Customer Service

Thirty-three. There are 33 senses in the human body. All these years we’ve had it wrong, believing there were only five senses.

During my childhood, my first-grade teacher would stand before our class and lead us in a cute little song about the five senses. We’d all do a little dance and wiggle our little bottoms. And it was all lies.

Because neurologists can identify 21 to 33 senses in the human body—depending on which neurologist you ask. Senses like taste, touch, smell, sight, and hearing are only the tip of the proverbial pyramid.

You have, for instance, equilibrioception: the sense of balance.

Nociception: perception of pain.

Proprioception: bodily awareness, and self-movement awareness.

Chronoception: sense of time.

Stupidception: awareness that oneself is an idiot.

I experienced the last sense when I was standing in line at the customer service desk today, where I began to feel like a Grade-A dipstick.

Let me start by saying that I am not a fan of Customer Service, and I dislike making returns at department stores. Namely, because when you return something, the process takes about as long as dental school. You can lose an entire decade standing in line.

When I got to the department store, there was a line stretching back to the Yukon Territory, and—as stipulated by U.S. Customer Service Law—there was only one register open. This register was operated by a young man who had the amiable personality of a pet rock.

When it was finally my turn the kid behind the counter asked for my receipt so that we could begin the return process.

This is where things went off the rails.

I explained that when my wife bought the item I was returning, she opted for a “paperless” transaction. Therefore the receipt was “emailed” to us. I showed him this email on my phone screen to show what I meant.

The kid informed me that he could not complete a return without a paper receipt.

“But I have the emailed receipt right here,” I said, showing him my phone once more.

He shook his head. “I cannot complete the return without a paper receipt.”

So I turned on my charm.

“Look, I get where you’re coming from. Honestly I do. But if you’ll just listen, I am showing you my receipt. Right here. On my phone. This receipt was emailed to me from this very store.”

“I cannot complete this return without a paper receipt.”

Okay. Change of plan.

“Do you have a printer?” I asked.


“A printer. We could print out this receipt and then, boom, you’ve got your paper. Problem solved.”

I could see his brain working. It was a real mind twister. In the end he went with: “I’m sorry, but I cannot complete this return transaction without a paper receipt.”

So I said a little prayer and tried another approach.

“Alright. Listen. Can you tell me something? What do you do with these paper receipts?”


“Just follow my logic here, Ryan. Your nametag says Ryan. Can I call you Ryan?”

He said nothing.

“Ryan, what is it that you physically do with these paper receipts?”

“Uh. I use them to type in a ten-digit number.”

“Perfect. There you go.”


“Crisis averted. Look right here.” I showed him my phone again and tapped the screen hard enough to crack the glass.

“Do you see this, Ryan? This is your ten-digit number. All you have to do is type this magic number into your magic computer and we can all go home.”

Long pause.

I could feel it coming.

“I’m sorry, but I cannot complete this transaction without a paper receipt.”

Security asked me to have a seat.

So I waited for the manager while department store music played overhead—something by Neil Sedaka. They told me the manager was on her “lunch break,” but would “be here shortly,” and P.S., “we appreciate your patience.”

I sat on a bench next to an old guy who had been waiting there since Memorial Day. He said he made the mistake of trying to use a 40-percent-off coupon.

We sat for upwards of an hour while the kid behind the service counter kept avoiding eye contact and waiting on other customers.

Finally the manager exited the back room, wiping bits of lobster from the corners of her mouth.

Round two.

I approached the counter again.

“What’s the problem here?” the manager asked.

I calmly explained my case again. I made sure Ryan was listening. The manager heard me out, then made a serious frowny face.

The manager said, “Hmmm. May I see your emailed receipt, sir?”


I gave the manager my phone, she glanced at my screen, then typed in the ten-digit number. And that was it. It was over. My return was finished. It took maybe four seconds.

I locked eyes with Ryan. And I believe he knew what I was thinking. He could see my thoughts plastered on my face. I was thinking that the human body has 33 senses, but anyone who stands in line at customer service has none at all.


  1. Harriet - September 9, 2021 7:58 am

    Really!! What the heck is wrong with humans these days!!
    Our culture is turning into robots and I want no part of it.

  2. Dean - September 9, 2021 9:06 am

    Hopefully next time he will know what to do and other people won’t have to wait. He was told paper receipts only and he was afraid to do anything different. Bless his heart and yours for having to wait

  3. Barbara - September 9, 2021 10:15 am

    I feel the same way about returns. Also feel your pain about service. It took me 4 phone calls to make an appointment for an MRI. Each time I was told “someone will call you”. That was the first week of June. I wrote and mailed a letter August 6th explaining the situation. Still no one called. Sept 7th I spent an hour on hold. After the first 20 minutes a recorded voice said “to hold your place in line if you want a call back enter your number”. So I did. The phone rang after a few minutes only to announce “there are no agents to call”! I called again and this time waited another half hour until I got a real live appointment secretary who made an appointment with the right department, while I waited. Months later I finally have the appointment. Lord have mercy. We can’t make sense out of nonsense.

