Customer Service

by Brian on September 30, 2005

in Only in Israel

When it comes to buying shoes, I am not an easy customer to please. My
feet have very high arches; most shoes do not give me enough support.
All the more so with sandals. As a result, the last pair of sandals I
bought has lasted me an impressive eight years…in
large part because they haven’t gotten a whole lot of use.
But those sandals have finally fallen apart. So I was filled with both
optimism and excitement when I found a pair of Teva Nomadic sandals
that looked like they were going to be different. The base had a real
spring to it; the straps were adjustable in
three places and cushioned by an extra piece of leather. The salesman in the
store claimed they were “orthopedic.”
I brought my new Tevas home and wore them for about a half a day before
I noticed something scraping against the sole of my foot. I removed the
sandal and ran my finger across the leather. There was a defect. A
piece of the leather was pointing up at my foot like a tiny knife,
almost imperceptible but ever present.
It was a small inconvenience, to be sure, but the sandals hadn’t come
cheap (I’d paid 500 shekels – about $115). I took the m back to the
store and
asked for a new pair. The salesman looked at the sandal.
“You’ve walked on these,” he said.
“Yes,” I replied, “but not out of the house.” My mother taught me long ago that this was the unwritten rule of returning shoes.
The salesman frowned, which I thought was slightly amusing given his name was
“Simcha” which means happiness. Somewhat begrudgingly, he brought me out
a replacement pair.
I tried them on, but something felt odd. They weren’t as comfortable as
the first. I walked back and forth across the store for a few minutes.
Maybe they just needed more breaking in time. Yes, that must be it. I
took them home.
As I started to wear them around the apartment, though, they still felt slightly
off. Too tight. I took a closer look
and found the problem: the wrong sized sandals had been placed into this
size nine box. The sandals were indeed too small.
Which necessitated another trip back to the shoe store. Another
encounter with Simcha, explaining the situation, brushing off the
complaints that I’d walked on this pair too. But what else could I do?
Simcha didn’t gripe so much on my second visit in a week. The error was as clear as the
label on the sandal that neither of us had noticed. But when he
returned from the back room, his hands were empty.
“We’re all out,” he said. “We can order more.”
At this point, something clicked. A frustration level – more with
myself and my own pedo-idiosyncrasies than the particular situation
perhaps – ratcheted to some hidden threshold level. I’d had enough with
this sandal and this store. I’d go shopping elsewhere, or forget the whole matter entirely.
“I want my money back,” I said.
“Sorry, that’s impossible,” Simcha replied curtly. “We only do store exchange.”
Ah yes…that uniquely Israeli reality. For all the strides we’ve made in
customer service in recent years – and anyone who hasn’t visited since
the 1980s would be truly amazed at the positive changes – the consumer
still has very few
rights according to the law.

Simcha’s attitude may have been
infuriating to me, the immigrant with memories of no-questions-asked
satisfaction-guaranteed policies from the old country, but as far as he was concerned, he
was being quite magnanimous.
“But you don’t have a store exchange,” I replied just as matter of factly. “You’re all out, remember? I want my money back.”
“No,” he said.
“No?” I sputtered. “I think yes,” They’re passing a law about it, you know.”
not the law yet,” Simcha said, again true. The bill to mandate
money-back guarantees is stuck somewhere in the Knesset. These days,
lawmakers have more pressing issues on their minds than smooth sandal
I tried a different strategy. “Please call your manager. I’m sure he can do it.”
“I’ll call, but he won’t say any different, I’m sure of it.”
Simcha called up Rafi in the store chain’s main Tel Aviv branch. They
chatted amicably for a few minutes in that over-the-telephone back slapping kind of way, then Simcha hung up and shook his
head at me. Snap verdict rendered.
“Let me talk to him,” I demanded.
Simcha looked taken aback. Probably no one had ever demanded to speak
with Rafi. I imagined him as some huge ogre of a super-salesman, unable
to bend or go out of his way.
“Hi Rafi,” I said. “My name is Brian.”

I figured we should get on a
first name basis before the negotiations began. I explained the
situation again.

“I just want my money back.”
“It’s not our policy. We can’t do it.”
So much for playing Mr. Nice Guy.  “You can do it if you want to
do it. You and I both know that. And you will do it,” I said with more forcefulness than I actually felt. “I’m not going
anywhere until you agree to give me my money back!”
Rafi muttered something about having another call and then the line promptly went dead.
“I think he hung up on me!” I blurted out to Simcha. “Call him again!”
This time the line was busy. Simcha then turned to me. “You know, I’m on your side. It’s just the store policies.”
He didn’t seem very on my side before, but I was glad for any ally I could get against what I now perceived to be the real enemy in Tel Aviv.
“You know, I like your store,” I said. That was true…at one time at
least. “If you make your customers happy, they’ll recommend you to
others. You don’t want to alienate me,” I added, exuding self-importance.
Sure, right, Simcha nodded, while he called Rafi repeatedly until he
finally got him. They argued for several minutes. This time, though, it appeared Simcha
really was lobbying for my case. I couldn’t hear Rafi’s responses, but
it didn’t appear Simcha was winning. He kept repeating himself and
shrugging his shoulders, occasionally looking sheepishly in my
Finally, he put down the phone. I braced myself.
“He agrees,” Simcha said. “We will refund the money.”
I was flabbergasted. “Is that what he really said?” I asked. I didn’t
want Simcha, my new buddy, to get in any trouble on my behalf.
Simcha swiped my credit card and punched some codes into his electronic
cash register until a refund slip appeared which I promptly signed.
It was only at this point – after the battle had been won – that I finally
asked “when do you think you’ll be getting a new pair in my size?”
“Probably a couple of weeks,” Simcha said.
“I might be back then,” I replied.
“We will be happy to be of service,” Simcha said. I even think he meant it.
I walked out, sandal-less but satisfied that while this customer may not be easy, he is at least sometimes still right.

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