Sunday, April 01, 2007

Want a Job Done Right?

I'M SURE YOU CAN offer the traditional rejoinder to that opening. In my case, it would have ensured that a good deed actually got done Saturday morning, and a wonderful supervisor would be admiring a fresh bouquet of flowers. Here's how this went awry.

Back on March 22, I slithered out of the office and took the train up to the Flower District in Manhattan. I had decided to get flowers for my supervisor on the Saturday following our last day. I knew she would be cooped up that weekend to work on her graduate thesis, so something to brighten up the joint might lift her spirits and cut her stress. For everything she's done for our crew and me in particular, some flowers are the very least I could do to thank her.

I entered the shop that had come up in my Internet search. I stood at the front counter for a minute until the guys busily assembling arrangements directed me to the back. There, a flustered, pear-shaped clerk took down all pertinent details, including the card. I never have this text cued up when I order flowers; next time I need to write it beforehand to spare myself the homina-homina act.

The clerk put the info into the computer, then ran my credit card through, only to have the system freeze up. The card wasn't rejected, but whatever was supposed to have happened clearly wasn't. The clerk tapped various keys on the antiquated box in a mounting panic, then went into the back to seek help. A second employee managed to get the receipt to print, which I signed. With the first clerk's card in hand, I headed back to the office, my secret plan for March 31 smiling in my chest.

Despite there being a confirmation number on the receipt, I neglected to call and verify the order earlier during this crazy week. I've never had problems with flower deliveries in the past, so I don't have the instinct to mother-hen this sort of thing. I figured I would hear from her sometime Saturday morning, and as I went to bed Friday night, I looked forward to her reaction.

Said reaction never came. The delivery time passed, then receded hour by hour into the past, without any call from my supervisor. This was odd. She is a gracious and conscientious person, and I was sure I'd at least get an email, a good option considering how busy she might be. Earlier in the morning, I had sent her a test PDF to see if we could exchange marked-up files (I do copyediting for her), so I called around 2:00 to see if she had gotten anything. If her reaction was deadpan, I'd just refer to the files, and assume the flowers were late; if they had gotten there, I'd definitely know. Unfortunately, her phone was off, so I left this info in a message that may or may not have gotten through.

By 4:00 I was dying. What the hell? Even if, for some bizarre, planetary-alignment mischance type of reason, she had somehow misinterpreted the gesture, she would have called to let me know it wasn't appreciated. But that's not the relationship we have — I knew she wouldn't read anything into it — and I knew deep down if she had gotten the flowers, she'd have called to say something. So I called the florist in a mounting wave of frustration.

I got a different clerk than the one who had taken the order. I calmly explained that I wanted to confirm that flowers had gone to such-and-such a person. There was still a chance that somehow they had reached her apartment building while she had taken a brief, ill-timed stroll around the corner or something, and I at least wanted to rule that out.

The clerk looked up the number and found nothing. I gave him her name. No hits. My name — zero. Further, he couldn't find the receipt I had signed. He asked repeatedly to confirm that I had ordered the particular arrangement, took my name and that of my friend several times, but he couldn't locate the white credit slip. I asked if I would have to haul ass from Jersey to show him my yellow copy, but I stopped short of a boiling rant when he put me on hold to search again. No luck. The clerk stammered an explanation for the odd absence, but the message I was getting was that my order had never made it from that shop to the place in my super's neighborhood that would assemble and deliver the bouquet.

My anxiety of earlier that day was replaced by building fury, but I knew yelling was going to solve nothing. When I get angry, my reaction is to speak slowly in short, terse sentences. I say less rather than more. I force the other person to speak. Partly to put them off balance at my silence, and partly to stop myself from shrieking at them — and most problems are genuinely not worth that sort of surge in blood pressure or the energy that could be devoted to finding a solution.

I did want to verify the facts first. "So the upshot of all this is my friend never got her flowers?"

The clerk danced around confirming this. "There's no record of this order going to the florist I would usually send them to in [neighborhood]—"

"What is the number of that florist?"

The clerk gave me the name and number, and volunteered to put me on hold while he called them. I agreed; I also wanted to verify the lack of transmission before going to the next step. Keep in mind that I've already been on the phone for 20 minutes here, with several on-holds while this guy searched through a kludgey computer system that, as I observed on my visit, was running — barely — Windows 98.

The clerk returned and said his satellite florist had no record of either the order or the recipient's name.

Deep breath. Repeat. "What is our next step?"

Here the clerk offered to make up the order and send it ASAP. I told him the impact would have been greater had the order gone out earlier, and that I would like the charge removed from my bill. I know this was the moment when my bargaining power was greatest, but when people fail me like this, I want nothing more to do with them. He could do nothing more for me. The next course was already set.

"You've failed me for the last time, Admiral."

This began another 10 minutes of the clerk searching for the white copy of my charge slip, finally locating it, my being on hold, and eventually being called back to give my full credit card info — and meanwhile I'm trying to get on with my life by changing into my gym clothes — during which the clerk contacted the credit service through which all of their charges were processed. He said they would be able to remove the charge by the end of the day. Later consultation with my credit card cust-serv line revealed that the service has 14 days in which to do this. I will give them through the weekend and then have my card delete the charge. No rest for the wicked.

The clerk was sincerely upset that this order had not gone through. "I know we're not your favorite people right now," he said, but he offered an upgrade to a future order placed with them. It crossed my mind to have them up the order I had tried to place by 50% and let them eat shipping and handling, but honestly, I couldn't justify giving them any of my money at this point. Denial of service is the only recourse a small consumer like me has against a vendor. "It's nothing personal, Sonny," to quote Michael Corleone, "it's strictly business." I thanked him for his kind offer, and told him I would start by having the charge removed and proceed from there.

At this point I was standing next to my car in the parking lot. I drove to the gym, bashed my way through an anger-venting monster workout, and, upon returning, placed the same order through the satellite florist in my super's neighborhood for delivery before Monday at noon. If I couldn't beautify her apartment during a long week of homework, I could at least make her first Monday of unemployment a little sweeter. Plus, I like the inscription I gave on this order better than that on the aborted one.

I suppose I shouldn't phrase the situation like this, seeing as I have routed around it, but I am thankful that this was not an order for a wedding, or worse, a funeral. I could have cancelled this and my super never would have been the wiser. I did briefly consider not doing it, thinking this might have been a sign that it was not to be for some good reason. Pure fancy; I'm of a realistic, Han Solo–type mindset when it comes to that shit. Sometime tomorrow morning, while I am receiving my orientation at the career-planning firm, I very much hope she will receive this order. Failing that, I suppose I'll be doing some driving on Tuesday and do this job myself.

UPDATE: The flowers arrived on time on Monday. She dug them. Mission accomplished.

UPDATE 2: The charge has been removed from my card. Back to DEFCON 5.

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