Have you ever got in touch with a shop to complain about something? I admit I’m not usually one to make a fuss unless there’s a serious reason for doing so — mostly because I think to myself, “Is the person on the other end of my email going to actually be able to do anything about my problem, or are they just going roll their eyes and say ‘Mmm-hmm’ and hit ‘delete’ and go back to drinking their latte?” Also, I hate confrontation, so I am more likely to just let things go (or rage about them to my friends but never actually grumble to the source). Until last week, when I couldn’t find any chicken burgers at my local supermarket, and I just completely lost the plot.
When I say “completely lost the plot”, don’t picture a toddler on the floor beating their fists and heels against the lino, shrieking like a banshee. Picture me, standing in the queue at the supermarket with a grumpy, tired toddler and a grumpy, tired six-year-old, desperately trying to hold back tears while I timidly queried the till operator as to the whereabouts of the chicken burgers.
“Chicken *burgers*?” he replied, looking a bit taken aback, as though he’d never heard of chicken in this particular form.
“Yes?” I whispered. “They’re crumbed? Or battered? Come in a box or a bag? In the frozen section?” I don’t know why I was phrasing everything in the form of a question. Probably because I was starting to doubt myself. Maybe I had only imagined the existence of chicken burgers up to this point in my life?
“I don’t think there are any,” he replied doubtfully.
“But you have 12,000 kinds of fries,” I said, and then the tears started.
It’s true. There were shelves upon shelves of fries in the frozen section, in every possible form. Beer battered, shoestring, jacket wedge, extra crunchy, deli seasoned, crinkle cut, steak fries, oven golden, crispy crinkle, DON’T MAKE ME GO ON. Also, fries’ cousins pom-pom, hash brown, noisette, and potato gems were also there. Don’t get me wrong, I love potatoes in all their forms. I even had some in my trolley that day. To go with the chicken burgers I couldn’t find.
As I stood there crying in the checkout lane at my local supermarket, the till operator giggled nervously, then handed me my eco-bag and wished me a pleasant day. I felt badly for him. Who cries in the supermarket over chicken burgers?
So I went out to the car, buckled the kids in, wiped my eyes, blew my nose, and sat in the carpark getting hold of myself. And then I decided I was going to complain.
I wasn’t going to complain in person, because that would involve more tears, and I am not what one would call a delicate and dainty crier. No, I am what’s known as an “ugly crier”. My face gets red and blotchy, my eyes go pink and puffy, my nose runs, and I tend to lose my ability to speak coherently. No, I was going to send a private message to the store manager on social media.
So I did. I was careful not to blame anyone for the lack of chicken burgers, because it was possible I’d missed them while I was being dazzled by those 12,000 kinds of fries. Also, I didn’t want my picture to be posted up in the staff room at the supermarket with the words “Scary – banned from premises” for making threats about the lack of chicken burgers. While I was at it, I also asked where the chicken nuggets were located (I couldn’t find those either). So I suppose my “complaint” was more of a cry for help. Literally. I was crying while I stabbed my tiny phone keyboard. Mostly because autocorrect was just so wrong.
To his credit, the store manager replied to me promptly and kindly, letting me know the chicken burgers and chicken nuggets had been removed from the shelves as they were making some changes to the frozen foods section. Both forms of chicken were back in stock now, he said. He was so very considerate, I almost started crying as I was reading his message.
What’s the moral of this story? I don’t know. Maybe it’s what my mother always said: “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.” Meaning, it pays to be nice. If I’d gone in all guns blazing, what kind of response would I have got? Over chicken burgers. Also, I knew that a human would be reading my message, not a robot. So I wanted to reach out human-to-human. The way I would have wanted someone to reach out to me.
I get complaints sent to me, too. Some of the emails I’ve received as a magazine editor over the years would curl your hair with their vitriol and rudeness. When I respond, I always try to put myself in the shoes of the person who was writing it. What’s their intention? What do they want as an outcome?
Mostly, I think that the people who take the time to complain just want to be heard by someone, anyone, and no one else is listening. Maybe they’re just having a really bad day. Maybe they, too, couldn’t find the chicken burgers in the supermarket.
My kids ate cereal for dinner on the night I couldn’t find the chicken burgers. They didn’t complain. Kids love to eat cereal for dinner! To them it feels like an adventure, even while it feels like failure to me. They even thanked me for letting them eat cereal for dinner. I’m sure there’s a lesson there. Maybe I’ll offer them cereal for dinner more often.