Last night (24th June) at about 9 p.m. I visited the Horsham branch of Sainsbury’s to try and speak with Chris LaForte who had telephoned me to deal with my previous complaint concerning an incident on Sunday May 11th 2008.
All my previous efforts to telephone the store had failed because the telephone was never answered – day after day. Yesterday I spoke to Mat Rownsly at your Head Office on extension 54356 about this. He had told me the store would telephone me yesterday, which it didn’t. Hence my personal visit in order to progress this complaint issue.
Imagine my astonishment when the Horsham store exhibited yet another example of how to alienate customers and behave seriously badly. This is what happened.
I went to the customer service desk, where I politely enquired if Chris LaForte was in. When I was informed he was on annual leave, I commenced explaining why it was I needed to speak to him in the hope someone else could address this matter.
In the course of that explanation I mentioned it referred to my complaint about a previous incident at the store where had been erroneously ‘ banned’. I said to the member of staff I was speaking to, that as I thought she had been present at that previous incident, she would probably remember it. For some curious reason I do not understand she denied being there and said she had no knowledge of me being ‘banned’.
Informing her that I would then wait until Chris LaForte was back at work, I went off to buy just one item, some cream.
As I was peering at the cream shelf, a man dressed in a Sainsburys uniform sidled up to me and said “I’m going to have to ask you to leave the store immediately’.
When I attempted to talk to him in a perfectly normal manner he behaved in a similar manner to the previous Store manager – Matt Engell.
He refused to talk to me, he was aggressive and confrontational and behaved in a manner which would wind any person up and instantly make them feel completely abused and very, very angry.
Every time I opened my mouth to say anything at all, the Store manager behaved as though I was assaulting him or otherwise being violent or abusive. He was incredibly confrontational, in other words, and quite determined not to engage in conversation of any kind. This kind of behaviour can only be considered thoroughly abusive and an intentional effort to generate conflict. It was stunningly ignorant behaviour.
I imagined Sainsbury’s would be training staff on how to avoid and defuse conflict rather than gratuitously generating it out of thin air.
Actually, I was being exceptionally civilised, calm and polite in every sense – and not yet angry, but trying very hard not to become so. And as I saw how he was behaving in a ludicrous manner which would guarantee to be extremely offensive towards anyone, I stopped myself being wound up and sucked into his ridiculous mindset of violent anger and confrontation towards me. It took a great effort on my part to avoid this store manager achieving his obvious intention of being offensive, winding a perfectly civilised person up without good reason, and generally attempting to cause a major confrontation.
In his defence, I have to say it subsequently became obvious that his behaviour is entirely a product of both his training and the apparently aggressive ethos among staff at that particular Sainsbury’s store.
Remaining very calm and speaking quietly, I had to repeat myself many times to ask him if I could speak to him, as he was deliberately preventing any conversation taking place by simply continuing endlessly to angrily tell me to leave the store, and continually talking over me and telling me he would not speak to me and asking me to be quiet and not to speak to him.
Eventually, when he saw I was going to continue to be calm and polite, he deigned to reluctantly allow a conversation to take place. I asked him what on earth he was on about asking me to leave the store without any explanation and without allowing any normal conversation to take place.
He then told me the customer service woman had spoken to him over the internal communications system. He informed me I had just told her about my spurious banning and the complaint I had made to Head Office etc which is why I had come to the store to speak with Chris LaForte.
That is why he had come over to me to tell me to leave – on the instructions of this service counter woman who had told me she knew nothing about me being banned when I had asked her, and had only been told about the matter by myself a few moments earlier.
This duty store manager then told me he had been present at the previous event concerning Mr Engell, and because he had been told by the unbelievable security woman who caused the problem in the first place that I was ‘violent’, he had assumed I was going to be violent when he spoke to me and asked me to leave the store.
As the situation at that moment began to calm down as, with great difficulty, I persuaded him to allow me to speak to him as you might normally expect, he then sheepishly apologized to me for being so confrontational and clearly indicated he was acting on the basis of instructions relating entirely to the previous incident and the erroneous idea that I was somehow a ‘troublemaker’ of some kind.
He then explained that now, as we were having a polite and civil conversation ( which he said he ‘had not expected’) he no longer felt it necessary to be confrontational in the manner I have previously described.
