Public You, Private You.
I was a supervisor at a very large grocery store. I was responsible for making sure that 20 to 30 people get their breaks and lunches, that every price, computer register, coupon, maintenance issues is addressed and solved quickly. Speed was everything. No customer could be kept waiting, no customer could leave the store displeased. This was drummed into me at every meeting I attended. I was also responsible for the customer service desk. There I sent large sums of cash through Western Union, sold money orders, lottery, took returns and all with a smile on my face, while solving the city's most pressing problems.
As cashiers, our times were monitored. If a cashier was not performing well, they might easily be knocked down to the position of bagger, whose job it is, not only to bag perfectly to the store's standards (no raw meat with other items, all chemicals separate from foods, crush-able items on top) but they must also anticipate each customer's preference. Even though one customer wants their raw meat separate, another might actually throw a fit that you didn't wrap the lunch meat with the raw meat, because in their mind, all meats should go together. When a customer snaps, and reacts furiously, a young bagger is left standing there in shock, slightly humiliated and wishing he or she could just go home, but they can't, because they have to go out and push hundreds of unbelievably heavy carts around in the snow/rain/extreme heat.
Your response, in reading this, might be, "Hey, it's your job. As long as you're being paid, just deal with it. Very few of us actually enjoy working. That would be a luxury." I totally understand that point of view. Coming out of a recession, (we did come out of it, didn't we?) we are lucky if we have a job at all! But my point in writing this hub is to enlighten the consumer, in a sense. When it comes to our time and our money, we get a little tense. Groceries are both time and money so very often, we in retail, see the ugliest side of human nature and it can be very overwhelming at times.
Retail is a very high stress industry. Our store had computers monitoring our lanes. If more than two customers were in any lane at one time, our monitoring system would take a dip. Three dips in one day (anywhere from morning to night) and I'd failed for the day. This would reflect poorly on me, so I had to constantly keep people moving to the correct lanes. The problem was, we didn't have the staff to meet the need. 1) Because human resources has not been able to fill all the positions necessary, and 2) Because the fewer hours Corporate has to pay out, the more money they make, which is, of course, the point of a grocery store.
While I was constantly monitoring the lane flow, I had to make sure that 25 employees were getting their breaks on time. The problem was, to send someone to break, meant to reduce the staff that kept the lanes flowing. Heaven forbid an employee should call out, or the entire pyramid became a pile of rubble and you could forget about taking a break yourself in an 8 and a half hour shift. The war was on and your job was simply to survive till the end of the day. With a reduced staff, you had to be creative and find ways to keep the traffic moving. So you would pull someone off of U-scan and put him on a register, but at the other end of the store, the other U-scan person needs a break, so you either close down one U-scan and double the traffic to the other U-scan, or you use the remote handhelds, and ran both U-scans yourself, at the same time, running back and forth to take I.D.'s, all while still running the floor, making sure the traffic in the lanes was under control.
One of the most difficult parts of the job is the fact that our store employs a lot of staff with disabilities. So, even though, as a human being, my heart rejoiced, as a supervisor, my heart sinks when I wonder how we were going to get carts in all day when two baggers were in their eighties and obviously couldn't do carts. My only option became a nice young man who basically just wandered off all day long. Keeping certain employees on track was a full time job in itself. When you floor supervise, you never have one job, you have three or four at a time. Multitasking is huge! I would bag for the customers all day long. There are never enough baggers and I really hated seeing a customer bag their own groceries. When done right, bagging is a very physical activity, because it incorporates speed (keeping anything from being crushed as the food comes down the belt), accuracy (keeping the right products together), and monitoring (trying to anticipate and react to the customers cues, even before they have said anything.) Then, as soon as one customer has been helped, you must dash to the next lane and do it again and again, and again. We called this "hopping." You must hop from lane to lane to make sure everyone's needs are being met.
I have two pet peeves. 1) Is when a perfectly young and healthy person asks for help to the car, which leaves the next customer in line without anyone to bag their groceries. I love when I ask if we can help an elderly person to their car and they tell me they are independent because they do their own tasks. I secretly hope to myself that the thirty-year-old woman (with no kids), who wants help out, is listening. The other is; 2) When customers ask for paper bags. I know this sounds unreasonable, but bagging in paper is very difficult. It takes twice as long, slows down your lines and the bags can't handle that much weight so the task became quite frustrating. People always said, "Save a bag!" when they choose paper over plastic, but that made no sense at all. A paper bag is still a bag and it come from a tree, so I guess, "Save a tree!" is not as high an option on their list. In any event, it was an irritant.
