At a local 7-Eleven store, things took an abrupt turn toward the unwelcome one afternoon. For my near-home fuel stops I would frequent either this place or another brand on the opposite street-corner about equally, under the impression that neither of their corporate motherships harbored any particular negative attitude against barefooters. I had patronized both places without incident for some time. It was therefore a fairly rude shock when the kid in the 7-11, handing back my change, said he couldn't serve me next time if I didn't have shoes on to come into the store and pay. "We have a sign!" he insisted, which was in fact present but very small, and I'd never actually spotted it before. He wouldn't listen to the facts that such signs carry no legal weight and are nothing but discriminatory and unfriendly, and do nothing to promote business goodwill.
Huh?! I had dealt with this same employee several times in the past, and was always cheerfully served without comment, and now he had decided to 180 and attack a good-faith customer over something so harmless. He probably didn't even have authority to make operational decisions for the premises in the first place. I told him point-blank that if he persisted in this, there would be plenty of repercussions from on high. To correctly face my accuser, I asked his name [he had no nametag on his shirt] and he refused to give me one.
Okay, you're done, I thought. This was 100% idiotic, completely out of the blue, and compounded by flat-out arrogance.
I had already been thinking of approaching 7-Eleven after seeing a few unwelcoming signs at stores in other states, but having not actually been hassled during those visits I didn't have the motivation. But now it had gotten personal *and* local, after a long period with no problem, and it was seriously time to dig in and get this fixed. Now, one thing to understand is that none of this would ever come up at any location if I didn't go into the stores to pre-pay cash where I fuel up -- they certainly aren't out there patrolling around the fuel islands for errant unshod feet among the folks paying at the pump. Just like with any other type of establishment steeped in the misguided mythology, their prejudice only begins at the entrance door.
7-Eleven [as they always write it, not "7-11"] is another huge company, international in scope by now, and finding the necessary resources is not always easy. It is usually best to track down the corporate headquarters and/or website, which in these cases is often a separate site from the customer-facing commerce portal. At corp.7-eleven.com/corp/contact-us we find that their customer-relations department is listed in Dallas, but calling the 800 number lands ... bet you can guess where ... offshored to Manila, like almost every other call-center nowadays.
A brief cultural diversion
This is a bit of a mini-rant about call centers and culture clash. As much as anyone else who considers outsourcing a vile symptom of corporate greed, I generally don't like dealing with offshore service reps simply because they *are* often hard to understand and interact with. Despite various laudatory articles we find extolling their natural talents, I must disagree with what is said about workers in the Philippines. They frequently do not have fluent or clear delivery, let alone a good grasp of of our cultural nuances in the US. In this case that was important because the foot-phobia is not nearly as prevalent or pervasive in other countries, so it was now on me to give who I was talking to a clear picture of why this was an issue. The other annoying thing about Filipinos particularly is that they seem to spend far too much time apologizing for everything, in a sort of whiney strung-together speech pattern that tends to drone on for a long time and not let me actually finish explaining something. Anyone who's dealt with them knows exactly what I'm referring to here. I also don't trust that any of these offshore outfits have a good communication channel back to the companies that hire them, e.g. my words here could easily get misinterpreted, twisted around, inaccurately transcribed, and not stated clearly to people that actually mattered within 7-Eleven. I think I managed to express my case well enough, going slowly point by point, and then made sure about one more detail that's important in all such calls -- asked for and recorded the case number of the ticket that the rep had opened up and typed my saga into. With that, it's much easier to restore context on subsequent calls. And the way these companies work, there *will* be subsequent calls.
I'm sure Filipinos in call-centers are earnest and hardworking people, but the mannerisms I encounter in 90% of them do not seem appropriate to serving a US customer base or bridging culture gaps between here and there. There's a difference between polite and receptive, and just plain obsequious. [To a level like they're afraid that Duterte will personally come beat them up if they're not super-servile to their callers?] The usual long audio lag across an international call is also no help, as it's very easy to wind up talking over each other and that has an especially disruptive effect on their conversational stream. Then there's the additional frustration layered on before you even get to talk to anyone, from a call-queue machine rattling off the usual excuses about "due to high call volume, your hold time may be long". Hearing that never brightens anybody's day, and the obvious right answer is to STAFF UP those callcenters, maybe bring more of those JOBS back to our own country, and actually HANDLE the real-life load in a way that the customer base can relate to and understand.
Mini-rant off. At least that market has moved away from heavily-accented Indians named "Bob".
