August 17, 2008

Annals of Customer Service, Volume 4,213

The Edinburgh Fringe has a blanket no-refunds-no-exchanges policy on its tickets, except, obviously, in case of cancellation or other major venue cock-ups. Usually, though, those are not the reasons people give for wanting refunds; over my four years I've heard 'em all, from "It was listed in the comedy section but wasn't funny," to "It was advertised as a mix of comedy and DJing, but it's two hours of comedy and then two hours of DJing, which isn't really a mix," to "I was drunk and heckling, and got thrown out."

My job, as supervisor in the box office, is to enforce the policy, and it can often be quite unpleasant — though not for the reasons you might think. Getting yelled at doesn't bother me — indeed, when someone is being really disagreeable, it can be inordinately satisfying knowing that you're having an argument you can't lose — it's the people who just genuinely had bad luck and didn't make it to their show to whom I hate saying no. I mean, I'm not a monster — I can put myself in their position, and I know that if I'd dropped twenty quid on tickets for a show I didn't get to see, I'd be upset about it. But people try to cram so much into their schedules during the Fringe that a few missed shows are inevitable, and if we gave refunds to everyone because we felt bad about it, well, we wouldn't make any money, would we?

Anyway, like I said, it's the nice ones that bother me; but the people who get nasty are just asking for it. Case in point was a guy who came in a few days ago who had not listened to the calls for his show, had arrived late at the door, and had finally been turned away because of it. Naturally, he believed, this entitled him to compensation, and when I informed him this would not be possible he began to get rather confrontational; he spent twenty-five minutes (literally!) arguing about it, and tried just about every tactic he could think of to change our mind.

First there was the semantic wrangling over the nature of the situation: we say no refunds or exchanges, he claims that he is asking for neither a refund nor an exchange (just free tickets for another day); we say he arrived late, he claims that by his watch he had been on time. At that point he even shoved his watch over the counter at me, and proceeded to explain that when the big hand is on the eight and the little hand is on the five, it means that it's twenty to six. I'm not entirely sure why he thought being insulting would help his cause, but it was definitely his next tactic. Five minutes later, he broke out the classic line: "Look, thirty pounds is a lot of money. Not all of us can be flown over here on trust funds from America, you know."

That was about when I decided that I'd had enough of him. (Imagine being called rich and spoilt by a toff in corduroy trousers and a London Fog waistcoat!)

Then, the man who'd been standing in line behind him — who, after fifteen minutes, was also getting a little fed up — helpfully chimed in: "Fuck's sake, mate, they've already said no to you, give it a fucking rest."

At this Mr Toff turned around and said: "Fuck off. They haven't said no, yet, anyway." Which I (and my colleague Tom, who had also joined in the fray by this point) though was an excellent opportunity to say a decisive "No!" to him, in unison. Mr Toff and the other guy then resumed swearing at each other and probably would have gone to blows had Tom not led the other man away to handle his request.

But Mr Toff was not finished yet, and launched into his third tactic: "Look, there are how many different spaces in this building? And they all have the word 'Belly' in them. It's confusing. How am I supposed to know where the right stage is?"

And, having lost all my patience by this point, I replied, "I appreciate that it's confusing, sir, and I am sympathetic, but with all due respect there are fifty-six other ticket holders sitting upstairs right now who managed to work it out, and your confusion is not really our responsibility."

I could carry on describing the exchange, but I am all too aware of how tiresome this sort of conversation can become, so I will leave it there. In any case, it's time for my daily dive into my stacks of trust fund money.

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