“We’re sorry to inform you that your package is delayed.”
“What do you mean? Late? It’s Christmas! You promised!”
“Your package will arrive in time for Christmas.”
“No! No, no, no! It has to be here when you said. I paid extra! It’s Christmas! I’m traveling! I have plans! It’s family time!”
“We’re sorry. Unfortunately we have no control of the weather.”
I quickly googled the city she’d mentioned and found there was no extreme weather there.
My plans in disarray and she was lying to me.
Holiday from Hell
My package was late. My cool was gone. It was the holiday shopping season of 2012, the beginning of online. The holiday from hell.
It was the year online shopping really became popular, and most retailers hadn’t predicted its popularity. As a result, companies were behind in their ability to fulfill online orders. And shipping companies were really behind.
I was in graduate school in Austin, Texas, and had bought a gift online for my then boyfriend, and I paid for expedited shipping, needing it to arrive by the 20thof December because I was flying home to Seattle to spend Christmas with my family.
I should have shopped for gifts earlier in December, but in past years, online shopping had been easy, and I was in an intense PhD program with multiple 20-page papers to write and speeches to grade for my students. I was in finals mode; preparing for the holidays was not my first priority that December.
Once finals ended, and I had submitted grades for my students, I checked tracking for the gift and noticed it was not scheduled to arrive until December 22. I emailed the retail location, explaining the situation, and they empathized but said it was out of their control at this point and in the hands of the shipping company. And they doubted it would be possible to get me a replacement item sooner, given that they were seeing shipping delays all over the country, with many customers. I was disappointed, but at least I felt heard.
I then emailed the shipping company, and it was clear from their response that they didn’t even read past the basic idea that I had a delayed item. They simplysent an email telling me not to worry, my item would arrive before Christmas. Their reply made me angry. I needed my item by December 20, not December 25. I followed up with a phone call to see if talking to a live person could help any.
The woman who answered told me essentially the same information. My package would not arrive on time. She was unable to refund the fee I had paid for expedited shipping. My package was stalled in some random city, and she could not give me any information on when it would move or why it was stalled, except to say it would arrive before Christmas, which didn’t help me. Her explanation for the delay was simply “weather,” but there was no bad weather in the particular city my package was supposedly in.
I know supply chains are complicated, and bad weather in one city can back up cities across the country, but I suspected it was more likely due to the company not anticipating how busy this holiday season would be. I was not mad about the unexpected surge in online shopping and lack of preparation; I was mad at what I felt was a lack of authenticity in their explanation to me.
I had been navigating this stressful situation in one way or another for several days, and each time hit a dead end. No one had an explanation that felt real. It all boiled up, and I unloaded on the poor customer service agent.
I vented about how unfair it was that I had paid extra for expedited shipping, and they couldn’t deliver it. I pulled in my knowledge of the weather between the original shipping location and my destination. She made the mistake of arguing back against me instead of agreeing with me, so I unloaded further. I even went as far as to tell her that everyone in the country was going to associate her company with failure before the holiday season was over. (I wasn’t entirely wrong on that point, but I was completely out of line.)
Now, as I relive the situation in my mind, I can absolutely see that the woman I spoke to was just someone working a job, answering phones, and 100% did not deserve to be yelled at. I feel terrible regret for behaving that way. I’m sure I made her feel bad, and I feel like less of a person for having done it. At the time, I was in my lizard brain.
Most, if not all of us, have had moments of “retail rage,” (I’m stealing this phrase from the incomparable Duncan Trussel). We’d be hard-pressed to pull ourselves out of it in the moment, but afterwards, we feel ridiculous, tiny, ugly for behaving that way. It’s the worst of what humans do.
And yet, what other power do we have against giant corporations?
I wasn’t happy when the retail store told me they couldn’t do anything, but I accepted it since they listened to me and gave me an individual answer. What made me really mad was when the shipping company didn’t even bother listening to my story. I felt like I was being treated unfairly, and my story didn’t even matter to them.
The interaction put me in a fight or flight response. This response made me agitated, nervous, angry. I don’t think my reaction is unusual. But companies can use what we know about the autonomic nervous system to help people feel relaxed.
Our sense of safety is enhanced when we have autonomy. Conversely, we feel under threat when we sense we have no choice, no options, no control over what is happening. If your back is against the wall in your dealings with an organization, you are more likely to go into a fight or flight response, and possibly “retail rage.”
The shipping organization could have given me a choice of any kind to put me in some type of control. Offer me the option of holding the item at a shipping center to pick up. Ask if I wanted my shipping fee refunded. Something that made me feel like I was making a choice.
This practice requires extra work, but it is worth it because of the way people will feel about your organization and how they will feel in the presence of your organization—safe, warm, fuzzy. As opposed to resentful, angry, closed off.
I Matter and So Do You
Each and every person has a voice. Their story matters. If they feel included, they feel safe. If they feel open to interacting, they will approach your organization receptively.
Yes, we should be above retail rage … and I am trying so hard to not have these moments. But organizations can help us feel safe and avoid the rage, too.
And for the record, I hold no ill will toward the retail company. It remains one of my favorites. I still use the shipping company because, not using it would be almost impossible … but one of my passwords does involve a curse word and the company’s name.
What to Do
If your company fails on a customer promise allow your service people the freedom to…
Admit the mistake
“This is totally our error we are so sorry.”
Tell the truth
“I’m afraid we had far more orders than we were prepared for.”
“We could hold your package at a center near the delivery point or we could deliver it to a different address.”
Wave the fees
“And we’ll wave the shipping fees. This should have never happened.”
Keep them informed
“Can we text you at this number? I’d like to make sure that you’re informed as we go forward.”