With my incident submitted and reference number in hand, I was told that a "field consultant" would get back to me within 72 hours to follow up. Well, that's what we're always told, isn't it. A week or so later no such call had arrived, so I dug further into the corporate infrastructure to find alternative recourse. The section "Corporate Headquarters/Store Support Center" seemed likely, albeit with a non-tollfree number, but by then I had just gotten my new phone backed by an unlimited talk/text account! Time to put that to good use, along with a likely opportunity to run the battery down while on hold, in the process of fully cycling the new cell a couple of times. While memory effects are a thing of the past with modern lithium packs, a round or two of full discharge/charge cycling allows the *phone* to better learn the working capacity it has on board. Anyway, my call to the "support center" got to an operator fairly quickly, and after a little explanation forwarded to the voicemail [invariably, these people are *never* at their desks] of someone who was supposedly a customer escalation manager.
It took a couple more insistent calls to that number, but I finally got someone in that department to call me back -- and interestingly, they had managed to look up the case by my phone number so I didn't even need to supply the ticket number I had. I basically asked them to light a fire under said regional manager's butt and get him to actually handle the complaint. There was some mutter about someone having tried and failed to call and that the ticket might have gotten closed, which sounded like total bullshit, and I asserted that it needed to stay open until I actually obtained some resolution.
The regional guy called quite early the next morning, and over the course of the day we had a couple of pleasant conversations. The astounding factor was that he still thought there were health codes against bare feet -- almost in the same sentence as "I've been in food for a lotta years". This is how pervasive the bad mythology is -- kids grow up thinking it's law and gospel and they see all those damned signs that cement the idea into their heads, and never go actually research whether it's true or not. At least this guy listened while I debunked his myths one after the other, and said he'd check in with the municipal health inspector and get back to me. In between the calls I went for a nice hike in local woods, and on the way home stopped in and talked to the owner of the store in question -- who had also talked with the regional manager that morning. I described my interactions to date and handed him one of my compact 5 myths sheets, suggesting that his understanding of its content would help him in his further conversations with the regional guy.
Somewhat to my surprise, he took it all in a friendly way and apologized for the way I had been treated, and said that I would be welcome in his store any time without regard to what might be on my feet or not. He understood the facts, along with the bearing on his business of trying to ignore them. He probably didn't expect to have the corporate leviathan coming after him over something like this, and was probably pretty angry with his employee for bringing on such trouble.
** Score! **
Success at the local level is nice, and has a pleasant personal feel to it. I thanked the franchisee for his reasonableness and expressed my renewed intention to keep my money flowing his way like always. The regional manager called again a while later to confirm all this and the results of his own inquiries, so clearly I was "all set" here. But my earlier conversation with him kept bothering me -- the fact that someone at a management level "in food" didn't know the realities, and it clearly wasn't just him but likely the same sad situation duplicated at many other points within the 7-Eleven infrastructure. This had to stop, especially when much of their industry competition had already adopted a more enlightened posture. Remediation needed to be effected on a far larger scale than just one store or one employee.
To that end I was back on the corporate-headquarters line again later, trying to reach anyone in that same escalation department so I could submit another incident to reference the first and ask to widen the solution scope. I didn't trust the offshore route anymore, and concentrated my efforts on the corporate point. This took a few frustrating days of sporadically trying and never reaching a human and worse, never having voicemails returned. The receptionists I kept reaching at that number were basically useless as far as helping me track down an actual person to talk to. It really started to feel like they were desperately trying to ignore the whole thing and hope I'd just go away. Guess what opposite effect that kind of ivory-tower stonewalling is likely to produce? Sorry, I wasn't going to get dinged at some other equally misinformed 7-Eleven location and have to go through this crap all over again. A week or so later, I finally decided to try the email address also listed on that contact page, and sent this in.
In the months that followed after my chat with the owner, the little sign remained in place by the door but the people at the counter once again seemed consistently happy to serve. I saw the owner and probably his wife on some visits, but interestingly, I never again saw the kid who had accosted me. Perhaps my "you're done" assertion had come true. Ron had vaguely mentioned the possibility of slicing off the part of the sign about shoes, but apparently nobody ever followed up on that. It would still be worth doing because the longer such signs sit there, the more people are increasingly duped to believe that such total illogic is the law of the land.
So for the moment I've marked 7-Eleven as a "green", figuring that if I had prevailed at the regional level and Corporate didn't want to talk about it at all, I'd basically be in the right at any location. That's not a standing guarantee against harassment, as any store employee could operate on their own prejudices, but I have a case number to reference when I might need to file another escalated complaint with a new store number. Basically, it's time to simply not let any of them get away with it, and view this as an ongoing project with a clearly visualized outcome.
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