Tuesday, July 23, 2013
In Ontario, as is the case in other Canadian provinces and territories, we all go into a special government-ordained store to buy our spirits. I've grown up with the system and it's generally not so bad. The fact that they hold something of a monopoly on liquor sales has been around since the age of prohibition. But whether we should be able to buy our alcoholic beverages in neighborhood corner stores has been in the public debate recently.
I don't buy a lot of booze anymore but I went into one of these stores the other day. I was in the neighborhood and decided to get a few cans. It's summer and my fridge sometimes feels sorta sad and empty without something beer-ish inside.
At the time I was there it wasn't tremendously busy and there was only one cashier open. As I stepped into line I couldn't help noticing the cashier was on the phone while she was serving customers. And because she had to hold the phone with one hand, she was limited to the other one to sort, scan codes, collect cash, give change and package the purchases. Curious, I listened to what she was saying into the receiver (she wasn't being quiet about it, so I didn't have any difficulty hearing what she was saying) because I assumed she must have been doing important business. But her conversation was clearly social chatter. What's up with so-in-so type of thing. Not only that, but this was a person who evidently had a difficult time concentrating on two things at once (talking and serving) and her progress with the customers in front of me was painfully slow. Meanwhile, more people joined the line behind me.
When it was my turn at cash, she kept on chatting and didn't smile or nod. I had 12 loose cans of beer (Keiths, from NS). She had to count them twice (she lost track the first time) and enter it into the cash register twice (she entered 2 the first time instead of 12), but before she could reenter she had to recount the cans a third time because as she voided the wrong entry I guess she had forgotten and I finally interrupted her chat to remind her I had 12. Finally, with a hint of irritation, she told her phone mate to hold on a second.
As she set the receiver down I said, "Probably a good idea."
"I was talking to an associate from another store," she retorted.
"You were rude," I said calmly as I counted out my cash. All of a sudden, everyone in the line behind me got very quiet.
Her voice went up. "SIR, I was doing business, getting a price on merchandise." She finally totaled my purchase.
"I don't care," I said quietly, waiting for my change and looking down at the counter.
As I left I couldn't help but overhear when she got back on the phone and said, "I'm sorry, I'm going to have to call you back, a customer complained I was on the phone."
Clearly, I had done something wrong. I expected good customer service. And that was bad.
I'd been in plenty of situations where people in a service industry have had an entitlement disposition and the interaction has suffered because of it. The first time was on a plane years ago and the stewardesses spent the whole flight bitching with each other about a union issue. As one gets older, one becomes hardened to it. Sometimes folks are just having a bad day. We try to forgive those. But an institutional lack of quality customer care, where employees are allowed to provide anything less than the best possible experience a customer could have, is pure horse patootie.
And I know this: I walk into my little corner store and the owner is behind the cash, their little children may be playing on the floor behind them and their store may not be all spit and polish, but when I approach the counter I have the distinct impression that, at that moment, I am the most important thing in the world to this person. They get to know what I like and tell me as I enter the store whether they have it in or not. It may cost me a few more pennies to do business with them, but they take a moment to chat and have a laugh with me. Like I am a real human being. Not just someone to be processed.
Posted by Rand MacIvor at 4:34 PM