It then became utterly clear to me that I might equally be speaking to Mr Engell who had behaved in an identical manner the previous occasion. Then, on the instructions of the slightly lunatic security woman who had shrieked at me that I was (previously) banned and had pressed a panic button.
The point here is that both Mr Engell and this second store manger (a Mr Serotas, I think) both behaved towards me as though they automatically assumed and expected me to be violent and abusive when in fact I had never been so on either of the two occasions.
In fact, both these store managers were effectively acting on the instructions of the security woman who had accused me of being banned and pressed a panic button.
At the time of the first incident, when I was trying, but failing, to speak to Mr Engell ( he was refusing to allow me to say anything at all to him and was just repeating his instruction to me to ’get out of the store because I was banned’). The lunatic security woman had shouted at me and Mr Engells she had banned me ‘for being rude to her’.
I distinctly recall the security woman aggressively shouting at me the precise words – the very first words she uttered – “you’ve been banned from the store, I think, haven’t you ?”
Bearing in mind that some huge percentage, 60%, I think, of communication is non verbal, I can tell you this woman’s non verbal communication to me with this hesitant question was exhibiting her extreme uncertainty as to who I was, or whether she recognised me or, indeed, whether I was actually banned.
She was clearly asking me for corroboration of the information that I had been banned, because she was not at that time in possession of it. She actually clearly indicated she had absolutely no idea of whether I had been banned and was expressing obvious doubt in her mind as to whether it was merely a figment of her imagination or not.
It is not entirely clear to me what she is talking about and it seems monstrous to me that your customers can be treated in this disgraceful manner by some demented security woman with a personal grudge of some kind.
That all the Sainsbury’s staff fall into line behind one demented woman with some personal grudge about ‘me being rude to her’, and fantasizing that I had been banned from the store, is quite beyond my comprehension.
That the Customer Service woman sees fit to inform the store manager of her conversation with me in order for him to throw me out on the second occasion, essentially on my own say so, because I had mentioned the banned word to her, is utterly unbelievable.
I had, in fact, been shopping in the store after the first incident several times, as the Sainsbury’s head office Mr Rownsley had told me quite clearly there was no record of me being banned anyway. It was clearly confirmed by Mr Rownsley that it was a complete fairy-tale, as I already knew.
The fact is, I am a normal civilised , sixty year old, well educated ‘middle class type’ person who frequently goes to your store with his nine year old son to shop for domestic items – not to engage in abusive incidents. And I certainly do not go there to be abused by manic security shrews obsessed with their inflated egos and Television Cop and car chase films.
In the course of my conversation with Mr Serotas on that second occasion, he also told me he thought I had pushed my shopping trolley at Mr Engell on the occasion of the first incident, leaving my shopping in the trolley, and that ‘I had stormed out of the supermarket’.
I was completely astonished when I heard this because I have never done anything of the kind or engaged in any form of physical aggression at Sainsburys – ever.
What precisely happened is that while I was being thoroughly abused by Mr Engells, and reduced to a state of extreme shock and sheer humiliation by all this extraordinary behaviour, I picked up my one carrier bag containing just £5 worth of purchases, and walked to my car with it, rather than take an entire trolley with just one small bag in it.
I did, indeed, leave the trolley where it was as I was in no state to be concerned about finding a home for it as Mr Engells and the security guard were shoving me around and ‘elbowing’ me out of the store. It was quite clear I had no option to park this trolley anywhere under such circumstances.
It is quite ludicrous of the second store manager, Mr Serotas, to describe this as me ‘abandoning my shopping and pushing the trolley at Mr Engells, which is precisely what Mr Serotas did say to me. This is pure fiction.
All this seems to indicate quite unequivocally that your staff at the Horsham store are unpleasant and aggressive and contrive to conjure up incidents of confrontation where none exist in the first place. I am really shocked at this experience.
As I have seen other members of the public being treated with unmitigated aggression by security and car park staff in particular, I know my experience is not an isolated event, but just one of many others concerning other people.
On one famous occasion I was in my car in a long queue of cars unable to get out of the car park because the car parking staff refused to raise the barrier to a woman who was refusing to pay £10 as she had bought less than £10 worth of goods.
So while the parking staff were obtuse and bullying, deliberately humiliating this woman, every other customer trying to get home was kept prisoner for a long time.
This is disgusting.