I went shopping to a store I’ve been to many times. When I couldn’t find the item I wanted, I was directed to the store’s other location in town. Things did not go well. Here in redacted email form is the conversation that ensued between me and the company’s representative.
Dear Company Representative:
Yesterday, after being unable to find an item I wanted at one of your two local stores, I was directed to the second store to see if the item was available there. When I walked in a woman approached and asked if my dog is a service dog. My dog was in “uniform”, so I looked quizzically at her. This time she mouthed “service dog?” I turned my dog to his side so the woman could see the identifying signs on his vest. She nodded and motioned for me to continue through the store, as if giving me permission to be there. Then she turned to an aisle where a group of employees was busy and in a very loud voice said, “There is a service dog in the store. The service dog is OK, it is with a woman who is hard of hearing.”
I was shocked! For her to inform what amounted to the entire store that a) a service dog was present and b) she believed that I am hard of hearing is a violation of my privacy and a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
When I realized the item I sought was not there I left the store but was still quite bothered by the incident. I returned to the store and asked the woman if I could speak to her privately. I asked why she felt the need to do what she did. She informed me it was because a week ago a woman came in with a dog she claimed was a service dog, but it was not.
This in and of itself is interesting. How did she know the dog was not a valid service dog? Did the woman confess or did the employee simply discern in some magic way that the dog was an imposter? Regardless, I did not ask her this but still I would like to know.
I told the employee it was rather obvious by my dog’s uniform and behavior that he is a valid service dog. I also told her she violated my privacy by disclosing what she believed to be my disability to everyone and that her actions violated the ADA. She replied that she understood disabilities because of her other job where she works with people who have disabilities all day. That she works with people who have disabilities might be true, but she certainly does not understand them or the ADA or applicable state laws.
She did not seem to think there was a problem and offered to have me speak to a manager. I declined, telling her the problem was between the two of us.
I left feeling frustrated and angry. Clearly this woman has never been trained in the issues of disability etiquette, service animals and the Americans with Disabilities Act and as a result she represented your store in a way that both hurt and angered me. I have been to that store previously and never encountered a reception such as that.
I strongly suggest you provide training to your employees and tell them making assumptions about any customers can lead down a very dangerous road. I hope you will be able to tell me such training is planned and will be conducted very soon.
Dear Unhappy Customer,
I do not know where to begin. First, I want to apologize about the poor treatment you received. I assure you we do not ever want to make anyone feel not welcome into our stores. I am not sure who the person is but I will be working with the General Manager of the store to find the employee who said these things about and to you. Then we will work with this employee to instruct the proper way to approach this situation. The proper way is to treat all our customers the same.
Second, you are correct we will set up a training tool to provide training to employees and tell them making assumptions about any customers can lead down a very dangerous road. I will also roll this training tool out to the entire Company.
Lastly, I want to thank you for your business and your email. Without our customers letting us know our areas of needed improvement we would not be able to provide the service our customers deserver.
Dear Company Representative,
Thank you for your rapid reply. I also appreciate that you were as appalled by this incident as I was and that you are willing to implement training to prevent it from happening in the future.
If I might suggest some resources…
http://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm The Dept. of Justice’s technical bulletin about businesses and service animals.
http://www.iaadp.org/ The International Association of Assistance Dog Partners website with information about assistance dogs, their training and their tasks. In the magazine you can read about individual partners and how having a guide, hearing or service dog has changed their lives for the better.
http://www.assistancedogsinternational.org/ This is an group that accredits organizations that train and partner service dogs, guide dogs and hearing dogs. There is a lot of information about service dogs and their training. My dogs have come from an ADI accredited training facility.
I would truly like it if you would keep me apprised or your progress.
Thank you again.
Not So Unhappy Me
Dear Not So Unhappy Customer,
Thank you for your support. I will pass along your valued information and have it be part of our instruction.
Thank you again,
Where did this company representative go right? He responded almost immediately to my email, understanding that this was a big screw up on the part of one of the company’s employees. He understood that said screw up could lead to bad publicity, a complaint filed with the Department of Justice or even a lawsuit. By responding quickly and by accepting what I told him at face value without calling me a liar or in some way blaming me for whatever might have happened he became a friend and an ally. The best thing he did was apologize. I firmly believe three of the most powerful words in the English language are “I am sorry.” He was sympathetic and promised to address the problem quickly both at the local store level and throughout the company. He accepted my offered resources with grace and gratitude.
In other words, the company representative headed off a potential disaster.
What would I have liked him to do? At one point I asked him to keep me updated, to let me know of his progress. At no time did he ever promise this. So, how do I know he will do what he says? I don’t. I have to take his word for it. But, we now have a minor relationship. I am likely to trust him. And, since I now have his name and email address, I have the ability to contact him in a few months to see how things are going.
All in all this was a very good way for him to handle the situation.
Don’t be afraid to apologize. Don’t be afraid to hold a conversation with the unhappy customer or client. Lay out a plan of action and keep to it. Fix the problem and you make the situation better. It is all very simple.
If you fail to do this, things become very ugly and very expensive.