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Monday, February 23, 2009

Speaking Up, Macy's and the Economy

Our famed consumer advocate in Atlanta, Clark Howard, is fond of calling customer service departments "Customer No-Service." However, as the economy declines or at least is in bad shape, I think we may see more and more attentive customer service.

It's a great time to practice speaking up for yourself.

In this endeavor to speak up to customer service, I had a great "rest of the story" experience with Macy's over the weekend.

I like to shop online. I was invited to a bridal shower on Sunday morning. Just as I was getting ready to purchase a present for the bride online, my power went out. A call to the power company confirmed that the outage would not be repaired until after 8 PM.

Well, I didn't want to sit in a dark, computer-less house (I do spend a lot of time on my computer), so I decided to go to Macy's and shop in person. I took the escalator to the linens department since this was a bed and bath shower. I printed out the bride's registry at 5:20 PM.

She had told me that she hoped someone would give her a duvet cover for which she had registered, but she didn't think anyone would because it was too expensive. There it was on list at half price! I was so excited.

I found someone to help, but she couldn't find the item. A second salesperson took me to a quilt, but not the duvet cover. I asked a third person who said, "Oh, we never have the duvet covers in the store. You can only buy them online." She assured me that it would be the same price online.

Discouraged, I left, finished another errand and returned home. The power was back on - it was 6:20 PM. I went online to order the duvet cover. There it was on Macy' but the price was only 1/4 off rather than half price.

I called customer service to find out what the deal was and although the webpage said they were available until 9 PM, the phone message said they had closed at 6 PM and wouldn't be available until Monday morning.

By then, I gave up and bought the duvet cover for 1/4 off.

This morning (Monday) I called Macy's customer service expecting little. I explained what had happened to the very friendly customer service agent. I ended by saying, "I don't think it's right to say the half price is available online but to charge 1/4 off instead. Especially when the only place you can buy the duvet is online."

He put me on hold for a long time.

He returned and in a pleasant voice told me that they would change my charge to be reflective of the half price sale and he was very, very sorry about the inconvenience!

My usual experience is that "Customer no-service" puts many obstacles in the way of helping you to get what you want. Macy' gave me such a different experience. I'm glad I called because even two days after the transaction they were willing to give me the credit.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Assertiveness and Open-Mindedness

"My way or the highway." Everyone has heard someone say that. Just like Gottman's principle of stonewalling, this approach does not promote either good relationships or good communication.

In a respectful assertive relationship, a basic aspect of the approach is to stay open to possibilities. If you respect the other person, then by definition, you respect how he/she thinks. In a discussion, if your approach is "my way or the highway," then you are not staying open to other ways of thinking.

Power struggles never end well. Generally the "my way" approach is the first sign of a power struggle. If you can only see one way to do something or to address a problem, then you are on your way to a stand-off rather than a good assertive outcome.

In the current movie, "Slumdog Millionaire," the young boy wants to get the autograph of a famous actor who is in India. His "friend" locks him in the outhouse so that he can't get out to get the autograph. The boy in the outhouse can choose to see it only one way - in which case he is stuck in the outhouse without a hope to get the autograph, or to be open to possibilities.

The possibility he thinks up is to get out of the latrine by dropping into the gross accumulation below the latrine. Since the latrine is positioned up on a platform, this gives him a way out. So, covered with latrine slime, he runs up to the star and does get the autograph - both because he smells and looks so disgusting that the way parts for him to get close to the star and because he thought literally outside the box in order to assert himself!

I often think of the child's story by Leo Lionni called Little Blue and Little Yellow. In the story two colors go out to play: blue and yellow. As they play together, they blend who they are and become (you guessed it!) GREEN! In other words, they created something completely different by putting the best of themselves together.

Now whenever I feel stuck in trying to work something out assertively with someone else, I try to listen to what they are saying to see what ideas they are contributing to blend with mine so that we can create our own version of GREEN.

{Note: "Slumdog Millionaire" is full of examples of the assertiveness of the main character - and is a fabulous movie, aside from the assertiveness throughout!}