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Customer Service Training Ideas: No Comments on How Much Food I Buy

I love good customer service. When you find a store that consistently provides it for you it’s a thing of beauty. It’s obvious their employees have been through customer service training because they consistently focus on it day in and day out. I find it really makes shopping at their establishment enjoyable.

grocery cart with healthy foodOn the other hand bad customer service turns me off. What’s frustrating is when it happens at stores I frequent because of a) their location, b) their superior products or c) their prices. I intentionally go to these stores for one of those reasons and to shop elsewhere would be inconvenient. So I’m forced to endure the annoying service at times because those other reasons win out.

I took over the majority of the shopping last fall when I quit my job to be a stay at home dad. In the past year I’ve noticed some of the worst people at customer service are the ones I have the most contact with: the checkout clerks. The ones who have me riled up right now are those I find at the grocery store.

“Yes, I Know My Cart Is Full”

It’s a constant chore to manage the food budget, especially for large families. We have four kids so with six mouths to feed each week I’m buying a lot of food. It doesn’t matter how much I plan or try to cut back, my grocery cart is always full – or overflowing – by the time I roll into the checkout line.

And oh, you should see the looks I get.

But the worst part is the comments.

Sometimes they come from other shoppers, which for some reason I don’t tend to mind (unless it’s just an obnoxious comment). Call it the commiserating of fellow souls who in their own world also feel the pain of how much they have to spend on food.

What I could really do without are the comments from the checkout clerks. The very people you would expect to be adequately trained in customer service skills sometimes make life miserable as they are scanning the items. Here’s a case in point from my last trip.

I have one main shopping trip for groceries per week. I do it to save time and money. If I went two or three times each week – getting a bit here and there – I’d end up spending more. So once again this past week my cart is loaded.

As the person in front of us is finishing up their order my wife and I begin to place our items onto the conveyor belt. By the time the previous customer is finished paying the conveyor belt is full of groceries and we’ve only emptied about half our cart.

The clerk looks at my wife and with a smile says, “What…You out of food at home?” My wife politely smiles back and says nothing. I know inside though she is seething and screaming, “We have ourselves and four kids to feed…Leave us alone!” (My suspicions on her feelings were confirmed when we got inside our car and she unloaded her feelings.)

Then halfway through the checkout process came the next comment. “Did you know how much those razors cost?” says the clerk having just scanned the 8-pack of Gillette Fusion razors I had picked up. “Why are they so expensive?”

So on the spot I taught her some basic economic theory.

“Because the company is great at marketing and people love the razors. So because they are in demand they can charge pretty much whatever they want.”

But then I felt I had to defend my $30 purchase because I was getting “that look.” You know the one when someone doesn’t approve you bought something so expensive. So I launch into defense mode and explain how I don’t shave everyday and how that pack of razors – with the proper care – will last me at least 6-8 months.

As the last few items cross the scanner and the final tally of $288 flashes across the register, I’m forced to hear one final comment as I slide my debit card to pay.

“Well,” she says, “It’s only money. You can’t take it with you.”

She may have been trying to make me feel better that I had spent so much. But here’s the thing…I didn’t need to feel better. I was perfectly fine with it. She was assuming the worst in my attitude when in fact there was nothing wrong.

Customer Service Training Idea

These comments may not seem like much. I’m just weary of the continually scrutiny I receive because of the amount of food I buy for our family. We eat a lot of food…I get it. But we are not wasteful. We don’t hoard food. We try to eat healthy which means we sometimes have to buy more to prepare meals that way.

So here is an idea for stores as they train their employees on customer service: emphasize appropriate communication with the customer when they are checking out. This is such a big deal because the last point of contact at a store is the register. You don’t want a customer leaving with a bad taste in his or her mouth because of what happened during checkout.

It’s not that I hate talking to the checkout clerks either. I’m open to a few lines of conversation in the moments it takes to scan my items. In fact, I’d love to engage them if they made comments like these:

“Oh…I love those too!” (When seeing something I’m buying they also enjoy.)

“Have you ever tried _____? They are great.”

“Have any big plans this weekend?”

“So what are making for dinner tonight?”

“Did you find everything you need?”

So to all checkout clerks out there, if you can’t come up with something appropriate to say, then say nothing at all. Smile politely, do your job quickly and thank me for coming. After all, it’s my full grocery cart that is paying your salary.

Questions: Am I the only one who has this problem? Do you ever get looks at the grocery store when your cart is full? Any experience with odd comments from checkout clerks? Do you feel the need to get defensive with people when you buy so much food?

Image by Greggavedon.com at Flickr Creative Commons

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  1. Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank says

    So it was you, Brian. Me? I really don’t bring up a conversation with them. If they talk, I just answer it directly or just nod. That’s it. “Did you find everything you need?” I just answer back. Yea, I think so. Then I just thank them whatever the customer service is.

  2. I hate checking out at the grocery store. I almost always go to the self checkout so I don’t have to talk to people, but obviously with a cart full of groceries that is a little more difficult. One thing that I have found to make the checkout line a little more enjoyable is if I go shopping at like 9pm on the same weeknight every week. There are very little people in the store and usually the same clerk works every week, then I can go to his or her line and only have to answer the stupid questions once. The next time they remember you were the weirdo who bought xyz and don’t need to ask you about your damn razors again.

  3. Nothing drives me crazier than bad customer service. And it incredibly frustrating when your favorite stores have the worst service. I know training is costly, but I also wonder how store management and owners would feel if they heard her, because she was essentially telling you that you spent too much money in her store. The store that pays her salary.

  4. If I cave and buy Mr. P some of his favorite junk food, people will often ask me how many kids I have. Answer: 0. I’m fine with casual conversation, but I’d much prefer a smile and efficient scanning to anything else. Plus, I watch the register neurotically, so I like to focus on that.

  5. I am one of those people that always analyze the service I receive when I shop at a store. I am amazed at how poor the service is some times. It boils down to training and management. If I owned a business (such as a grocery store), I would definitely make sure that the staff knows how to interact with customers appropriately. Poor service, one time only, will cause me to take my business elsewhere. I love your blog!

  6. Oh, so you’re the one clogging up the line! :p

    Next time, just tell them, “It’s so good to be rich!”

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