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CARROLL: More Adventures in Retail
David Carroll
David Carroll is a news anchor for WRCB in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Having grown up in a retail store, I know a little about customer service.

As a kid, I complained when a customer interrupted my TV watching or my comic book reading. My father would sternly remind me that those annoying customers should be my top priority. “That motorcycle you want? They’re paying for that. The food on the table? They make it possible.”

Then he’d say, “Never forget. The customer is always right.” I struggled with that one, but as I would eventually learn, it is true. “They have choices,” he would say. “If they choose to go to another store, we don’t make any money, and that means you don’t have any money.” Message received. So I cheerfully bagged groceries, carried out heavy bags of feed, pumped gas, and mixed many gallons of paint. “Make them want to come back,” he said. “Repeat business is good business.”

Sadly, Dad is long gone, and I’m starting to wonder if anyone has filled his shoes. I’ve made a few observations during my recent trips to retail establishments. On a couple of occasions, I have spoken to the manager. I don’t enjoy being that guy, but I have found that if managers don’t know there’s a problem, they can’t fix it. My goal is not to get anyone in trouble, but hopefully help them keep their job.

Customer Service Tip No. 1: Make eye contact. When I’m wandering aimlessly through your store, looking for cocoa and chocolate syrup, I could use a little help. Are those items on the flour and sugar shelf? In the ice cream section? By the coffee and tea? Every store is different. So I appreciate store employees who see me struggling, because they have made eye contact. What I don’t appreciate are the ones (including some in management) who are slumped over, engrossed in their phone. Quite often, they can’t see or hear me because their earbuds are in. Honestly, I could be running down the aisle with my pants on fire carrying a machete, and singing “YMCA” and I wouldn’t be noticed. Eye contact is a must.

Customer Service Tip No. 2: Be a team player. Learn more than one job. Cross-train with your co-workers. If they fail to show up, you can fill the void. I was attempting to place a carryout order at one of those casual dining restaurants with hostesses at the entrance. I was directed to go to the bar. I sat at the bar for 15 minutes and apparently became invisible. Occasionally I saw an employee scurry around, but no one ever looked at me. With no end in sight, I sauntered back to the entrance. The two hostesses were keeping each other entertained, but doing little else. I got their attention, and told them I just wanted a couple of takeout plates, but no one would take my order. Would they be so kind?

“We don’t take orders at the hostess station,” I was told. Well maybe, I suggested, one of them could walk with me to the bar and help me find someone who could take my order? “There’s just one girl over there,” was the reply. “Another worker called out sick today, and she’s covered up.” I’m just glad they don’t work for the fire department. “Oh, all I do is wash the truck. The guy who aims the hose called out sick today.” Yes, I later called the manager. He was glad someone told him.

Customer Service Tip No. 3: Take pride in your job. It may not be your dream profession, but it could be a pathway to something better. A dry cleaners owner told me about a 16-year-old girl, first day on the job, who was offended when he told her to get off her phone and help out. She immediately called her mother to come pick her up. Mom rushed right over to rescue her princess.

I’m told that competent, eager workers move up the ladder quickly because they are so hard to find. Let’s encourage our kids to do their jobs so well that some cranky old guy won’t call the manager. Make customer service great again.

David Carroll is a Chattanooga news anchor, and his new book “I Won’t Be Your Escape Goat” is available on his website, You may contact him at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405, or at