It started early in the evening when I went to CVS to buy vitamins that cost $11.46
After waiting in line for nearly fifteen minutes, I gave the cashier $21 dollars and 46 cents, and she gave me back $9.
“I gave you $20 and a $1 bill plus the change,” I told her.
“I know, you did.” She snapped back.
“So you should give me $10 back, right? “
She looked at me like I had stepped on her dog.
“Here!” She slapped the ten dollar bill on the counter. And then she shouted, “Next customer!”
So I walked out of the store on this glorious warm Southern California evening, near the end of this difficult and challenging year, feeling strangely dismissed and angry. Should I say something to her or to her manager? Or should I just keep my comments to myself?
I decided it’s New Year’s Eve — say nothing and go next door to Von’s Market, and buy the few groceries I needed.
Here, the transactions went smoothly. I used a credit card. I grabbed the bag of groceries from Wynona, the checker’s assistant, and as she bagged the lettuce and bananas, she yelled at the grocery cashier on the next aisle. “Alice, is this day ever going to end? How about you? When do you get off?”
Alice yelled back. “I’m working an extra shift tonight. I’ll be here till midnight.”
“Oh Crap! I can’t wait to get off work. I don’t know how you do it. I get off at nine, thank God!”
And I walked out of the store, I wondered if Wynona and Alice even knew there were customers there, and did it matter that they shared a somewhat private conversation with a couple dozen customers shopping and walking through Von’s on New Year’s Eve?
It was nearly 7 p.m., and I stopped to buy a bag of ice at the local liquor store.
The owner wished me a happy New Year and added: “I always take great care of my wonderful customers. Thank you for coming in!” What a nice thing to say, I thoughyt. I drove home, feeling appreciated and rewarded, quite a different experience from what happened earlier in the evening.
Here’s the dilemma.
That liquor store owner invests her energy in her store and in her customers. All she sells, really, is service. I can get ice anywhere, and her ice is a dollar more than Von’s. But when I go to her strip mall store, I am buying quick, helpful, cordial, professional service, and it costs her nothing to smile or, for that matter, to be nice.
Would she get the same service from someone she hired for, let’s say, ten bucks an hour?
How is it more difficult for employees to simply apologize when they make a mistake? “I’m so sorry. My mistake. Here’s your correct change. Have a great New Year!”
Or, save the backstage conversations for breaks instead of having them in front of the customers.
Is it because these employees make less money? Do they feel disrespected by their boss so they purposely act rude? Or do they just care less about the unprofessionalism they display?
I don’t know, but if these situations sound familiar to you – and you work in an environment where you talk to customers every day — here are two suggestions:
- If you’re in the retail business, you’re on stage. Don’t draw the curtain and create backstage talk/gossip/private chat that you wouldn’t want heard in front of everyone. One kind word to a customer can lead to hundreds of return visits. One rude response can lead to a thousand negative comments.
- If you make a mistake, apologize. Just say “I’m sorry.” How difficult is that? After all, we all make mistakes. Acknowledge it, and let the customer know you’re sorry. Be kind and courteous and sincere to your customers for they are the ones who make your future possible. Naturally, we are paid to do a good job, but let’s face it: You never know if you might meet someone who will eventually pay you for your wonderful service and expertise somewhere else.
My sister-in-law hires (steals) customer service people from stores all the time. Why spend money from an ad when you can see people in action at your local Macy’s or Penny’s and recruit the best right then and there!
If you’re thinking this job stinks, I’m a low paying employee. I hate what I’m doing. This customer drives me crazy. When do I get off? That thinking will manifest itself in an attitude and behavior that often comes off irritating and unprofessional.
So think different.
Convince yourself of this: I’m glad to work here. This is a blessing. These customers depend on me. This is my universe right now. Let me soar. And if nothing else, I am engaged to my job because I may meet someone who will see my skills and reward me for my expertise.
That frame of mind can create a very different behavior and customer service environment that can be remarkable, achievable, and quite rewarding.