Customer not the focus

By Steve Estes

Strictly Drivel

I heard the other night words I never thought I would hear from someone involved in a customer service job in a position of management.

I was so floored when I heard them that I actually was speechless. And that’s not an easy thing to do to me.

Let me set the stage.

We were in line grabbing some items at a local retailer. In front of us was a couple with a young child buying items using vouchers from a federal program that is open to everyone, not just the low income.

The store was very poorly stocked that night.

The selections required for the voucher weren’t available, so the couple made substitutions.

In order to make the substitutions accurately ring into the register, the clerk required a manager’s key to override the system.

She did everything right, calling the manager and even showing the manager how to process the transaction so that the store could get reimbursed properly and the customer could get their items and take the child home.

The only mistake was in placing more than one permitted item per voucher and trying to ring in two vouchers at once.

That was easily rectified by simply voiding the items from the register and breaking them up into separate tallies.

But the manager type wasn’t at all pleased that she had to be called for duty to something that required serving a customer.

And she made no bones about it.

So here’s the cashier, doing her level best to make the best of a bad situation. There’s no stock on the shelf to meet the need. There’s a need for higher-up assistance, and a higher up who just doesn’t want to be there.

She was definitely caught in a no-win situation.

I felt sorry for the cashier. She was just trying to give the customer what they needed.

So the items from the second voucher are voided out, and the manager had to use a key to get the substitute items to ring in properly.

She did so grudgingly for the first voucher.

Before she would use her key for the second voucher, however, she asked the customer if she could come back the next day when they might have the correct items and she wouldn’t have to override the system to get them to ring in.

Her words were something to the effect that she just didn’t have the time to mess with this. She had other things to do.

That’s when my jaw dropped to the floor.

I realize, as a manager myself, that the demands on your time are astronomical and you have to budget your time to be truly effective at the job.

But if your customer is the focus of your business, as all are, you should never tell the customer you have something better to do than take care of their needs at that moment.

Very bad form.

So I got to thinking. And that’s dangerous for some.

How would our management person like it if the next time she pulled in to a gas station with the car sitting on empty and a 30-mile drive to the next place if the cashier found it more urgent to stock shelves than take her money?

Or when she goes to see the doctor, the doctor needs to file paperwork instead of treat her as a patient?

Or perhaps she’s involved in a traffic accident and the EMS crew found it more important to wash the truck than respond to the call?

Karma is indeed a mischievous mistress.

I don’t have a real choice but to use the same establishment again, but I will make very sure I don’t have cash register issues because I doubt I could hold my tongue a second time.

1 Comment »

One Response to “Customer not the focus”


  1. david Jul 30 2015 / 9am

    This is far more common here in the Keys than anywhere I have ever lived or traveled in the US.

    Waitresses, cashiers, managers, and more….it seems all find their jobs and customers an “inconvenience” at best…and a nuisance, much of the time.

    Cheerful, considerate service is so rare here, I find myself stunned when someone acts like they truly care whether I get what I paid for or not. I won’t even get into the poor quality work here, but I imagine it’s closely related to the same attitude.

    Thank you for printing this…maybe it will wake one or two of them up! (But I doubt it)

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