Some retailers insist on good customer service, while others treat it as an afterthought. A few years ago, I entered a certain supermarket, we'll call it Chain Store 1, and during my brief visit, a sudden rain shower began. The employees practically smothered me as I started to exit, offering the use of an umbrella or raincoat, and even offering to fetch my car.
Later that day, I visited Chain Store 2. My wife had given me a shopping list with an item I couldn't identify. Fennel? I had no idea. I later learned it is a healthy food, which explains why I had never heard of it. Hershey's chocolate syrup? Now THAT I can find.
So I wandered around, in search of fennel. I saw some store workers, but they studiously avoided any eye contact. I think one of them was “pretend-talking” on his phone. He started saying gibberish like, “Well, about that car, you might have to jump-start the fibberator, but if you dazzle the reverbanoid, you could sling a rod.”
I kept on walking and saw the store manager sitting on a stack of boxes, looking down at his phone. As I got closer, I cleared my throat, and coughed a couple of times. He never looked up. I could have been walking on stilts, with a marching band and a herd of cattle, and he wouldn't have flinched.
This may be why Chain Store 1 has the superior reputation.
Of course, sometimes store personnel can be a little too attentive. Like the chatty checkout lady who comments on every item you buy. “When did they start putting this hemorrhoid cream in extra-large containers? I've had one little tube in my medicine cabinet since before I got married, and I'm talking about the first time, not my new husband.”
When she pipes down about that, it's something else. She grabs the store microphone and shouts, “CAN I GET A PRICE CHECK ON ROACH TRAPS?”
At least she acknowledges me. Some cashiers are annoyed if I interrupt their chat with co-workers about what happened on “The Bachelor.” A good store manager would have a serious talk with these employees unless, of course, he is still sitting on a stack of boxes.
Even the shopping experience itself can be frustrating. How many times have I entered a huge superstore, in search of one oddball item, like a can of artichoke hearts. It could be 11:30 at night, and there are no other customers in the store, except for a couple standing right in front of the artichoke hearts, engaged in a ten-minute debate over which kind to get. Marinated, quartered, Bush's or Libby's? Only two families on Earth are buying this product tonight, and I somehow found the other one.
How about those surprise encounters with someone you haven't seen in twenty years? I'll be cruising down the cereal aisle, and there's the guy whose daughter was in 3rd grade with my son. We catch up on life and family for ten minutes. We then go our separate ways. A few minutes later, we awkwardly reunite in the frozen food aisle. Then at the dairy case. And on it goes. What will be left to talk about the next time we see each other, in 2039?
In fairness, we customers give the clerks headaches too. Like the man who holds up the checkout line because he remembers “just one more thing.” It’s always located in the rear of the store, which is apparently a 10-minute hike. He makes it back, so it’s all good, right? Nope, he left his checkbook in the car. Pull up a chair while your ice cream melts.
I can’t leave out the frustrating encounters at fast food places. At the drive-through recently, I ordered a sausage biscuit, with gravy. This, apparently, is complicated. “Do you mean a gravy biscuit, add sausage?” asked the voice on the speaker. I said, “I guess so. I just want a biscuit with sausage and gravy.” Long pause. “Well,” she said, “I need to know if it’s a sausage biscuit with gravy, or a gravy biscuit with sausage. And is this a combo number 2 with coffee?” “Nope, no coffee,” I said. “Just a biscuit, with a piece of sausage, and a cup of gravy. That’s all.” I felt like I was negotiating a ceasefire in the Middle East. If I slipped up and said the wrong thing, the whole deal would fall apart.
She eventually summoned the manager, we worked out a compromise, and peace was restored. I should have warned the guy in the car behind me to order a combo, but why deny him a potentially unforgettable experience? Besides, he may also need material for a weekly column.
David Carroll, a Chattanooga news anchor, is the author of "Volunteer Bama Dawg, a collection of his best stories. You may contact David at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405, or email@example.com.