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I always thought that an important rule of retail was not to get into arguments with your customers…

August 2, 2016, 12:32 PM

Do you ever have those days where some people’s behaviors defy logic?  Such is what happened to me at the Giant Food store in Leisure World yesterday.  Generally speaking, if someone is handing you money, it’s generally not a good idea to start arguing with them over something minor to the point of losing the sale.  It was one of those occasions where I was bothered enough by the treatment to write the company about it.  This is what I wrote:

While I was shopping at the Leisure World Giant store, I was very surprised about the treatment that I received from an employee wearing a purple shirt named Ken.  I was buying a single item, and, after seeing an older woman go through the Solution Center for checkout with a single item, I followed suit.  I was very surprised to hear Ken absolutely refuse to check me out for my one item, citing a policy, for which I was unable to locate signage anywhere in the store, that you can’t check out at the solution center.  Ken then proceeded to argue with me over this alleged policy, when it would have taken less time to not argue and just complete the sale.  The store ultimately lost the sale on account of Ken, as the item was not worth getting into an argument over.  Even more surprising was that, with the checkout lines backed up into the aisle, the solution center does not help relieve the pressure on the regular checkouts when they are backed up, such as was the case today.  I have always praised Giant in the past for its level of good customer service, which is generally higher than its peers in the market.  I hope that this sort of behavior, with employees who get into arguments with customers over extremely minor things, is not a “new normal” for Giant.

That behavior from Ken really did surprise me.  I’ve been a Giant customer for almost a decade, i.e. ever since I moved up to Maryland back in 2007.  I’ve patronized this specific store many times over the years (it’s my go-to store coming back from the pool), and I’ve also checked out at the Solution Center (which, in this store, is in line with the checkouts rather than in a separate area) many times in the past without issue, without buying any of the items that are the Solution Center’s sole purview, such as tobacco, baby formula, etc.  And I continue to patronize Giant because their level of customer service is higher than its peers in the marketplace, i.e. Safeway, Shoppers, and Food Lion.  I don’t know what Ken’s problem was, but it definitely warranted a note to the company.  I even offered him an out, reminding him that for the amount of time that he had spent trying to argue about making the sale, he could have made the sale and been done.  I was surprised that he refused to take it.  In my experience, sometimes it’s useful to take care of things at the store level, but sometimes it needs to go through the customer service form with corporate, so that it’s not just a customer complaint at the store level, but rather, orders from corporate.  The difference is that I’m not the one writing their paychecks.  I pay the big corporate Giant entity, and then Giant pays them.  So there is a bit of a separation between one and the other, and so when you send it and it comes down from your own chain of command, then that’s great.

True to form, Giant responded:

Hello Ben,

Thank you for taking the time to contact us about your experience at your Leisure World Giant.

Please accept my sincere apologies for the poor service you received from Ken. I want to assure you that it is our goal to provide all of our customers with courteous, helpful service. We have training programs for our associates and appreciate knowing where we need to further follow-up and make improvements. I have involved the district manager and store manager and you can rest assured that we will appropriately address your concerns with the associate.

Thanks, again, for calling this to our attention so we could follow through. We want you to remain a satisfied customer and hope you will give us the opportunity to serve you better in the future.

Sincerely,

Benson H.
Customer Care Representative

Reading their response, I was happy to find out that what I observed was, in fact, not acceptable behavior for employees at Giant, and that they would take care of the matter.  And true to form, Giant took care of me as a customer, because Giant’s awesome like that.  And the resolution at the store level will come down through the chain of command, i.e. it’s orders from corporate, not just a mere customer complaint.  In other words, they’re taking care of it not because I said so, but because their boss (and perhaps their boss’s boss) said so.

Having worked retail myself, I take a narrow interpretation of the phrase “the customer is always right”.  I’ve taken it to refer to the idea that if the customer is looking for something and willing to pay for it, then the store should provide it.  In other words, let the money do the talking.  It’s not to be taken literally, as the phrase does not mean that the customer is never wrong, and therefore allowing the customer to be an abusive twat and make unreasonable requests.  I hate seeing stores bend over backwards to accommodate abusive customers making unreasonable requests.  However, I don’t think that the checking out of a single, non-weighed item is an unreasonable request.  It takes about a minute, tops.  When I worked the service desk at Walmart, if someone came up looking to check out with a few items, as long as they didn’t have any produce that required weighing (since the service desk registers were not equipped to weigh produce), we took care of them.  And this was Walmart, where customer service was most certainly not a high priority.

Similarly, if you’re going to cite a policy that affects customers, that policy should be readily visible to the customer.  There was no such sign here.  If there’s an internal policy, this is where a gentle reminder and customer education come into play.  The correct response here would be, “Technically, I’m not supposed to check you out here unless you’re also getting something from the Solution Center, but we’ll take care of you this time.”  The sale is made, the customer is on their way, and the customer is also educated about the proper use of the Solution Center counter for the future.  It’s kind of like how no one is going to stop you from going through the “12 items or less” lane with 13 items, or even a whole cartload.  It’s really poor form to go there, and it’s probably not worth losing the sale over.  You might get the look of disapproval from everyone in line behind you for being inconsiderate, but the store’s not going to stop you.

After all, the whole idea on how to handle the point of sale is to get people through it as quickly as possible.  Aside from the impulse crap being sold around the registers, you’re probably not going to make any new selections while you’re in the checkout line.  While they say that the longer amount of time that the customer is in the store, the more they will buy, I doubt that still holds at the checkout line.  Thus the idea of the point of sale is to process the customer’s selections, take the money, and get them on their way – and I don’t care how they do it.  I have stopped patronizing stores in the past for a poor checkout experience.  If I have to wait in a long line to check out after making my selections, and most of the registers are not open (I’m looking at you, Walmart), I’m not going to shop there anymore.  It’s also why I love self checkout, because I can get through it relatively quickly.  There are a lot of people who just won’t use self checkout for whatever reason.  I don’t care – if I can get through more quickly by just doing it myself, then I will.  I also know that my items will be bagged exactly the way I want when I do it myself.  My current bag strategy with a cashier is to group items together on the belt in exactly the way that I want them bagged and then place a reusable bag on top of that group.  Not everyone takes that hint, and then I have to go in behind them and fix it for them.  And nothing pisses off a cashier more than blocking that little bag wheel while you correct their poor bagging, especially after I laid it all out exactly the way I wanted it from the outset.  And for those wondering, the days when I just handed the cashiers the whole thing of reusable bags and let them do their thing are long gone.

So all in all, yeah… don’t alienate your customers at the point of sale.  And I’m glad to see that Giant still has the same high standards that it has always had, and has no tolerance for rogue employees.