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The trouble created when the customer gets it wrong

Published: 

Wed 26 June, 2019

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The trouble created when the customer gets it wrong

For a retail assistant there is probably nothing more infuriating than the age old saying ‘the customer is always right.’

It is said the phrase was first used in 1909 by Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of Selfridge's department store in London.

Kofi had been a retail assistant in a menswear store for three years when he encountered a customer who insisted he was right. It had huge repercussions for Kofi.

Kofi was overly cautious dealing with customer complaints. He left the last store that he worked at with a settlement agreement after being investigated following a disagreement with a customer.

So, he was on his guard when confronted with an irate male customer demanding a refund. The man was returning a suit that was sold in store, he claimed he had not worn it and he did not have a receipt.

There were no tags on the clothing, the inside lining of the jacket was badly creased and a couple of stains were on one arm. Kofi commented that it looked as if the suit had been worn.

The customer argued the condition of the jacket was due to the fact he had left in the bag. Kofi said in any event he would be unable to get a refund without a receipt. During the following conversation the customer said to Kofi, who is of African origin, that he was a typical African shop assistant.

There was then a heated exchange between the two, and the store security guard stepped in. The customer demanded to see the manager and complained to her that Kofi had been rude and aggressive.

Kofi was later summoned to the manager’s office and suspended from work. This was despite the fact he explained that he had been racially insulted but had remained calm, but firm. He said a colleague nearby heard everything and could back up what he was saying, as could the security guard.

Kofi believed if his colleague and the security guard were spoken to during the disciplinary investigation, and CCTV reviewed it would help to clear up the matter.

So, he was shocked when he got a letter inviting him to a disciplinary hearing to face an allegation of being rude and aggressive to a customer.

Enclosed with the letter was a statement from the colleague who witnessed the incident and the security guard, which were supportive. There was no complaint or statement from the customer.

Kofi contacted the Castle Associates Employee Support Centre for help, as he had done previously when he reached a settlement with his former employer.

Our representative explained to Kofi that he had grounds for a formal grievance that would include the fact his employer failed to address an incident in which he had been racially abused.

Kofi was keen to clear his name and did not want to delay the process, so insisted on going ahead with the disciplinary hearing.

At the hearing our representative pointed out there was no actual evidence of a customer complaint to justify the action being taken. The hearing chair was adamant that as the incident occurred, and the customer complained at the time then the company was obliged to act.

Our representative maintained that the lack of a complaint meant there was no evidence to support the allegation. He pointed out that the CCTV was also not presented as evidence, and therefore there was no actual information to substantiate the allegation.

Examples taken from the witness statements that supported Kofi’s case were highlighted and emphasised, as was the fact the company took no action or offered any support to Kofi after her was racially insulted.

Our representative summarised the case by saying the process was unfair and the allegation unsubstantiated. The chair quizzed Kofi about the incident. Kofi maintained that he did nothing wrong.

The following week Kofi received a letter that informed him that the allegation had been dismissed.

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