Policies lacking human element

Breaking points. We all have them.
And sometimes these breaking points come at times that seem slightly strange, hardly warranted, but it is the accumulated affect usually—the last straw so to speak.
I witnessed someone hit that wall during my Christmas shopping (not on my top 10 list of favourite pastimes).
Let me set the backdrop. This woman bought Christmas jammies for her family from a fairly well-known specialty shop for such things. Boxers, one-sies, baby sleepers, nightgowns—all in various Christmas prints.
Following her purchase, she discovered on the store’s website that she could get matching jammies with better sizing options. She placed the order happy to have found this solution.
Returning the not-fitting-properly and not-matching purchases to the store was the final manoeuvre in her Christmas plan. That’s where things went terribly wrong.
She came into the store while I was shopping and was ready to do business. She explained her story to the clerk. Just one tiny problem. The store does not do refunds; in-store credit only.
The customer was dumbfounded, shocked, and speechless but never angry. After she tried to absorb this situation, she began to cry. She removed herself to a corner to try and regain her composure, abandoning her purse on the counter.
The store clerk apologized and reconfirmed that it was store policy and her hands were tied. And she pointed to the very small sign next to the cash register that stated amidst some mumbo jumbo about the no-refund policy.
“I don’t know what to do,” the woman quietly repeated, trying to control her tears. She explained about being from out of province and having limited funds, and certainly no need for store credit, and her silent crying continued. “I don’t know what to do.”
I caught the clerk’s eye. She shrugged at me, mouthing the store policy, pointing to the micro-sized sign. I kept staring, unblinking, raising my eyebrows.
“Do the right thing,” I was saying.
She went to the phone and called her regional manager. I could not hear the conversation, but she returned to the check-out counter and asked the woman to smile for her; that her regional manager had given her permission to do a refund.
The woman tried hard to smile but I know she was just at the end of her rope. Long story short, the woman got her refund. The store did the right thing having not lost any revenue and everyone went away happy, or at least relieved.
But I was reminded that we are all human and some days our coping skills are all but consumed with the realities of every-day life. Business policies should have a human element to them; remembering that life doesn’t fall into straight lines and tidy packages.
Life is dirty and messy and awkward and uncomfortable at times, and things happen outside our control. This store clerk did the right thing, but so did the customer, allowing herself to just crumble and be in the moment—be the real version of herself without anger and accusations.
She was just very human and I admired her for this.
And I will be reminded of her when I am feeling despair, when I witness despair in others, especially at this time of year, and I will exercise a little understanding with a good serving of compassion.