Serving the public can be a tricky job. The conventional wisdom is that the customer is always right but of course they are not. In a world where many have raised taking offence to an art form and where standards of political correctness demand the avoidance of potentially hurtful truths, serving the public is like walking on hot coals. You don’t want to cause upset, lose the business or harm the reputation of the company, but with some customers you have really got your work cut out.
I ran a bridal shop for many years and there is nobody more sensitive than a bride to be. I jumped through hoops to keep people happy and it is a difficult task when people are oblivious of or simply do not want to hear the truth. How do you tell someone that they need a plus size dress when they are totally deluded? Few women would admit to be anything large than a size 16 when they were often 5 or more sizes larger. I was regularly accused of having made a mistake with the measurements and it was often suggested that the labels in the dresses must be wrong.
I even had an outraged woman ask me if I was calling her fat. She was fat, huge in fact, but of course I couldn’t say that and I didn’t. I did, however, have to take her measurements and inform her that she would have to pay a surcharge because of the size she required. I probably would have fared better if I had accused her of being a terrorist!
Just getting the brides to be realistic about what they could try on was a major mission. I would always ask the brides to pick out some dresses that they wished to try and pointed out that the sizes where clearly marked. Nonetheless I would often be presented with a selection of gowns into which they would struggle to get one leg let alone their entire body.
Is there a diplomatic way of saying that someone needs a much larger size? No matter how many elaborate phrases I evolved to skirt around the subject I still managed to upset some customers but the issue could not be ignored. Without discussing size the brides wouldn’t get as far as trying anything on let alone ordering a dress. Heaven knows what these people were seeing when they looked in the mirror. One girl even complained that my nice wall mirrors were distorting her image. They weren’t!
It is a terrible dilemma. The truth offends but without raising the issues the customer cannot be helped to achieve a successful outcome and I don’t just mean finding the right dress. Personal hygiene was another hot potato. Some women frankly stank which was unpleasant for the staff and unfortunate for other customers who wanted to try on the dresses after the smelly brides had left. We were using a huge volume of Fabreeze to eliminate nasty niffs but had to draw the line at telling customers that they were smelly.
I sometimes wonder if I should have adopted the attitude of one mother of the bride who visited the shop with her daughter. When the bride complained that a dress made her look fat, the mother said “that is because you are fat dear”.
Sally Stacey is a keen writer and bridal professional who has encountered some very awkward customers.