Friday, October 30, 2015

The Wrong Bear — A Halloween Horror Story

On the eve of Ole Hallow's Eve, I offer you a scary story. But there's just one person who should be scared and that's Geoffrey the Giraffe, the Toys R Us mascot.

One can tempt fate in so many ways in this world of ours. Skydiving. Running with the bulls in Pamplona. Maybe enter a drinking contest against an offensive lineman from Wisconsin. Point being, if you're into poking the bear that is our mortality, there's no shortage of ways to do it.

The Blackwell clan's Jack-O-Lantern. In spooky low-res!
All this said, Geoffrey and a combination of his colleagues at Toys R Us poked the bear this month — and they poked it good. The bear in question? My wife. Mrs. Blackwell.

Those with the good fortune to know her, will all agree that my wife is as good natured a person as you'll find. The glass in her world is perpetually half full — yet simultaneously — overflowing with patience and tolerance. She's a good one. But for some reason, the people at Toys R Us mistook her kindness for weakness.

Bad idea.

Our story begins in August. That's when an excited and always eager Mrs. Blackwell determined what costume Master Blackwell would be wearing this Halloween. After soliciting feedback from me that she had no intention of ever acting upon, it was determined that the boy would dress as Mickey Mouse. (I suggested Jason Vorhees.)

Costume scouting began in early September. It was then that she placed her first order for the Mickey Mouse costume only to learn the Disney Store had sold out.

So, she did some more costume hunting before finding and ordering one from Toys R Us. She also paid $5 for fast-track delivery. The costume arrived at the house two days later. So far so good for Toys R Us, right?

Unfortunately that costume was too large. So, Mrs Blackwell immediately ordered another size and again she paid $5 more to ensure delivery in no more than five business days. That was October 16.

One week later there was still no costume delivered. That's when Mrs. Blackwell first contacted Toys R Us. What follows is a tangled odyssey of phone calls and customer service B.S. that would make a Soviet bureaucrat blush.

Here now, in her own paraphrased words, is Mrs. Blackwell's version of events.

The "R" is backward Geoffrey. Just like
your approach to customer service. 
"I called and they told me they they were 'sorry.' They said they 'understood' why I was frustrated and that they'd be 'frustrated too.' They gave me a case number. When I expressed the urgency of this — the costume was for a Halloween party — they said they'd 'escalate' my case to the specialist department."

Specialist department?

"Yes. They said they'd escalate my case to the specialist department. But they could never tell me what that meant."

Why didn't you just get the number and call these specialists yourself?

"I asked to be transferred to the specialist department and the representative said they didn't have that number or extension."

The first couple calls concluded with the Toys R Us representative telling Mrs. Blackwell that, while she didn't have means to reach the "specialist department," she was nevertheless confident the costume would arrive in 3-5 days.

After another few days passed, Mrs. Blackwell called again but there was no progress, no package tracking number, in fact no costume had shipped. Instead of an update, what happened was a repeat of the previous conversations.

"I called back and we started over."

It was more being told by someone they "were sorry" and they "understood" and they'd "be frustrated too" and more being put on hold.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention that all Mrs. Blackwell's conversations with Toys R Us were peppered with long stretches in which she was put on hold. So, in addition to hearing the same, vague information — which always circled back to them telling her it'll be there in a few days — she was waiting on hold for five minutes here and ten minutes there.

By the time of the fourth phone call, Mrs. Blackwell was done. The kids' party for which she'd wanted the boy's costume had come and gone.

"This isn't even about him anymore," she said at the time, with a slightly maniacal look in her eye.

"So I called back and it was exactly like the last time. I let the rep go through her whole rigmarole and then I just said, 'I need to speak to your manager.' The manager gets on the phone, tells me that she understood and that she'd be frustrated too. I said, 'You know, that's nice but it does nothing for me. It's very clear you've all been trained to say what you're saying. You all use the same language but it's gotten me nothing.'"

Naturally the boy rewarded his mother's efforts by happily
donning the costume. (That's the one that's a bit too big FYI.)
Trick or treating is sure to be fun. 
The representative, in a baffling move, offered that she was going to refund the money Mrs. Blackwell spent on shipping — as if refunding the cost of delivery for something that wasn't delivered would rectify the situation.

Mrs. Blackwell (who, FYI, is in the midst of earning her PhD in Marketing. Along the way, she's already taught classes.) made it clear that she was going to get all of her money back. Then she told this lady what she needed to hear.

"I told her that I'll be teaching rooms full of students about marketing and customer service relationship management and that I was going to use her company as an example. But that did nothing; it didn't phase her."

This lady might have been unphased, but she and her minions have unleashed a beast of immeasurable calculation and infinite persistence.

I know my wife so I know it to be true when I say that Toys R Us has sentenced themselves to more than they know. Soon Mrs. Blackwell will be regularly addressing rooms full of smart, impressionable young people. Year after year, classroom after classroom full of students, will hear of her experience with Toys R Us.

The moral I take from the story is this: revenge is a dish best served cold. And, it's even better served with — literally — thousands of well-educated accomplices who "understand" and are "frustrated" by companies that treat them like a number and insult their intelligence along the way.

You poked the wrong bear Geoffrey.

Happy Halloween everybody. Or, to my Canadian family and friends: "Happy Hallowe'en."

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