  4. Karen Erwin-Brown - September 9, 2021 10:40 am

    my favorite, “Lady, I don’t make the rules. I just follow them.” the Lady part is always said with an eye roll.

  5. Joan Moore - September 9, 2021 11:06 am

    I feel your pain!

  6. Buddy King - September 9, 2021 11:32 am

    You were a lot kinder than I!

  7. Customer Service – Shhh… - September 9, 2021 11:35 am

    […] Customer Service […]

  8. Paul McCutchen - September 9, 2021 12:11 pm

    Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt………..It was to small so I was back in line……..

  9. Donna Barger - September 9, 2021 1:02 pm

    This is so typical of today’s society! A lot of the employees are not trained properly. I think I would make sure this store lost my business.

  10. Janet - September 9, 2021 1:25 pm

    I couldn’t help but laugh at your depiction of no common sense!!!! Thank you for giving me a much needed laugh, Sean.

  11. Trisha - September 9, 2021 1:38 pm


  12. Heather Miller - September 9, 2021 1:58 pm

    Do you know, Sean, that customer return ‘agents’ go to school to learn their words, and practice in front of a mirror for six weeks, before being turned loose on the public? All that indoctrination makes certain that his own thought process won’t kick in at any time, and ruin the image of the Return Clerk. There is also a reverse type of Return Clerk. That is the one who grabs what I’m returning, no words whatever are exchanged, scans my receipt to see if I’m smart enough to have the receipt from their store, stares at me to see if I am returning goods i have damaged myself, and that’s an intense look, slams the money down, no words, except NEXT!!

  13. Christina - September 9, 2021 2:38 pm

    You are gracious to end the column like that. Also, this should be required reading for all customer service representatives.

  14. Josie - September 9, 2021 2:49 pm

    Bless his heart!

  15. Suellen - September 9, 2021 3:02 pm

    Did you tell the manager that Ryan needs a little more training?

  16. Ann - September 9, 2021 3:08 pm

    Chuckles and soooo right on….thank you for this😂😂

  17. Linda Moon - September 9, 2021 3:42 pm

    There are two senses in your list that I have: proprioception (I like that one) and stupidception (not so fond of this one). Ryan the, automaton, did his job and nothing more. I know a few automatons who are missing some senses, but I still love them as humans, especially when they act like the rest of us who still like and possess paper and frequently use a smart brain to solve problems. You solved you problem very well, Human!

  18. Linda Moon - September 9, 2021 3:44 pm

    YOUR problem! YOU are not a problem.

  19. Camilla Reid - September 9, 2021 3:50 pm

    Sean, is it possible the customer service guy was afraid to buck his management. He was trained (badly) to accept only paper receipts. He may have been too intimidated by the supervisors in charge to kick the request up the chain of command. Maybe he wasn’t given any leeway for independent decision making and was scared to approach his manager. I hope management, too, learned a lesson from this encounter with you.

  20. Robert Smyth - September 9, 2021 4:24 pm

    Excellent!!!!!!! been there, got the T-shirt.

  21. Linda Moon - September 9, 2021 4:39 pm

    P. S. Spellcheck, the automaton, did not detect the correct use of my YOU vs. YOUR. But my brain did……just saying.

  22. Betty Higdon - September 9, 2021 5:32 pm

    I believe that was a lack of common sense!

  23. Peggy Alexander - September 9, 2021 6:00 pm

    I agree with Dean😊

  24. Karen Snyder - September 9, 2021 6:42 pm

    Patience is not and has never been my long suit, so sometimes it’s extremely difficult to practice Christian charity. God bless you for yours.

  25. Anne Arthur - September 9, 2021 6:45 pm

    Lack of training, lack of common sense, lack of understanding how things work, and lack of understanding that the customer is supposed to be king. Being king, the customer is also paying that boy’s salary. Where has he been when school was is session? Reading you, Sean, I felt my blood boiling. These things just happen too often and – I am sure – nearly every one of your readers has some kind of similar story to share.

  26. Donna Ivy - September 9, 2021 8:37 pm

    Bahaha! Thanks for the laugh! You rock, Sean!

  27. MAM - September 9, 2021 8:57 pm

    I greatly admire you for your patience and your classy last line. It’s the “customer” service clerk who had NO sense. Common sense died years ago, I believe with the onset of the computer age. When he said he types in the 10-digit number, if he had had even half an ounce of common sense, he could have figured that one out. Must have been his first day on the job. Wonder if it was his last? OR did he perhaps learn something from the encounter? One can only hope!

  28. Sandi. - September 10, 2021 9:04 pm

    I’m most definitely not a fan of having to deal with Customer Service at any store. Would rather have a root canal.

  29. Robert L Chiles - September 14, 2021 10:53 pm

    And then there is the Department of Motor Vehicles….


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