situation calm and de-escalated.

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