For the Horde: Law & Order

03: Law&Order

I have watched all 456 episodes of Law&Order several times. Most of them while working out or cooking. From “these are their stories” to arraignment is on average 22 minutes, the perfect amount of time to spend on an elliptical machine. Arraignment to post-trail re-cap is another 22 minutes or three sets of body weight exercises. If you’re motivated, you power through a fourth set as Jack gets on the elevator. (Or is forced to ride alone because the ADA is pissed.) You can prep and rest a full recipe of pita bread from The Essential Vegetarian Cookbook by Diana Shaw (New York, Clarkson Potter Publishers, 1997) during a Law&Order episode. If you’re watching it on TV with commercials, you will over-proof the loaves but they cook perfectly between commercial breaks.

Law&Order follows a pattern. Eighteen to twenty four minutes of police investigation, two or three Dun-Dun course corrections, and at least three instances of socially acceptable yet other wise inappropriate comments from the police. If you’re watching one of the 273 episodes that feature Detective Lennie Brisco, the inappropriate comments will occur before the body has left the crime scene. It will be dry and you will laugh and maybe feel bad about laughing. At around minute twenty, the case will be handed over to the District Attorneys. Eighteen to twenty four minutes of legal arguments, two or three Dun-Dun course corrections, and at least three instances of socially acceptable yet morally/ethically inappropriate comments from the justice team will round out the episode. If you are lucky, Jack McCoy will argue against his own beliefs and feel bad about it. I miss Law&Order.

In real life, Law & Order is was not so tidy, or neat, or predictable. A big part of being a human resource is preventing loss. “Loss” is American Retail Speak (ARS) for theft. Loss of revenue, loss of product, loss of time (ARS: time-theft) all result in loss-of-job eventually. Loss-of-job means loss-of-income, loss-of-insurance, loss-of-housing, loss-of-food, and is directly connected to loss-of-life according to Survival Math rules of transitive-loss. Loss Prevention is everyone’s responsibility but the dirty work falls to the front line retail worker. Or it did when we lived in those times. By the numbers, I’m an expert in Loss Prevention having dedicated way more than the necessary 10,000 hours of practice towards it in my professional life.

Loss Prevention begins with you. (Just like forest fire prevention!) If customers were willing to (a)pay full price, (b)watch their young, (c)leave their entitlement at home, there would be no need for it. (or forest fire prevention!) This was an impossible ask in the before-fore times. (Don’t be mad at the truth. We all make choices.) If no one took things that don’t belong to them, we’d all be a lot better off. (It’s one of the Big Ten.) Unfortunately they do, all the time. (Other people, eye-roll.) At least it was job security for a bit. Job security is (was?) important because humans enjoy eating, having shelter, and general existence. Loss prevention begins with you.

Observing behavior is a big part of loss prevention. It’s part of the formula. Like Law&Order, you usually have to watch for 15-20 minutes before making an approach then spend 15-20 minutes discussing legal semantics. You do this for several reasons the main one is people are generally stupid and self absorbed while shopping. (Don’t be mad. I’m not the one with earbuds in, sunglasses on inside, holding a 64oz beverage, talking on my phone, and carrying at least three large bags.) You need to be sure they are intentionally concealing, tampering, and/or damaging property they do not own, and not just suffering IQ-loss from capitalism induced narcissism.

Generally speaking, people who are attempting to steal will also lie. They follow patterns based on reasons they may or may not shout at you. There are many ways you can enrage a customer who has not come directly to you for assistance. The most common way is to say anything remotely reasonable, like “Hello” or “Excuse Me.” The following are all answers to the question, “Can I help you find something?” after observing the customer place unpaid merchandise in their pocket/purse/pants/shirt/backpack/bag-from-another-store/stroller-with-no-baby/child’s diaper:

“Can I help you find something?”

  • “I’m not stealing!” A personal favorite. I am 100% not suspicious, at all. Well played.
  • “My hands are in my pockets!” This one is always a promise and a threat. In my experience there is a 98% chance that more than their hands will come out of those pockets. On average, 8/10 people who yell this will show you parts of themselves you never want to see. Working tourism based retail, the odds are not in your favor. Sadly, all our requests for eye-bleach went un-filled. (Apparently science was busy.) No matter how bad you may want to, you can’t un-see things. Later you will have to recall this encounter, in detail, as part of your job. Trauma, the gift that keeps giving!
  • “PORKCHOPSANDWICHES!” Thank you for sharing. Tell me more.
  • “I bought these earlier.” I love a good possibility disruption. This one’s like a Douglas Adams’ novel. So earnest! You really want to believe. 65% chance of tears and blessings. 20% chance of cursing with showers of patriarchy. People are like the weather. Wah-Wha.
  • “No.” Cool. The Jason Bourne approach. It will be the highlight of my day to recount our cat-and-mouse adventure to my comrades! It will take three beers to erase this encounter from your memory.
  • “I’m hungry.” There are people who steal to survive. These people steal things like condiments, unattended beverages or food, take-a-penny bins, rain panuchos, umbrellas, tips/tip jars, abandoned property, bags of groceries. To prevent this loss we really just need to be better humans. Victor Hugo wrote the defining work on the effects of criminalizing poverty. It was a door-stopper with a word count of over 500,000 words. Not a lot of people read it. He wrote it in 1862 and it was hauntingly relevant up to the end. The twitter response from our leaders, “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” was misunderstood as well. Especially out of context. Nobody ask the cow.

