I mentioned in a previous post that I run a surplus sale for the University that I work at twice a week. It has been a thorn in my side on more than a few occasions. I have been pushing to change our department policy in regards to our surplus sale for quite some time. My boss was able to experience some of my frustration, this past Tuesday.
A beautiful desk was sold on Tuesday to this years Clueless Customer. This person is a frequent customer to our Surplus Sale though she has never been as clueless as she was this past Tuesday. Clueless Customer was incorrectly charged $10 for the beautiful desk rather than $50. It was entirely our error! I will give Clueless Customer that but what gets me irritated is her response to our error. In typical American/ Capitalistic/ spoiled fashion, Clueless Customer took advantage of our error rather than exercising some integrity to fix the situation. It is a case of Moral vs. Legal dilemma. (Read on to see how it turned into a legal dilemma.) In both scenario's, I think our case holds up quite nicely and that is the approach I will take in explaining why I am handing out a Clueless Customer Award this year.
Addressing the MORAL dilemma:
To sell or not to sell... at $10... is the question. We made an error in pricing. It comes with the territory, especially when your entire staff are student workers. To remedy the situation, we asked Clueless Customer to pay the difference or get a refund of her $10. This is where it gets interesting and I'm skipping over a confrontation between my staff and boss with Clueless Customers cousin who came to pick up the items instead of Clueless Customer. This is a violation of our posted policy which states that the purchasing customer must be present when picking up items. But I'm skipping over all of that.
When Clueless Customer shows up to try and remedy the situation, I give her the options that we are offering her. Refund her $10 or Clueless Customer must pay the difference. The right and, dare I say, moral thing to do is to pick either of the two options. That would be the most honest thing to do. (Of course, honesty is a decaying value as is integrity.) Clueless Customer, gaining steam and coaching from her Clueless Cousin, believes that "LEGALLY" the items belong to her because she has purchased it.
This is where the fun discussion on legal rights begin. In any surplus transaction, in order to pay, every customer signs a waiver form:
In signing this receipt, I, the buyer, relinquish and indemnify all legal responsibility from **insert my employer name** ...
I ask Clueless Customer, "Did you sign the receipt (waiver) form?"
Clueless Customer says, "Yes!"
"Well, did you read it?"
With an appalled expression, eyes wide open like a deer in headlights, she quips, "I don't have to read it. LEGALLY, I should get my desk. What does me signing the receipt have to do with my LEGAL rights? What are my legal rights?"
I replied, "I'm not a lawyer, I cannot give you legal advice and you should read everything you sign."
Again, the deer in headlights look, she states, "I feel I have been wronged. In the Civil Rights movement, people stood up for their rights. I feel I have been wronged."
I smirk in utter amazement and respond, "Civil Rights? What are you talking about?"
Maybe she takes me as another dumb Polynesian to swallow her story about civil rights. She is totally CLUELESS to how special the Civil Rights movement is to my little family. She is totally CLUELESS to how my husbands family (consequently my family now), deeply rooted in Alabama, took part in the Selma days of Martin Luther King Jr's crusade. Did she just spit on that history by comparing it to her $10 transaction?
Deer in headlights look, Clueless Customer says, "This is such a small issue. Do you really think it should go as far as small claims court?
I counter, already heated because of the Civil Rights statement, "Is that a threat? Do you want to take us to Small Claims over $40?"
Clueless Customer, behaving like a spoiled, American, capitalist responds, "I don't want to but LEGALLY, I could." She shrugs her shoulders.
Not at all frightened by the prospect of Small Claims, I listen to her gripe about her LEGAL rights to a beautiful desk that she paid $10 for. If it weren't so rude, I would have rolled my eyes at her shallow threats of legal action.
Having observed legal proceedings in District Court, most judges will require mediation prior to hearing the case. If a mutually satisfying arbitration doesn't occur then the judge, without sympathy, will hear the case and make a judgement.
Here is where I think Clueless Customer errs in her threats of legal action:
1. The law IS RESTRAINED from placing the complainant in a better position than before the incident.
2. We offered to "make her whole" by refunding her the original payment of $10, in which case she would have not suffered at all.
3. This is more a customer service issue, if anything, not a legal issue.
The 'legality' of issues blur the moral lines. There shouldn't be any gray areas between honesty / dishonesty. It was our error in charging her incorrectly which is a customer service issue, not a legal issue. Her refusing to pay the difference is a moral issue, not a legal issue. Her rights as a consumer is to be recovered to the position she was in before the incident. In the end, my boss allowed her to take her $10 desk and asked her not to return here.
Drum roll, please!
The 2008 Clueless Customer award goes to the Deer in Headlights. Not only, as a side effect of her behavior, has she managed to ban herself and her cousin from any future business with us... she has forced us to change our policy. The surplus sale will be closed to the public! Her wheeling-and-dealing is done at this facility and sad to say, it will be for the rest of the public. She fought to have that desk and forfeited all future "deals" because of it. I hope it was worth it.