“The schedule was wrong. I can’t find you relief for a break so here’s a $20 gift card instead.”
“Why must we form one line? He wants to play the lottery and I want to return all my groceries. I’m in a hurry.”
Everyone was always in a hurry especially during the holiday season. I’ll never forget one time I was relieving a cashier for their break and rung up $250 worth of groceries for a customer for him to pause, pat all his pockets and then release this exasperated sigh. “I forgot my wallet. I’ll be right back.”
I’m not sure if he ever came back but I had a line winding through aisle six and I was not going to wait for him to return. I smiled, moved all his groceries and then moved on.
It was never a dull moment unless it was the day after Thanksgiving and the day after Christmas or a Steeler game was on. Those are all great days to go grocery shopping.
“Hey! Where are you from?”
I smiled bagging the old lady’s groceries because I was curious to the direction of the conversation and after working customer service for years, genuinely smiling became second nature.“I’m from Pittsburgh. Do you want your Diet Coke out?”
She nodded and smiled at me. “Oh! I would’ve thought you were from down south because of your dark skin.”
“Oh thanks! Have a nice day,” I told her. In my head I silently welcomed her to the twenty first century. Her logic didn’t make any sense.
“There’s a partially blind lady on the phone. She says she’s on her way and she needs someone to help her shop.”
Somehow, that someone would sometimes be me and the woman’s name was Marcy. She was an awesome lady with impeccable timing. We’d always scramble to take care of her. If you thought helping a blind woman shop was smooth sailing you were sadly mistaken. It was more difficult than helping the deaf woman get a ride but it was all a part of the fun. Marcy knew what she liked and didn’t like and she’d tell you about her cat in between the items on her grocery list. Her independence amazed me.
“Let me feel it,” she’d sometimes ask before placing an item in the cart. Time always stood still when helping her shop.
“Do you have bakery experience?” The service desk was the opposite of Adventures with Marcy. All I needed was a chair and I promise you I would be in the business of listening to peoples’ problems. “The bakery forgot her order and we need someone to write on a cake.”
“I could try but you don’t want me writing on your cake. I can man the desk while you find someone else.”
“I need to return this turkey. I don’t have a receipt. My wife already brought one. Can I just have my money back?” I not only couldn’t give him his money back but I also had to throw away the turkey that left the store. Ever since that one guy walked in the store, picked up an empty bag, stuffed a bunch of steaks in it and returned it with a sob story, I couldn’t take anything without a receipt.
“You can keep the turkey or take the gift card.” He took the gift card.
“How long does it take to cook a turkey?”
“It depends on the weight. It should say it on the label.” There is no telling people to Google it in customer service. You are their Google and I had to answer questions that had nothing to do with grocery.
“I found a Gameboy someone will be looking for it.”
And that they will be, I told myself after I thanked the stranger for returning it. I placed the Gameboy somewhere safe knowing it wasn’t like the necklaces, rings, umbrellas and the random shoe in the lost and found.
“My son lost his Gameboy. Please tell me someone found it.”
I smiled at the lady and her son by her side. “Please describe it.” That’s protocol for returning any lost and found item.
“It’s blue, it’s a DS and the sticker on the bottom is coming off.”
She described it to a “t” and I felt like a superhero as the kid bounced away with his mother in tow.
“Your prices are too high. What’s the number to the grocery store in Edgewood? I thought Coinstar was free. Is the lottery down everywhere?”
I sometimes made a game out of answering questions. “Hello! Can I guess your accent? Walmart is cheaper and just one second I’ll find the number for you. And yes the lottery is down everywhere. I’m sorry you can hand me your list while you shop and I’ll get them in when it does come up.”
“My son lost his Gameboy. Have you seen it?” It felt like Déjà Vu On the outside, I was smiling but inside I was very confused. “It was a blue DS with a sticker on the back. He lost it about an hour ago.”
“Another person claimed it ma’am.” Seventeen year old me was confident in my answer very much so prepared for her temperament.
“How could you give away my son’s Gameboy? Do you know how expensive it is? I want to speak to your manager.”
“One second. I’ll go get him.” I wanted to melt like the butter I found in aisle one but the smile never left my face. “What are the odds that two people would lose the same toy on the same day?
“You’d have a better chance of winning the lottery. Is it still down?” James enlightened me before I went back to my adventure behind the desk.
“Here’s my receipt. This pie is stale.” An older man explained placing a container that used to have a whole pie in it and now only sat two measly slices from two weeks ago when he bought it.
I asked no questions. We had a no worry guarantee on store brand products. I threw away what was left of the pie, gave the man his money back, thanked him and moved on.
“I have to send Western Union. My grandson. He’s in trouble overseas.” She’s was an awesome old lady who came in every other month in a panic. Western Union sent us over alerts about scams and this lady always came in with a textbook scam story.
“Miss,” I would walk from behind the desk and comfort her. “Your grandson is okay.”
“But someone called and said he was in trouble and he needed a thousand dollars.” It was always an absurd amount.
“Ma’am. I’m sure its fine. Go home, call your grandson and then come back if it’s really him. It’s hard to get your money back if it truly is a scam.”
“Oh! Okay thanks. I’ll call him.”
I wasn’t sure if she forgot my lecture or the con artists were advanced but she always returned with a new story and a new amount.
“I only paid $12 for this you gave me $24. I just want new shrimp. I can’t take… ”
“It’s policy. You weren’t satisfied. You get double your money.” The young woman went from stressed to flustered about returning the frozen shrimp unaware of the double your money guarantee. Those were my favorite kind of customers. I thoroughly enjoyed making someone’s day. “Buy another bag or keep the $12. We made a mistake. You say it was freezer burned than that it was. Thanks for shopping with us. Have a nice day.”
“Oh,” You can tell she wasn’t used to such customer service as she placed the money in her wallet. “Thanks for letting me know.”
I’ve always talked to strangers so me excelling at customer service for five years was no surprise. Some of my customers were like family and came in to talk to me every day. Even during the super busy holiday season, I did my best to give every customer my undivided attention. Even the mean ones got my smile. Rather it was 6am on a Sunday morning or 6pm on Christmas Eve I showed up with a smile in tow welcoming regulars and guessing accents of the new. I didn’t care that some people looked down upon retail workers because I was enjoying myself and without retail workers, there would be no stores, no warehouses, commercial truck drivers. They’re the first face you see and kind of like the tiny strings that connect the heart to the rest of the corporation. Sure, I had my rough days but even on my worst day I showed up with a smile because it’s contagious and it can get you anywhere.