Customer service ain’t what it used to be

I’ve seen plenty of viral videos where angry customers confront employees at a business. Thanks to everyone armed with smartphones, the opportunities are endless to have your 15 minutes of fame online and the evening news. True, it’s usually onlookers capturing the spectacle but I can’t help but think that encourages the antics of some people.

Back when I worked in retail, customers were to be treated like gold. In short, if you didn’t kiss their ass you’d be in big trouble and potentially fired. That doesn’t seem to be the case nowadays. The update: Employees on the frontlines aren’t going to take your shit anymore. They will fire back just as hard.

I’d never personally experienced that type of treatment until I went to a Dollar Tree store in Winnipeg, Man. — my hometown… the murder capital of Canada… where there’s more dollar stores and payday loan shops opening every week than arrests made during a record-breaking year of violent crime. On the bright side, at least I wasn’t stabbed at a Dollar Tree store like in Alabama or shot in a Dollar Tree store like in Tennessee.

Nevertheless, a national company should keep its standards high despite the cesspool of a neighbourhood where it might have a storefront. Not the case for Dollar Tree, who recently got a warning from the FDA that stores were selling “potentially unsafe drugs.”

My customer service nightmare started on Nov. 21 when I happened to be in Winnipeg. Admittedly, I avoid downtown as much as possible when I’m in the city but I was there after a meeting and needed to get some party decorations for an event. I couldn’t find exactly what I needed but made my way through the cluttered store (while observing people stealing) and proceeded to the checkout.

While waiting in line, I overheard someone having a loud conversation. I looked around to see who it was. I thought it was a customer. Turns out it was a Dollar Tree employee on the store’s cordless phone having an aggressive chat with someone.

I was confused why, as customers, we would be subjected to hearing a Dollar Tree employee verbally confront someone on the phone. As the heated conversation continued, it appeared the employee was showboating and wanted people — presumably her Dollar Tree co-workers — to hear she had the balls to stand her ground.

She started saying things like, “I’m going to stop you right there” and “That’s a lie and I have witnesses to prove it.” Clearly she was looking for a fight as she paced the checkout aisles like a caged animal ready to pounce without any regard for how uncomfortable she made Dollar Tree customers feel.

At this point, I said to the cashier, “You know, that’s really unprofessional for us to hear.” That’s when I was told the caged one was talking to their Dollar Tree boss. Yikes.

When my transaction was completed, I collected my bags and leaned over and said to the phone bully, “That’s really unprofessional” and she fired back. Oh, did she fire back. Never have I seen a store employee carry on two different verbal battles at the same time… until I went to Dollar Tree, a company whose stock has dropped 15 per cent in the past week.

Without missing a beat, the employee, identified as Anna, shooshed me. Yes, she loudly shooshed me as she told off her boss. Anna shouted at me, “Excuse me, I’m busy here.” She then repeated, “Private conversation, private conversation” as I began to leave the Dollar Tree store and continued checking my back to ensure she wasn’t coming after me.

Outside, another customer said that it was an intimidating situation. She even referenced it being a dollar store employee and to not put much merit into the class of person they hire. I wouldn’t go that far but I will say Anna’s actions were classless.

But it didn’t end there.

Yes, I could have gone for one of those viral moments and whipped out my phone – I’m in broadcasting and have two phones so we could’ve had multiple angles for a full production — but I maintained my professionalism and walked away. About an hour later I decided to call the Dollar Tree store and attempt to have a civil conversation with Anna (because at the time of the incident, she was arguing busy.. er, arguably busy – well, either way…). But Anna wasn’t having it. She hung up on me seconds after I introduced myself. HEAR THE CALL

Unsure if I was hung up on or we got disconnected because the line didn’t offer those rapid beeps like when a phone is off the hook, I called back a few times but it always went unanswered. Message received.

I went to the Dollar Tree website and filled out the web form asking for media relations to contact me. I gave a detailed account of the situation and implored someone from the corporate office to investigate, and if they should feel so inclined, report back their findings on employee behaviour.

Twice the form was filled out on Nov. 21 — once with the play-by-play of the interaction and a second with the audio from my phone call) but I did not receive a response from Dollar Tree. I filled out the form again on Nov. 25 but still got no answer.

In fairness, perhaps they were still investigating the incident where a Maryland-area veteran was kicked out of a Dollar Tree store because she went in with her service dog. The veteran was quoted as saying, “I didn’t feel safe. I wanted an escort, especially because there were employees standing by the door.” Is it in the Dollar Tree training manual to rough up customers before sending them on their way? Disgusting.

On Nov. 26, I left a voice mail on the general phone number listed on the company website and got an email the next day from Kayleigh M. Painter, manager, investor and media relations for Dollar Tree Inc.

The Painter email on Nov. 27 encouraged me to share more information of the incident and to fire away with any questions I had. I replied asking if Painter had received the recount of events I submitted through the corporate web form but did not get a reply to that email. Ditto for my followup emails on Dec. 3, Dec. 4 and Dec. 6.

To this point, despite expressing interest in hearing more about the situation, Painter, unlike store employees, has gone silent — another indication that Dollar Tree is only out to make a buck and not provide a positive customer experience. Then again, perhaps Painter is busy dealing with all the recent scandalous headlines dragging down the company’s stock.

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