Small Talk Means Big Problems

, , | Working | April 17, 2018

(This is mostly my fault, but it blows up because of the customer’s attitude. I am working as a cashier in a hardware store when a customer comes to my register with a flat cart loaded down with bags of mulch. He tells me how many bags he has, and I nod politely, say, “Thank you,” and start scanning each bag individually, counting them as I go.)

Customer: *repeats* “There are 16.”

(The customer seems tense and his voice is gruff.)

Me: “Thank you for letting me know. I do have to count them, though.”

Customer: “Do you think I’m a thief, or do you just not trust that I can count?”

(Here’s where I make a big mistake. I jokingly say, “Both,” while smiling, and trying to lighten up the mood a bit. I can tell it’s not working, so I say:)

Me: “It’s just a loss-prevention measure. It’s to make sure we are scanning the right number of bags, and that they’re all the same, because sometimes two bags look similar but aren’t the same item.”

Customer: “I spend over ten grand in this store every month, and you’re accusing me of theft. I want to talk to your manager!”

Me: “I was trying to make a joke. I don’t think you’re stealing. I’m just trying to scan items the way I was taught.”

(The customer insists that I accused him of theft, and tells the same story to my manager. I am honest. I tell the manager about my bad attempt at making a joke, and that I didn’t actually accuse the customer of anything. The manager sides with me, especially once the customer starts raving about how much money he spends in our store.)

Manager: “That’s interesting, because I’ve never seen you here before.”

(The customer finally leaves, still in a rage, even though I apologize multiple times. He emails corporate and insists that I be fired. The manager and I have a talk where he tells me he has to write me up, but that he doesn’t want to. He also tells me just to let go of any sense of humor I might be tempted to have while at work.)

Manager: “Smile, be polite, and be helpful, but don’t talk to customers beyond what’s necessary for business.”

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