I went to my first ever fencing competition today. It all seemed very complicated. What I know about fencing rivals what I know about fixing X-ray machines, so this was a good introduction.

The contestant we were with was having some sword trouble so she had dropped her weapons off at the shop (humorously named the Sword Masters) early in the morning. This reminded me a bit of going to the magic and weapon shop in a video game, so it was not surprising that the guy who appeared to be the customer servive face of the shop had longish hair with a dye job, facial piercings, and that he was wearing headphones and was glued to Myspace. For all I know, homeboy is on my friends list--he clearly fits the profile!

Except I hope that people on my friends list who work in service jobs have a keener sense for good customer service than this guy. After dropping the swords off at 8, my girlfriend started checking on them around 10:45. When I showed up at about 11:15, our fencer was in need of some weapons and her swords were still sitting in the queue. Captain LARP asked if we had a number and when we showed it to him, he said we were next in line.

Now, I'm a fairly reasonable guy and I know that customers can sometimes seem demanding. We all get frustrated when we feel like our needs aren't being met, and it's likewise reasonable to get frustrated when someone you are dealing with seems focused on that need that isn't being addressed. But you know, that is the art of customer service: being able to at least appease the customer when you have no real way to accomplish what they want you yo accomplish.

The sword master had apparently thrown a -8 against charisma because he was not interested in settling his customer's anxiety over the busted swords. When Amber told him that she'd heard the 'you are next in line' bit half an hour earlier, he put on his best condescending tone and threw out this gem: 'There's nothing I can do... Do you want to take the sword back and forfeit your place in line?' Not only was I not in the mood to be talked down to by a punk who was more interested in his Myspace profile than in working with his customers, but I got pretty incensed that he felt like he could be so cavalier when we were just trying to get an honest display of empathy. So I made sure he heard me when I said 'That's a shitty attitude!'

This was apparently the last straw. Maybe he'd had a long day of people interrupting his Myspace messaging already, or maybe I just reminded him a little too much of a wizard who gave him a beat down in D&D at some point, but he couldn't take it anymore so he stormed off. When he got back, he had a fencing buddy with him, so he took the guy behind a curtain and proceeded to explain (with a prop) how he'd like to crack my skull with a hammer and how I told him he had a shitty attitude and the nerve of me and whatever. This was strike two for the guy in my book, because if there's a second rule after 'don't treat the customer like shit' it is 'don't complain about the customer in a self-righteous way in a place where he can both see and hear you.' At this point, I felt a little more confrontation might get the guy to strike three, and I was curious what that looked like.

I realize that I was at this point antagonizing the guy for not much reason other than 'he started it,' but I wanted to sort of get my point across that providing good customer service, especially in a trying situation, is not really that hard if you just have a shred of kindness and if you take your job seriously. After a couple threats that I was 'really pushing him,' the guy used the hammer that he had demonstrated his skull cracking fantasy with to try and true up the blade on his pocket knife. He clearly wasn't thinking straight, as even I know from watching the Food Network that you don't fix a knife blade with a motherfucking hammer. Anyway, a couple of good whacks and the tip of his knife cracked right off, and I guess this was all he could bear. He stormed off again (strike three!) and the other guy who was working/talking during all of this asked me to leave his table.

In the end, I'm sure that the people at Sword Masters are not terrible people (though at least one of them is not too handy with fixing a blade apparently--so 'Masters' they may not all be,) but they could probably stand to learn a lesson from this. As it seems like they are just about the only game in town at fixing fencing weapons at the tournament, it's likely that they'll be able to continue to treat customers with disdain, and that's a shame. I would have loved to have grabbed the swords and taken them somewhere else, but that wasn't really an option. The woman who actually worked on the swords was nice and perfectly professional and she gave us a very understanding "we're working as fast as we can" type of response that was all anyone really wanted. What we didn't want was to see a guy checking his fucking email on the clock, who appeared bothered that we were running out of time.

The only reason any of us were even there was to make sure that some kids could go out on a strip, put on a mask, raise a sword and stab each other as anxious parents, coaches, and friends looked on. From what I could see, that happened a lot and the short time I spent at the competition was a lot of fun... especially watching that dude break his knife.