Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Lessons from the Grocery

The Saturday after I turned 16 I had a job at my local grocery store, Ingles, in Asheville, NC. For 2.5 years I worked there through high school. Now in grad school while in need of a little extra cash I'm working at a Harris Teeter in Chapel Hill. In my roughly 5.5 years of grocery store experience I've come to learn several lessons while providing (sometimes over-zealous) customer service.

Grocery store work is repetitive and high energy. There is always a customer somewhere needing help or something needing to be done. Employees remain on their feet at all times and are required to maintain a cheerful and welcoming attitude toward everyone. If you're ever tired or just having a rough day, grocery store work can be difficult.

Lesson #1: People carry their anger around with them.

If you've ever been a regular shopper you've probably run into a slight hold-up at the checkout line: a check not reading correctly, a price check, or a cashier needing a manager's help at the register. If you don't know it yet, these hold-ups are simply part of the grocery store business. Yet sometimes people get all bent out of shape about them and too often take their anger out on the cashier. That's because we carry our anger around like handbags. All it takes is one more push, and we explode. It is almost comical just how angry I've seen people become over something so little at the check out.

Don't unload the stresses of your day on the cashier! The cashier is possibly having a stressful day as well, and if not then you're making it one. A grocery store cashier deals with hundreds of customers during any given day. That's a lot of people to keep happy. And some will simply never be satisfied, because they are angry when they walk through the door.

So this lesson is to say: watch your anger and where it comes from. Don't take it out on the wrong person. The cashier is probably not the reason you're angry. Don't give your bad day to someone who doesn't want it.

Lesson #2: You don't have any servants.

Harris Teeter is especially known for its high level of customer service which, I must admit, sometimes resembles butt kissing. Because of this service, some customers have confused with something we're not: servants.

At many grocery stores, especially up north, you are required to bring your own grocery bags, unload your items for the cashier, pack them yourself, and carry them out yourself all while the cashier chews gum and talks to his or her friend behind you. At Harris Teeter the moment you approach the register we do everything for you including engaging you in conversation and taking your groceries to the car (no tips required).

Because of our high level of customer service, some people think we are their servants. When this happens they begin to treat us like lowly, unimportant, uneducated house servants who can be ordered around and never directly addressed or looked at in the face. In another word: disrespect.

Ironically, it takes a big person to serve others, be it for a job or otherwise. Though we serve people that does not make us their servants.

So this lesson is to say: respect all other people. Look your cashier/bagger in the face, smile, and say thank you, because they are trying there best to make YOU happy.

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