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Customers can't cope
with clueless clerks
Posted November 11, 2005

A week ago, my mom and I stopped at a small grocery store near my house. We placed the Granny Smith apples, gallons of milk and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos (the real purpose of our late night shopping spree) on the conveyor belt and prepared to be ignored by the checker, an increasingly disturbing occurrence at most of these transactions.

Sure enough the checker and bagger proceeded to ring us up without any regard for us. They were talking about their Halloween costumes, which was actually kind of funny since the 30-something checker was really into his costume idea.

“Man, it is so out-there-gruesome,” he said.

I would have chimed in with a comment, but like all conversations you’re excluded from, it seemed difficult and a little foolish to butt in. Had they found a way to bring this conversation into polite exchange with us, their customers, I would have been impressed.

Instead, the bagger got carried away and said, “Oh man, you should have seen this girl at this Halloween party I was at this weekend.”

You can just imagine where this conversation was headed. So could the checker. He quickly motioned the bagger to cut it out. My mom and I paid and got out of there. In between bouts of laughter, though, I realized how disturbing it is when people don’t censor themselves in a professional setting. I don’t care if it’s the bagger on the last shift at a market or a teller at a bank in the middle of the day, employees should treat their customers with respect and limit their conversations to appropriate small talk.

I have found myself in similar situations where conversations are inappropriate for a professional setting.

I have two part-time jobs, and most of the time the casual atmosphere is much appreciated, making me a better employee and customers feel welcome. But I get annoyed when staffers lapse into unprofessional language in front of customers.

Sometimes a squabble between two staffers gets out of hand. Usually it’s something trivial like one not offering the other gas money or one leaving his lunch on the counter and the other having to clean up as a trail of ants invades the kitchenette. But when it is obvious that a customer in the next room can hear everything, it’s time to quit arguing and act professional.

I’m new at my second job. On the first day, my boss said, “I’ve talked to the guys and reminded them not to get carried away and say things that are inappropriate since you’re here now.”

Although the gesture was appreciated, I can’t help thinking this should be the standard for a professional environment regardless of whether there is a woman on staff.

Any business should expect their employees to behave in a certain way. If there is a chance that a client could walk in any minute, the office conversations should reflect that at all times. Not to say that there shouldn’t be a relaxed work environment. But relaxed doesn’t have to mean you’ve stumbled into a locker room or a friend’s house. Along the lines of “customers are always right,” it’s just more professional to give the customer your attention. A good employee can show customers respect by maintaining professional conversation in their presence and including them in small talk at the checkout counter.

Bailey Porter, a senior journalism major, is web editor of the Campus Times. She can be reached by e-mail at porterb@ulv.edu.