Are You Being Served? (Don Ward)

By: Don Ward
By: Don Ward

This is not about the old British sitcom..I just borrowed the title. It's about what happens and doesn't happen in stores.

Can You Help Me?

That's what I feel like asking sometimes when I'm in some places of business..simply because they should be asking, "Can I help you?" and so often.....they don't.  Is it just me or do you run into this too?

I go to plenty of places where the service is wonderful, prompt, polite, efficient and satisfying.  That's not the case everywhere.

I walked in to a popular chain sandwich shop the other day (not the location where I usually go).  There was a young woman behind the counter, helping a customer.  There was a young man with a rag in hand, not behind the counter, cleaning stuff.  The moment I walked in they were both very friendly.  "Welcome to- name of store-,"  they both said, almost in unison.  That was a good start.

Then it became evident that the customer in front of me was going to be a problem.  She was ordering three large sandwiches and she seemed very confused about how each should be made.  A little prep-work on her part, before she ever got to the shop would have been nice, but that's another blog for another time. 

I watched and listened as she changed and re-changed her mind, still working on sandwich number 1.  The young lady making it was patient.  The young man who had been cleaning stuff was still cleaning stuff.  At this point, clearly, the stuff-cleaner should have come back behind the counter, put on the little plastic sanitary gloves and either helped the confused customer with sandwiches 2 and 3, or started on my order.   It didn't happen. 

Five minutes into this exercise, sandwich 2 was still in progress, stuff-cleaner was still stuff-cleaning and I was finished.  I walked out with the 7 or 8 dollars I would have happily left behind in exchange for some food.  If I owned that shop I would be furious at the employees for literally letting money walk out the door.  Isn't that item one on day one of training for a job in retail? If a customer wants to give you money...take it, drop everything else and do business.  The stuff that needs cleaning will still need cleaning after the customer is gone and his money is in the register. 

At a grocery store where I often shop there are always about 5 or 6 employees in various areas behind the deli counter.  Some are in that mysterious back room, others are preparing food items to go in the cases and be sold to customers...oh yeah, customers like me! I can watch them all pretend they don't notice someone (me) standing there.  A few times I've actually said, "Can you help me?" before anyone stops the other (not going anywhere) tasks and comes over to get something for a customer.  Is that service? Does all of this make me an impatient, grumpy old ogre..or just someone who expects to be helped when I'm ready to spend money?

At another business I couldn't get help recently because two employees behind the counter were having a conversation.  They looked at me like I was interrupting them.  How dare I?

I've seen the same thing at various places all over the country.  I'm really not a difficult customer.  I don't complain or ask for strange, complicated orders, I don't stand there and think it over when others are waiting....I just want to get what I need, pay for it, and get out as quickly as possible.  This all takes me back to my first service-related job. 

For a while during high school I worked at Baskin-Robbins, primarily the one that's still at Flintridge and Academy in the Springs.  It could get very, very busy on a warm summer night.  We were instructed (quite rightly) to put the customers first over any other tasks in the store that needed to be done.  All of us who worked there actually competed to see who could serve more customers quickly and politely.  We all just wanted to get them what they wanted and get them out the door as fast as possible.  Then we could do all the clean-up stuff that had to be done before we could go home.  If our bosses had seen us ignoring customers we would have been fired.  Isn't it still like that for bosses?  If it isn't, why not?

I go to plenty of places where the service is wonderful, prompt, polite, efficient and satisfying.  I just can't figure out why it's not like that everywhere.  Any ideas?

We'll talk again soon.

Don Ward


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