4.09.2018

Day 7: Hello there, I'm a person.

Welcome to 12 Days of Retail. My last day (for real this time) at Old Navy is quickly approaching and this series serves as a sort of wrap-up to my time there. I've rounded up the worst customer offenses into 12 general categories. Some are truly terrible and some are relatively minor, but together they cover almost everything that is terrible about working retail, in my ten years of experience.

One of the most annoying and frequent issues we deal with at Old Navy is people who are on autopilot. This is how I refer to people who are checked out, busy, distracted, or otherwise not paying attention to what we're saying to them.

When people are on autopilot, they don't properly engage with our questions. This is a problem for two reasons. The first is just basic human decency—unless you're at a self-checkout, shopping requires an interaction with a human being. I'm a human, you're a human, let's have a conversation. The second reason is that there are some questions we genuinely need the answer to! Before I can process your card, I need to know if it's debit or credit. Before the transaction is over, I need to know if you want your receipt emailed or printed.

Obviously, in terms of speed and efficiency, the second issue is more important. But let's talk about the first one first. Working retail is not easy. We are supposed to be pleasant and engaging with every customer we come across. From the very beginning of these helpful conversations we're supposed to be having, where we approach customers on the sales floor to see if they need help, we are ignored:

"Hi, how are you today?"
"Just looking."

Oh, um, okay.

It may not seem like a huge deal, but when nearly every interaction is tinged with the feeling that the person is just wishing it would be over, it gets really demoralizing. Have you ever had a nice conversation with a cashier and felt like they were incredibly grateful for some reason? This is why.

I'm not saying you have to be super chatty; I'm really just asking that you answer my questions and speak to me like I'm a human. When people can't even do that, for whatever reason—they're too engrossed in their phone, they're rummaging through their purse, they have headphones in while they're checking out—it's clear that they think they're above needing to speak to retail workers.

Don't get me wrong—I don't think anyone is consciously thinking "I'm above these people" when they deal with retail workers. But you wouldn't ignore a coworker or a friend who was standing in front of you talking to you, right? Of course not! Then why are you not paying attention to the cashier who is literally working in service of you?

Okay, now let's move on for a bit to the second issue with people who are on autopilot, and then I can tell you my favorite autopilot story of all time.

As demeaning as it is to have conversations with people who are not paying attention all the time, I can get past that. The really unacceptable part is that a lot of the things I say or ask during a transaction actually require an answer, so then I have to repeat myself or prompt the customer to pay attention in some other way. Here are a few common examples:

1)
Me: Receipt with you or in the bag?
Customer: Yes.

2)
Me: Would you like your receipt emailed to you, printed, or both?
Customer: Emailed is fine.
Me: Great, what's your email?
Customer: Oh, sorry, can you print it?

3)
Me: Is that going to be credit or debit?
Customer: Yes.

4)
Me: Is that going to be credit or debit?
Customer: Debit.
Me: Okay, you can just swipe it.
Customer: *inserts card*
Me: Since it's debit, you can swipe it instead of inserting it.
Customer: Why isn't this working?

It is so frequent and so annoying. Almost constantly throughout a shift, I find myself having to repeat things, ask things in a different way, etc. And I even try pretty hard to improve my basic scripting in hopes that asking a question differently will help. (Spoiler alert: It doesn't.)

At the risk of sounding dramatic, it really is disheartening that people have so little regard for their fellow humans that they can't be bothered to pay attention to the person serving them during a quick two-minute transaction.

And now here is my favorite autopilot story of all time. Unfortunately, it happened last fall and I didn't write the conversation down until now, so I don't remember the exact substance, but this is the gist of it.

A Spanish-speaking customer came up to my register. She also spoke a little English, and that is how she started the conversation, but she quickly hit a wall and needed to switch to Spanish.

This is totally fine. I can speak enough Spanish to get by in most customer interactions. But I guess she assumed I wouldn't be able to speak Spanish, so she turned to my coworker and asked her instead. I told my coworker I could handle it and then turned back to my customer and answered her question in Spanish.

And I swear, she said to me, "Lo siento, no hablo ingles."

Like, what? I wasn't speaking English!

After I recovered from my shock, I repeated what I had said originally, which was the Spanish answer to what she had asked in Spanish, and she turned to my coworker again and asked her the question again.

Like, she was so on autopilot that she didn't notice I was speaking the same language as her. How do you do that?

I even asked my coworker later to make sure I was saying the right thing and I had been. So there was no excuse.

Today's pro-tip: Don't be so self-absorbed that you can't have a conversation with the person selling you clothes.

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