Monday, July 2, 2012

Dear Feminists

Dear Feminists,

I love you!

We talk a lot about the terrible customer service that we receive.  Women get bad customer service all of the time simply because we're women.  People of color get bad customer service.  Fat people.  Poor people.  The list goes on.

It's great that we talk about it.  It's important to hear each other's stories.  It's cathartic and it's important feminist work to get those experiences out there.  When I hear stories from people with similar experiences I feel reassured: it's not just me, I'm not imagining these things.  When I hear stories from people with different experiences, I learn about them and their oppression, and I become a better ally.

It's also important to hold the people giving bad customer service accountable for it.  I would love it if you'd go home and write a letter to the corporate office every time you were treated poorly just for being fat, or being a woman, or for being/being perceived as something on the patriarchy's current list of don'ts.

I know that you may not always (or even usually) have the spoons for it, and I respect that.  I know, too, that this may seem like an individual answer to a systemic problem that's just not worth it.  But I believe that it's a small act with the potential to make a big difference.

Write directly to the corporate office.  Postal mail is best.  Mention the specific location where the incident happened (there's usually an address and store number on the company's website).  If they send any sort of note of apology or coupon in response, go back to the store and see if things have improved.  If not, let them know.

Sometimes, the person treating you like shit treats you that way because of a larger corporate culture.  At other times, the management may overall be decent but you've run into a bad employee who's letting his prejudice affect his work.  Let these companies know that you are a paying customer, that you will spend your money elsewhere, and that you'll spread the word to your friends and family.

People act as if in a capitalist economy, the bottom line is all that matters, and if you don't put your money where your mouth is, it makes no difference.  Fine.  Then if a corporation treats me like shit, I'll stop patronizing it.  But walking away in silence doesn't make as much of a difference if they have no idea that they're losing a customer, or that they're also losing out on more potential business because I've used word of mouth against them.

Word of mouth press is one of a company's best advertising resources.  Whether it works for or against them, it's a powerful tool.  If you're willing to sit down and write a letter, they'll believe that you're willing to mention the incident to your friends and family.  Companies know how easy it is to spread information through social media.  Tell them that you've tweeted about it or that you've told everyone on Facebook.

I've heard people say, "If they've already lost you as a customer, then they won't care."  That's not how it works.  If they know that they've lost me, then they've been alerted to a problem.  They'll worry about how many other customers they'll lose to the same factor.  They'll try to repair the hole.

One letter from one disgusted customer may not make an international corporation give its employees a feminism test.  But the more voices they hear from, the better.  The more customers they realize they're losing, the more they'll train their employees to treat all customers well, regardless of gender, sexuality, race, and so on.

When you come home filled with contempt and ready to write that letter, know that other feminists in town are doing the exact same thing, and raise your pen in solidarity with them.

With love,
Frank Lee

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