Bullies Don’t Grow Up, But Adults Sure Can

In a previous post, I talked about my experience with a bully boss, and the many people who have to deal with workplace bullying every day. Bullies don’t grow up, they just become bosses, and when we put them in positions of authority, we’re telling kids it’s okay to be a bully.

So what do we do? How do we stop bullying in schools? What if we all led by example and showed kids that bullying isn’t an effective way to get what you want? Unfortunately, we’d have to start by not letting bullies be supervisors, even if they’re good for the bottom line. Okay, that probably isn’t going to happen, but it’s a nice pipe dream, isn’t it? In the long run though, bullies aren’t good for the bottom line. If you have to keep hiring new people because the bully’s employees keep quitting, is that good for your business? Or are you just spending a fortune on employee acquisition and training? Wouldn’t it be cheaper to fire the guy who bullies every employee in his department and replace him than to keep replacing multiple underlings? Not to mention that employees do better work when they’re treated fairly.

We also have to remember that a person doesn’t have to be in a position of authority to be a bully. Remember what I said in my last post about customers being bullies? We have, unfortunately, gone overboard with this whole idea of “The customer is always right.” I know, I’ve studied marketing, and I get it—it is so much cheaper to keep a customer than to acquire a new one. I get that, and I agree to an extent. But we have let this “customer is always right” attitude spiral out of control. We’ve gone from addressing and apologizing for legitimate complaints, to giving away half the store for free just because a customer throws a tantrum.

Don’t take this as advice on how to get free stuff, please, but I’ll tell you an unwritten, unspoken, unofficial secret of retail or any customer-service oriented business (which would be most businesses): Nine times out of ten, you can get free stuff if you complain, yell, scream, or write an angry letter to corporate. Even if you curse out the staff, then write an angry letter to the main office about how you were so badly mistreated, you will likely get an apology letter and a free gift card for your trouble. There are people who get tens of thousands of dollars in free merchandise every year just by writing complaint letters. The “customer relations” department doesn’t care what the facts are. They don’t care if their return policy is thirty days and the store’s employees politely declined to refund a customer for a purchase made ten years ago with no receipt. They’re going to yell at the store manager, then send the customer an apology letter and a gift card. To this day, I am still so pissed about this problem that I made it the subject of the science fiction book I’m currently writing, about a parallel universe where the customer is always…wrong.

Again, I get that addressing legitimate complaints is good for business, and I also get that the suits in corporate offices probably have no way of knowing which complaints are legitimate and which aren’t, but unfortunately, we’ve become a nation of people that rewards bullying. What if we just didn’t do that? I’m not saying people in customer service shouldn’t do their best to help their customers, but at some point, we need to stop bending over for the customers who throw the biggest tantrums over their wildly unreasonable requests being turned down.

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I once had a customer who actually called 911 because we refused to give her a cash refund on a computer she’d purchased six months ago and apparently spilled wine on. It was a cheap model, and we’d advised every customer who came in to look at it to buy a better one, but she’d insisted she wanted the $200 desktop advertised in the flyer. No, she didn’t want an extended warranty. We explained the return policy to her when handing her the receipt.

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Six months later, she yelled and screamed at the top of her lungs while her young son watched because we politely explained we could not return it at this time. We offered to call the manufacturer and help her file a claim on their warranty, although they likely would not have covered it due to the wine stains. The manager finally caved and offered her an even exchange for another desktop just to shut her up. (Keep in mind, the vendor would likely have refused to credit us due to the wine stains, so he was essentially offering to eat the $200 just to get rid of the bully customer.) That wasn’t good enough, she wanted CASH. The manager knew the suits in corporate might care about “customer service” but would also shit a brick if they saw a $200+ cash return on a six-month-old computer—a huge red flag for employee theft, one of the few things they care about as much as customer service—so he very, very politely told her a cash refund would not be possible.

At that point, she started screaming that we were “cheating” and “ripping her off” at the top of her lungs. All attempts at apologizing and trying to calm her down or finding an alternative solution did no good. Finally she whipped out her cell phone, and announced she was going to call 911 and report us for “stealing from her,” if we didn’t give her an immediate cash refund. The manager told her she would have to do that, because he could not give her that much cash against the store’s return policy. So she proceeded to call the cops on us.

Naturally, the cops did not arrest anyone as she’d hoped. They did come out, took statements from everyone, and suggested she take the matter to small claims court. She reluctantly agreed to an exchange for a different computer, and the manager called the district manager and got permission to mark a better model down to the $200 price and throw in some free software just to get rid of her.

What did that lady teach her young son? She taught him that you can get your way by yelling and threatening. She taught him that being a bully to people who need their lousy minimum wage jobs will get you freebies and better prices in a store. Honestly, I don’t think she even cared about the cash refund—she got so much more than $200 worth of stuff for a computer she purchased for $200, used for six months, and spilled wine on. Bullying for the win.

This lady was not an exception, either. I saw so many people do things like this in front of their kids so many times. I often wondered if the kids would become playground bullies, or if they would manage to do better than the crappy example their parents set.

So how do we stop bullying in schools? How do we stop cyber bullying? Here are some suggestions I have: What if parents set a good example for their kids, by not screaming at a retail worker because the store runs out of an item, can’t give a cash refund eight months later, or enforces a reasonable policy?  What if we didn’t let bullies be bosses and look the other way when they intimidate and humiliate their employees? What if we didn’t elect a president who got rich by bullying and cheating people? What if we just didn’t reward bullying in the adult world? Could we set a better example?

What do you think? What are your ideas to stop bullying?

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