Customer service confessions: Can I get a refund please?

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Illustrated by Marcus Blackstock

Written by: Amal Javed Abdullah

Michelle scans the long weekend-day line as she walks towards the employee entrance behind the customer service desk for her afternoon shift, and sighs internally. It’s going to be a long day. She rings up a closed counter, and calls the next person in line.

A potbellied man in his mid-60s approaches. He is carrying a large cauliflower head in his right hand, and a shirt on a hanger in his left.

“Hello,” he says, “I’d like to exchange this shirt for another, and I’d like to return the cauliflower.”

“I can give you store credit for the shirt,” Michelle responds. “But we don’t return produce—”

“But you have a seven-day return policy,” he says.

“It doesn’t apply to produce, sir—”“Let me speak to your manager,” he demands. Michelle internally sighs again. This is going to be a really long day.

“What’s the reason for your return?” she asks.

“I bought this cauliflower here for $7. When I went home, I saw the same cauliflower in a flyer for $2. Why would I waste money on this cauliflower when I can get another one $5 cheaper?”

Michelle eyes the line of people behind this man who are beginning to get restless, and the length of this line is only getting longer by the minute.

“Okay, I’ll call up the manager,” she says, and rings Stacey, the acting manager on duty that day, who appears a short while later, the heels of her cowboy boots clicking against the cheaply-tiled floor.

Stacey is the type of woman who can strike fear into the hearts of men with one look. She’s six-foot-one, muscular, and the wearer of a glare that commands respect. The man eyes her with curiosity.

“What’s the matter here?” she asks in her thick Southern accent.

“I want to exchange this shirt,” the man says, raising his left hand, “and a return for this,” raising his right.

“We can give you an exchange for the shirt,” she says, “but produce is non-refundable. I’m sure Michelle’s told you that. I asked what the matter was.”

“Nothing’s the matter,” he responds. “If you can just process what I asked, I’ll be on my way.”

Stacey turns to look at Michelle, who nods with a knowing smile.

“And what is the reason for your return?” she asks.

“I can get a cauliflower head just like this one $5 cheaper somewhere else,” The man replies calmly. It’s downright impressive how the man has remained relaxed and unruffled this entire time. Any other customer like him would have raised a ruckus in pursuit of his ridiculous demand.

But Stacey wants to get down to business. “That’s all very nice, sir, but as I just told you, we can’t refund produce. Now, we can either do this the hard way, or the easy way. Either you accept what we just told you about your cauliflower, and Michelle here will give you store credit for your shirt. Or, I could have you banned from ever stepping foot again into my branch of this department store. Have it your way.”

The man hesitates for a second, looking Stacey up and down, taking in her athletic figure and her boots decorating her feet at the end of her black work pants. He can’t tell if she’s serious.

“Can I get store credit for the cauliflower too?” he asks cautiously. This one is an ambitious one, Michelle thinks.

“Michelle, turn the webcam on so we can put this man in our files—”

“Okay!” He exclaims. “I don’t need a refund for my cauliflower! But can I still return my shirt?”

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