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ignorance should never be bliss
three simple ways to be a better consumer
by maigen thomas (@Maigen)
8.26.09
pop culture

It doesn't matter which position you hold in what company, you have customers. You make call them clients, consumers, readers or passengers, but they're all making a choice, and they chose YOU.

But this column isn't about how to give great customer service. There are many hundreds of webpages, columns and seminars out there dedicated purely to that. In fact, teaching companies how to Give Great Customer Service is an industry of its own.

I'd like to take a moment to focus on how to be a better consumer. I know my perspective is from the airline industry at the moment, but I've had 63 jobs in 23 industries, so I'd like to think I have a grasp on consumer behavior. I'm also (shockingly!) a consumer myself. I don't like to be told how to spend my money, and I'm not going to dictate how YOU do so.

It is Your Money. You DO chose how to spend it. I recognize and applaud that. But there's a few things I would like to point out regarding behavior exhibited before, during and after said spending.

Before you make a purchase in any way, shape or form: Do Your Research. I wish I could leave it at that. But apparently, I can't reiterate it enough: Do Your Research. Before you show up at Big Electronics Retailer, make sure the computer you'd like to plunk down nearly a grand for is available in the store. Check the details on shipping before you end up spending twice as much on your online purchase as you intended to. Read the fine print - checked baggage is not free. Find out how much taxes and handling are going to run you. Is delivery included if you spend more than a certain amount?

Regardless of who is giving you Good Customer Service, these are businesses, and they're out to make a profit. Before you lose your mind at the ticket counter because your Buy One Get One Free coupon isn't good on Sundays, DO YOUR RESEARCH.

Which brings me to my next point. While you're making your purchase, and things don't turn out to be as you thought they were, recognize that The Person In Front Of You Is Probably Not The One Who Made The Rules.

If you're at a strip club and there's a sign that says "Don't Touch The Dancers" and you get kicked out because you can't keep your hands to yourself, is it really a good idea to yell at the bouncer? Did the bouncer make the rules? If the cashier at the grocery store tells you she can't accept your $100 dollar bill for your ten dollar purchase, is getting mad at her going to make your transaction any smoother? If the ticket agent at the amusement park tells you your ticket isn't valid because of X, Y and Z, do you think they're arbitrarily singling you out or that they're following the parameters for ticket acceptance laid out by the managers and owners of the park?

(a quick aside: if you're being a jerk, they really might be singling you out, but for the majority of examples, the answer is 'No'.)

If you stop and think about it, do you really believe that the minimum wage worker who mans the front lines is really 'In Charge'? Instead of yelling or creating a scene, stop. Take a deep breath. Request a manager. Don't heap abuse on a person who isn't paid enough to deal with your crap to start with.

Remember, things are not always going to go your way. It doesn't matter how little or how much money you throw at a problem, sometimes it just isn't going to be your day. My final suggestion for being a better consumer is to Have a Plan B.

When Movie Rental Store is out of the movie you'd like to watch tonight, don't you have a second choice? If the gas station doesn't have your brand of cigarettes, do you choose another kind or do you go to another gas station? If the restaurant you wanted your birthday party to be held at isn't open on your birthday, make a few more calls.

There are no fairy godmothers and we don't have magic wands. As a consumer, you must realize this or you're just setting yourself up for day after day filled with bad experiences. Above all, be flexible but also know what you want. No one can help you if you don't know your own mind. You can always complain to the management or write a letter to the company, but the person at the counter probably can't help much. They definitely WON'T help if you can't rely on the basic courtesy of treating another human being with respect.

Lastly, and woefully not least, please try to remember to use "Please" and "Thank You". I positively MELT when I get eye contact, a smile and polite manners from passengers. It will always be beneficial in any situation to remember these simple things.

As for the person in 19E on my flight the other day, well: You (A) failed to request a Vegetarian Meal online, and therefore were not provided one on your flight; (B) yelled at several flight attendants, despite the above-and-beyond lengths gone to in order to meet your request; and (C) assumed your needs would be met, and did not pack any sustenance whatsoever. When I have special dietary needs, 19E, I at least pack a snack for a seven-hour flight. Thank you, and have a pleasant flight.


ABOUT MAIGEN THOMAS

Maigen is simple. is smart. is wholesome. is skeevy. is spicy. is delicate. is better. is purer. is 100% more awesome than yesterday. She';s traveling the world and writing about her experiences with life, love, yoga, food, travel and people. Mostly people. Because they';re funny. hear more of her random thoughts @maigen on twitter.

more about maigen thomas

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