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Customer Service: A View From the Other Side of the Counter

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There has been a movement afoot in the retail industry to improve customer service. It seems that customers are increasingly annoyed by allegedly incompetent and/or complacent workers at the point of sale. One large supermarket chain has ordered its cashiers to smile at customers and call them by name. When someone I don’t know smiles at me, I always wonder if my fly is open or if I have toilet paper hanging from the back of my pants. I never take it as a sign that the person is genuinely glad to see me.

The geniuses who run large retail organizations, most of whom have never had to deal with the public on a daily basis, develop these sophomoric ideas — which serve only to demean and demoralize their own employees — while ignoring real opportunities to improve things for good customers.

Consider for a moment what your average supermarket checker has to put up with. Many customers are hopeless jackasses. They’re rude, sometimes dirty and smelly, demanding, unreasonable, self-centered and stupid. They think it’s perfectly okay to treat store employees like swine. They carry on unnecessary conversations on their cell phones while the cashier is waiting for payment, while five people behind them are queueing and the four-year-old in the basket seat is screaming at the top of his lungs.

They try to get away with more than they have coming, holding up lines while they whine about “limit:2” restrictions or the shelf tag being incorrect, a shelf tag which in most cases the customer misread despite the fact that it was designed to be perfectly clear to the average six-year-old.

They lick their fingers, touch open wounds and/or pick their noses while handling their money. They are taken by surprise by the fact that merchandise must be paid for, then take their time in determining the method of payment, or finding the checkbook at the bottom of an American Tourister-sized purse filled with cosmetics, candy wrappers and two yards of topsoil.

They’ll purposely avoid putting the money into the smiling cashier’s outstretched hand, opting instead to put it down on the moving conveyor belt so the cashier has to chase it. If the customer decides to pay by credit or debit card, the even-a-moron-could-figure-it-out electronic card-reading device must be explained in excruciating detail, and even then the customer tries to swipe the card upside-down or backwards, and complains bitterly about how complicated it is. Frequently this complaining is heard from persons who were given the same patient explanation the day before.

Customers take baskets into the “10 items or less” line loaded with enough groceries to winter the Russian army and complain that they are in a hurry and can’t wait in the other line where they belong. They bring $100 worth of items to the checkout when they know they have only $9.75 with them.

They complain bitterly to the adolescent clerk who refuses to sell liquor because a city ordinance prohibits its sale during certain hours of the day. Sometimes they are drunk or high and babble incoherently and make lewd comments, especially if they are smiled at by an attractive young cashier.

Many of them don’t speak English and are vexed by the fact that the cashier isn’t fluent in Urdu or Portuguese. They study a 12-foot long register tape in infinite bloody detail and ask 50 stupid questions about it (Customer: “What is this? I didn’t get any pomegranates!” Cashier: “It says ‘Polident,’ ma’am.”) before reluctantly moving out of the way so someone else can check out.

When a truly unreasonable customer goes beyond every known limit of decent human behavior and the manager must get involved, he or she invariably panders to the idiot, which makes the cashier look and feel like an indentured servant who is expected to take the 40 lashes, smile sweetly and forget about it.

Just remember all of this the next time you’re buying groceries and the cashier seems disinclined to act really glad to see you. After five hours or so of being abused, there aren’t many people who can maintain a pleasant disposition. If you are a normally polite and considerate person, be aware that store management doesn’t really care at all about you, because they are too busy appeasing the morons and making them feel welcome, which just perpetuates the whole problem.

If the big retail companies really did care about their good customers — and their own employees — they would make it a matter of policy to tell the incorrigible bad ones to hit the road and go shop the competition. Amazingly, the management pinheads haven’t realized that “customer service” is a two-way street, and does not consist in kissing the behinds of people who need to have them kicked – right out of the store.

About James Wynne

  • http://www.breakingwindows.com Matt Paprocki

    Great stuff on all accounts Jim. While I’ve never done the grocery store job, I’ve done the video and toy store, and when someone brings back the Harry Potter broomstick because it doesn’t fly, you really do lose all faith in humanity.

  • Guppusmaximus

    You know what’s even worse? The self-checkout lanes… Now we get to wait for people who don’t even know how to change the time on their own VCRs to ring themselves up! But, what’s fun is using those checkout lanes and paying with coinage especially pennies…LMFAO! You wanna see people get impatient!?!

    *side-note: F*ck CoinStar and their millionth of a cent profit tatics.

  • Nancy

    Personally, I offer to buy my cashiers AND the baggers (if there is one) a soda, just because it’s a miserable job #1, and because it’s always a pleasure for anyone to get a surprise extra they weren’t expecting #2. At New Year’s, I paid the manager enough that every employee in the store was able to have free coffee & pastries all day. It wasn’t that much, but it meant a lot to the people I see all the time.

    More than once I’ve spoken up to fellow customers who are abusing their position, on behalf of the beleagured salesperson: Pick up that [item]! Do you leave stuff around at home like that?! I doubt it… etc. etc. etc. They’re usually so shocked to have anyone call them on it, and the salespeople are tickled pink because they couldn’t call a slob a slob themselves, but I can, and do, and will – and all for a good cause, the defenseless sales or cashier personnel, because I’ve been there myself, and it really is a thankless job. Problem is, most of the top management who make these idiotic rules have been out of the front lines too long (if they were ever there to begin with, & didn’t join management right out of business school) to remember what it’s like.

  • http://jackiestvblog.blogspot.com/ Jackie

    Perfect!

  • rob

    My wife and I own a small craft and art gallery. 99% of the customers are great to deal with, but that 1% can drive you crazy. Here’s a sample of the crap the odd customer will throw our way:
    - customers grabbing the calculator (we don’t have a till) and re-calculating the sales invoice to make sure we aren’t ripping them off.
    - asking for a discount on a charity quilt. I tried to explain that all proceeds go to help cancer victims cope with chemo and radiation treatments, but he didn’t understand why the handmade quilt was $65.00 and wanted to pay $50 instead.
    - Parents letting their kids run amok in the shop, throwing stuff everywhere, bumping into the pottery and glass, then getting pissed at you for asking them to leave.
    - a customer arguing, rather loudly, that they could get the same thing for $20 less 20 minutes away, even though the item was made by me and not sold anywhere else!! She just didn’t get it. Her sister was nice enough to apologize on her be-half.

  • Nancy

    Some people really shouldn’t be allowed to live, let alone breed, let alone mix with the rest of us. But doncha love it when you catch ‘em in an obvious lie? Do you call them on it? I would. They’re not going to buy your item anyway, so you might as well enjoy humiliating them – hoist on the petard of their own making.