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    Understaffed But Not Understood

    | Greensboro, NC, USA | At The Checkout, Books & Reading, Crazy Requests

    (On the day before Father’s Day, with a huge sale going on, the coworker who is supposed to come in to work with me doesn’t show up. I am swamped and can’t answer any phone calls. I just stay at the counter ringing people up. We are so busy that I don’t have time to call any of my coworkers to see if they can come in to cover the shift. There is only about half an hour until two other coworkers are coming in, so I just do my best until then. With a line about ten customers long, a customer comes storming up to the register and interrupts the conversation I’m having with the customer currently at my register.)

    Customer: “I need some help! Where is the employee who should be working the sales floor right now?”

    Me: “I’m very sorry, ma’am, but no one else is here right now. If you’ll kindly wait in line, I’d be glad to help you shortly.”

    Customer: “What?! This is outrageous! You should have more than one person working! Everyone knows that is just good business!”

    Me: “Unfortunately, there was a scheduling mix-up. I’m the only one here right now.”

    Customer: “But I need one of you to help me find something! What am I supposed to do? That’s what you all get paid to do! I am very busy and I need to get my Father’s Day gifts bought! I don’t have all day! Really, on a holiday, you should have more than one person working!”

    (Since the customer isn’t listening to me, I just turn back to serving the line at the counter. I finish the next customer, and try to explain the schedule issue again, but she’s not having any of it. One of our regular customers is standing nearby at a sale table and finally speaks up.)

    Regular Customer: “Ma’am, what is wrong with your hearing? She just explained to you that her coworker didn’t show up! I think she’s doing a remarkable job handling all of this by herself. You are just making things worse!”

    Customer: “All I need is to see if they have these items in stock! Can’t she see I am in a hurry?”

    Regular Customer: “As are most of us. It’s a busy holiday at a popular store. What do you expect? When people don’t show up to do their jobs it makes it harder on the rest of their coworkers, especially when there’s only one other person working!”

    Customer: “But—”

    Regular Customer: “Now, I don’t work here, but I shop here often. In favor of giving everyone in line and this poor employee a break, I’m going to help you find what you need. But only so you leave us all alone!”

    (I thank the regular and the two disappear into the back of the store. The customers in line make some comments. A moment later, the original customer storms to the front and out the door. I turn to the regular customer as she returns.)

    Me: “What happened?”

    Regular Customer: “You didn’t have the item she wanted. Her sale flyer was for the bookstore down the street.”