Another irritant is dealing with management. You might see us call for help, but in the five different grocery stores I've worked in, the norm is, that a managers will come if and when they feel like it, but if you take that dip I described, one they could have helped prevent, you would be the first to hear about it. Management is often a sore point for most front-ends, because they put a lot of pressure on you to succeed, but they are seldom willing to offer the assistance necessary to help you succeed. I'm sure they have their own set of problems, but when the pressure is on, the customer is supposed to be first, or so I've been told.
Other difficulties are customers that expect Utopia. I can't even recall all the times I was yelled at for things that were out of my control. While smiling at a customer asking if he found everything okay, he would ream me for the fact that someone decided to change the design on a product's packaging. "Really, sir? Because I am wondering how I am going to pick up my kids from school with my husband and I both working, but sure! I understand why you would be angry with me because there's a new picture on your yogurt." I remember one night, I was on a register, I had turned off my lane's light, but carts just kept piling up in my line, one after the other. I asked my manager to come rope me off, but he wouldn't. He just allowed me to keep waiting on people for twenty additional minutes than I was scheduled. Meanwhile, my son was waiting for me in a parking lot after a football game, long after his friends had all gone home.
As you can see, this is very personal. Retail staff are not gum on the bottom of your shoe, they are human beings, and usually very tired ones at that. Your interaction with a cashier might only last two minutes, but they may wait on hundreds of customers a day... thousands a year. So few come through our lines with a kind word or a positive outlook. Instead, they bear the brunt of people's anger. Did your husband leave you? Did your daughter just get a speeding ticket? Did you lose your job? They know! They understand, because they are you. They are going through the same things you are, only they smile and pretend like the fact that your pineapple being dry trumps the fact that they feel beaten up. They're exhausted and they have a million of their own problems. When they put those uniforms on, you may see them as targets or robots, but they are just people, doing their very best.
Let me set the stage for you. This was just a half hour increment of an 8 hour shift I had one day. I have already told you what I would be doing on the front-end. A customer approached me to tell me she couldn't find a product she wanted. I asked her where she had looked so I could scratch those off the places I would need to look. She used the ploy many customers do, which is to immediately bring up a competitors name as if that would somehow shame me into finding her product. She said, "So and so and such and such carry it, so it's not like it's that obscure!" She had her snarly face on, which makes it so much more fun to help her. I had to leave the front-end, which of course could spell disaster, as it takes seconds for a barrage of customers to assail the lanes and you have to think of something FAST if you don't want to take those dips. But I left the front-end and searched four different departments to find her product.
On the way, a man stopped me, looking very serious and miffed. He wanted Weight Watcher's oatmeal, raisin cookies. (I don't know how many times a day the phrase, "First world problems" goes through my head.) I stopped in the cookie aisle on the way to helping the other customer and he followed me, very slowly. I told him I was sorry, but we were out of that flavor and through gritted teeth, practically spitting, his actual response was: "Don't tell me that it's the fault of those fat-cats in Ohio, that take three hour margarita lunches, that you don't have that cookie in stock!" I nodded and smiled as if I didn't have a brain in my head and apologized profusely that we didn't have his cookie, but all the while, I still had to help the other customer, and get back to the front end. What I really wished I could do was go see my daughter who my husband had dropped off in our cafe to work on her homework, so I could take her home from school.
The funny thing was, that day wasn't even a bad day. It was a relatively good day, but here's the thing. You might have this western mindset that "the customer is always right," and you might think to yourself that retail stores should be given "one chance to make a good impression," but did you ever think you were the one with all the power? You are one of hundreds of customers, and we all have bad days, I know. But what if you didn't get mad when a store didn't have something you wanted? I mean, don't we tell our kids not to stomp their feet and throw fits when they don't get their way? And what if you did tell the cashier, "Hey, it's not a big deal. It could happen to anyone!" when she makes a mistake? I mean, wont she pass that kindness on to the next person? What if you, as the customer, actually went around patting people on the back and saying "Thank you, sir!" even if the bagger was eighty years old and slow as molasses? What if he was your grandfather? What if the cashier were your daughter? What if the floor supervisor were your best friend?
Many times, I have seen customers as wound up as a snake, bursting out in angry tirade over a coupon issue and unexpectedly, they looked over and saw their neighbor standing in line next to them. Suddenly their voice began to drip with honey as they greeted their friend, feeling embarrassed and exposed. Who are you when no one, except "the unimportant people," are looking? What snide little comment do you let slide out of your mouth because on a scale of 1-10, the employees don't really matter that much to you? I know you have your problems too, and I can empathize. But remember, in all things, try to have mercy. You never know how that tide might turn, and you might find yourself in need of mercy too one day.