Difficult Customers & The Green Button: A “Good Morning” Follow-Up

I haven’t mentioned the “Good Morning” project in awhile. Though I’ve continued to address perfect strangers in the midst of everyday interactions, I have not been keeping track in any mathematical way or charting my results. Still, overall, I think my original theory and the follow-up hold true. In general people do respond well when you treat them like human beings, especially those people with whom it is most socially unacceptable to interact with as human beings.

And now, of course, I’m about to tell you a story.

This morning, I went on a shopping excursion. A certain store (rhymes with “Bowls”) sends out ten-dollars-off-anything-in-the-store cards, and I had one. Intending to use it for a few gift purchases, I drove the two miles or so “across town” and meandered aimlessly through the store, somewhat in awe of all the shiny, new stuff.

As I was checking out, I had to wait an incredible amount of time in line. (I have a knack for choosing the slowest-moving lines, even when they’re the shortest.) The woman in front of me was not a difficult customer, per se, but she was trying the cashier’s patience. She was somewhat elderly and had her granddaughter with her. (For some reason, the little girl kept eying me suspiciously.) I could overhear the cashier-customer interactions, which if I had been with a friend would have caused me to crack up.

For example, the woman wanted to use her Bowls card though she didn’t have it with her. The cashier responded, “Well, ma’am, in that case, you’ll need to enter your social on the keypad and then press the green button.” The woman pressed buttons for a few seconds and then nothing happened. So the cashier reset it, and said again, “Ma’am, your social. Then the green button.” Pause. “The green button.”

The older woman looked up in that sweet-accusing way of some southern hospitality: “But, dearie, you said the pink button the first time.”

Actually, no, she said green. I heard it.

When it came to my turn, the cashier apologized for my wait. Then, when she couldn’t get my discount card to work, she apologized. Soon she apologized again for something else. I finally said, “Hey, it’s no problem. You’re fine. I’m not in a hurry.” She was quiet as she finished the transaction. Then, handing me my bag of cheap goods, she continued, “You can probably tell I’m a little flustered. I’ve had a lot–a lot–of really difficult customers this morning, one after another after another. It’s been a hard morning.” I told her I understood. “Trust me,” I said honestly, “I’ve worked in retail.” And I meant it.

You see, I could have been snippy or huffy under my breath as I waited in line, checking my phone every few minutes. Or I could have changed lines before I even got to that point. Or I could have snickered at the woman in front of me. Or I could have ignored the cashier’s apologies with a quick smile and left without saying anything at all. I hate to admit it, but these are my instinctive responses.

For me, it takes work, genuine work most of the time, to do otherwise.

But that “otherwise” is worth it, you know. We can wait patiently, smile graciously, listen openly, and say thank you.

Sometimes the cashiers won’t notice. Sometimes that custodian won’t even grunt a response. Sometimes we’ll still get cut off when trying to make that turn. Sometimes the cop will still give us a speeding ticket when we respectfully say that it was physically impossible for our car to have been travelling at 88 miles per hour since it feels like it is going to fly apart at 65.

Yes, sometimes it won’t make any difference at all.

But sometimes it will.

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