Legally speaking, there is a ‘reasonable person’ standard. This is a hypothetical person in society who exercises average care, skill, and judgment in conduct, and who serves as a comparative standard for determining liability. This is a hypothetical entity. It does not exist in real life. Anyone who has worked in customer service knows this. Individually and privately, a person can see reason and act responsibly. In public, especially if they spend money (or waste time), there are only dumb, panicky animals in need of assistance they are unlikely to accept. (As a teen, I worked food service at an internationally renowned previously-Wild Animal Preserve. After waiting two hours for me to hand them a plate of Kung-Pao Chicken with two sides of white rice and a Caesar Salad with ranch dressing, an adult woman asked if I could get her six-year-old in to “pet the Gorillas.” I didn’t know if I was suffering a mental break or if she was.) Customer service is about knowing how to respond to those who have lost their ability to be reasonable.

Most customer complaints are a direct result of (a) customers forgetting that the are not the center of the universe, (b) they don’t like what they are seeing (usually the price tag), (c) they are confused or angry about something they have little to no control over. In the great America of the early 20th, customer service was about getting things your way. Meat Patriarch seduced millions of Americans into eating their hastily prepared meat pucks by telling them they could chose which wilted vegetables and sugar sauces they would regret later. They offered a choice. We were so hungry for control we’d eat ourselves. Huzzah! I can have it MY way?! Shut up and take my money. All hail the Meat Patriarch! In the end it was still a meat puck. (But I customized it!) If you don’t want a meat puck, the choice of toppings is moo. Like a cow’s opinion. Nobody asked the cow. Cow has to be a meat puck, its the cow’s purpose in life. It exists only to nourish others. Meat Patriarch is not so magnanimous from the cow’s perspective. As a customer service professional, you often empathize with the cow. Especially because most customer complaints occur when a customer has looked around and realized they are a cow owned by the Meat Patriarch. (moo)

Entitlement is the number one enemy of customer service (and Christmas!) It also follows our Law&Order pattern. It usually takes 15-20 minutes and three Dun-Dun course corrections for an entitlement based customer complaint. The truly entitled, the cows who believe they are the Meat Patriarch, are the most upset by loss-prevention efforts and have the most trouble recognizing employees as humans with rights equal to their own. (I received a complaint that a customer witnessed an employee using the urinal in the public restroom. The employee’s peeing was unacceptable to them.) They are the same people who ask us to “do something” about the outdoor neighbors surviving on scraps and coins because they had to walk past them on their way from their dry, heated vehicle into a dry, heated store. “I mean, they’re right there! It’s bad for business. I won’t bring my child/parent/tourist down here because they are always around.” (This is generally followed by a statement of how much money they spend at the store. An amount exponentially higher than the amount needed to house the outdoor neighbor they are complaining about.) I have also heard, “One of them touched my car! What are you going to do about it?” Being a customer service professional, I recognized that they were suffering a break from reason. No reasonable person could possibly believe that a retail store employee (making a wage that keeps them one step away from joining the outdoor neighborhood population) can possibly have that much power or humanity to spare. (Dun-Dun!)

Less than 1% of complaints are a result of an employee’s choices in the moment. That being said, some employees do snap. My first collective horde had a legend of a dragon being fired for intentionally gassing a customer. The customer in question had lost all reason (he wanted to pay $2 for a $15 product) and was demanding attention from a more powerful dragon. (Fun Fact: cashiers get fired for discounting product. Discounting a product below cost is loss with a 99% chance of job-loss for the cashier.) The customer had taken to the couch to await the more powerful dragon’s return from lunch. He continued to shout insults at the staff for around 15-22 minutes. (Dun-Dun!) Our long-suffering hero had enough. He’d felt the pressure building within him. The opportunity would not present itself again. He walked past the customer and vented. He then waved the fumes toward the customer and said, “That’s for you.” Because $7.25 an hour is not enough. In conclusion, the dragon was fired for poor customer service and the customer paid $15 for the product. The dragon who got fired for farting became a legend, like Zorro. Would it be just to impose a singular burden, without conferring some adequate advantage?* The answer is no, Alex.

*Alexander Hamilton