Valuing customers is a choice

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Do you recall the last time you waited in a long line at the supermarket to buy a handful of items with no express lane or alternate cashier in sight? Chances are you scanned the visible personnel to see whether or not an employee might step forward and say, “I can help you at register five.”

When that does happen, how does it make you feel? Pleased? Relieved? Valued? But what about when it doesn’t happen? How do you feel then? Annoyed? Frustrated? Devalued?

Yesterday, I was that customer. I approached the checkout lanes with two gallons of milk and noticed that one lane had a line of customers four deep, each with a shopping cart. A second cashier had placed a CLOSED sign on her conveyer belt in front of the last few items she needed to ring up for her current customer.

My options were to join the long line at the lone OPEN register or see if the gal at the CLOSED register would make an exception for me. I chose the latter presuming the cashier would decide in favor of the customer and quickly ring up my two gallons of milk.

Having placed the milk on the conveyer belt, I waited for the cashier to make eye contact with me so that I could smile and say something clever to address the situation, but she never looked at me. A minute later, as she completed the transaction ahead of me, I said, “Do you mind taking one more?”

She had the expression of a teenager who was mortified by something her father said in the presence of her peer group. I expected her to say, “What-ever…” but instead she said, “Oh-kayyy…” (drawing out the last syllable for effect) as though I’d just told her that I hoped to be president one day. No smile. No eye contact. Clearly I was the difficult customer who had ignored her CLOSED sign by asking her to ring up two gallons of milk.

Detecting her irritation, I said, “At the other register, I would have been the fifth customer in line.”

Nodding in the direction of a woman sacking groceries at the other register, she replied, “She is open.”

I said, “She’s sacking groceries.” Then I called over to the woman, “Are you open?”

She shook her head “no.”

Begrudgingly, the cashier rang up my two gallons of milk.

This experience illustrates a fundamental choice employees have during their interactions with customers: They can choose to view customers as adversaries – questioning their motives and treating them with contempt – or they can choose to see customers as valued partners in the success of the enterprise. This requires that employees reserve judgment and, when the opportunity presents itself, decide in favor of the customer.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Steve Curtin
Steve Curtin is the author of Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary. He wrote the book to address the following observation: While employees consistently execute mandatory job functions for which they are paid, they inconsistently demonstrate voluntary customer service behaviors for which there is little or no additional cost to their employers. After a 20-year career with Marriott International, Steve now devotes his time to speaking, consulting, and writing on the topic of extraordinary customer service.

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