How to Look Like an Idiot without Really Trying

Dolphin BalloonThe little girl at the florist counter waited patiently, money in hand, while the clerk worked to look busy. When I entered the area, the employee cheerfully asked, “May I help you?” I simply pointed at the child in front of me.

The clerk-without-a-clue audibly sighed as she looked down at the annoyance in front of her, before muttering, “What do you want?

Undaunted by the obvious disdain, the child politely said, “Do you have a dolphin balloon?

A what?

A dolphin balloon. It is shaped like a dolphin. I had one, but it…

NO! We don’t.

Yesterday the lady told me you would have them today. Was there a problem with the order?

The clerk looked more annoyed. “We don’t have one, accept it already.

Tears started to well in the big blue eyes. Blinking hard, the dolphin princess started to turn away. I looked at the rack next to the clerk and saw the balloon. I touched the girl’s shoulder and said, “hold on a minute,” walked past the clerk and picked up the balloon.

When I handed it to the clerk, I told her that it was the balloon the girl wanted. She responded, “How was I supposed to know?

If you didn’t know, why did you say you didn’t have it?

I didn’t think that we did.

Why didn’t you look?

I didn’t think it was important.

Really? What do you think now? Because if you don’t think that this child is important as a customer, I need to know if that is your opinion or company policy. If it is your opinion, you’re wrong. If it is company policy, I’m in the wrong store.

I’m sorry. Your questions are above my pay grade.

The conversation was over. I was speechless.

Who do you know that is a person-without-a-clue?

Unfortunately, too many people today that think like that clerk. If they are your employees, your company is in trouble. If you are one of them, guess why you’re not getting rich. Or, promoted. Or, hired.

Actions speak louder than words. The best mission statements and customer care policies don’t mean anything when people are treated poorly. Signs of customer disdain appear everywhere from direct marketing campaigns to social media communities. You may not see them within your company, but I guarantee your customers do.

Check your organization (or yourself) for these idiotic actions:

  • Offering better discounts to prospects than you offer to your loyal customers. You simply can’t get away with this today. Every promotion you create is posted online, so everybody knows what you are offering. Keep yourself out of trouble by offering better discounts to established customers. It gives your prospects another reason to become one.
  • Encouraging people to reach out to you and then ignoring their response. Asking people to comment, answer a tweet, email, or call creates the expectation that a conversation is beginning. Failing to respond is rude and disappointing to the people who make the effort to connect with you. Keep it up and one day there’ll be no responses.
  • Making it hard for people to contact you or your company. If you don’t want people to contact you, become a fire spotter for the Park Service. If you want to be in business, the more accessible, the better. Yes, some people will abuse the opportunity, but you can deal with them on an individual basis. People are more trusting when you make your email address and telephone number readily available.
  • Sending emails with a “Do Not Reply” return address. This is the best way to tell your customers, “I expect you to listen to me, but I don’t care what you have to say.” Make your email marketing social by including a real return address and inviting people to use it.
  • Pretending that you know something you don’t. No one knows everything, not even when it comes to his or her organization. If you don’t know the answer to a question about your business, tell your customer or prospect that you don’t know, but will find out. And, do it quickly. If you are asked a question outside your area of expertise, refer the person to someone who knows. Pulling answers out of a hat is idiotic.
  • Making snide comments. It doesn’t matter if you are talking to the employee next to you or tweeting to the universe. Sarcasm doesn’t play well to most audiences. What happens when you see tweets like this? “I wish I could post the email I just received online to show you what this imbecile said.” Or, “Note to self – don’t talk to idiots.” Do you think that you would like to reach out to this person? Or, do you feel a little grateful that you didn’t send that email or talk to the person? Me, too.

People know the difference between sincerity and manipulation.

It may take them a while to figure out where you fit in, but they will. When they do, if you are on the manipulation side, you will be excluded from their life.

Make sure that you are genuinely trying to help them resolve issues and make their life better. If you do that, they’ll become lifelong customers. Fans. Advocates. Community members. Whatever you want to call them, they’ll be yours.

I’m sure you have more examples of how individuals and companies show disdain for their most valuable assets with idiotic actions. Please share in the comments.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Marjorie Clayman @RLMadMan

    I kind of thought your story was going to go that way. Sadly, because I am a little person, I often get treated exactly like that child.

    Huge props to you for stepping in. Some people are unbelievable in a bad way. You were unbelievable in a good way 🙂
    .-= Marjorie Clayman @RLMadMan´s last blog ..Social Media Success Depends on T&ampA =-.

  • Debra Ellis

    Thank you for your kind words and comment, Marjorie. I’m vertically challenged, too so I know what it’s like for people to look past me. We’ll have to get together and compare notes sometime.

  • Dan Collins

    We need more messages like this. Simple, clear illustrations of the important things in business. Treat others how you would like to be treated. Care more than others think is wise. Give more than others think is practical and be more than others believe is necessary.

  • Suzanne Vara


    It is amazing how some people treat others. Whether it be a child or an adult who is a little person, a person’s height should not dictate the level of customer service they receive. I know that it does so many times.

    What is truly astounding is the composure of the little girl as she was sure of herself with telling the clerk that the lady yesterday said that it would be in stock. I know when I was younger I would have ran away once she said they did not have it. The child here was clearly teaching the adult how to act.

    Thanks for sharing and Marjorie is a wonderful person whom I admire. She is on my list of must meet!

  • Debra Ellis


    Thank you for your comment. Every thing one needs to know about making a business success is in your words. When people are treated well, the other stuff falls in place.

  • Debra Ellis


    You’re right in saying that the quality of service shouldn’t be dictated by the characteristics of the customer. It does happen all too often. When managers use analytics to replace floor time, they miss the realities in their customers’ world. There has to be a balance between metrics and hands on. If there isn’t time for both, they should spend more time with their customers.

    I’m with you on the running away. I wouldn’t have dared to question the clerk.

    I hope to meet Marjorie one day, too. Maybe we could do it together! I enjoy chatting with her online.

    Thank you for commenting.

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