I watched in dismay as the man ahead of me in the grocery store checkout line verbally assaulted the cashier. He stood silently while the woman at the register rang up his purchase of a single tomato, accepted his money and handed him his change along with the bagged item. Having waited for just this moment, he lashed out at the unsuspecting employee in an overly loud voice. His exact words were, “I want you to know why I don’t shop here. It’s because your tomatoes are the highest-priced in town. I’d rather drive farther to another store than shop here.”
The cashier’s immediate reaction was several seconds of stunned silence, giving the customer the opportunity to repeat his accusation in case she and everyone else within earshot had failed to hear him the first time. At this point I’m thinking, “Excuse me, don’t look now, but you’re here and you just bought that tomato.” The cashier had evidently heard complaints like this before so, finding her voice, she launched her rebuttal in a futile effort to justify the price of the tomato.
Conventional wisdom says that the customer is always right and that the employee does not bicker with the clientele. In a perfect retail environment, managers train their employees in the art of customer service. Too bad they can’t teach their customers how to treat employees with courtesy and respect as well.
Several things seemed obvious in this situation. No one forced the man to purchase the tomato in question. There are enough grocery stores that surely he could have found one with prices more to his liking and spared the blameless cashier and others his emotional outburst.
More importantly, if he wanted to convey his message in a constructive way, the cashier was not the person to tell. The unhappy shopper should have asked to speak to a manager and shared his observation in a positive tone. He could easily have put his concern in the form of a question and asked, “Could you explain why the price of your tomatoes is so high?”
The rules for customer behavior are simple:
- Take the complaint to the appropriate employee—that is usually not the frontline person.
- Do it privately—there is no need to involve other customers.
- Be pleasant—a confrontational attitude only makes matters worse.
- Even when the customer is right, he does not have the right to be abusive and unkind.
One of my favorite quotes when I am counseling groups or individuals on the art of customer service is from Mark Twain who said, “Never argue with an idiot, onlookers won’t be able to tell the difference.”
Lydia Ramsey is a Savannah-based business etiquette expert, keynote speaker, trainer and author. Contact her at 912-598-9812 or visit her website: LydiaRamsey.com to find out how her presentations and workshops can help you and your employees add the polish that builds profits.