Customer Service; Is It a Fine Art in Your Community ?

Three hours ago I was standing in line at the local Safeway grocery store listening to the conversation between Chelsea the cashier lady and Andrew the guy two people in front of me in line. He stood with an unbuttoned denim jacket with white fur clinging to the lapels which strangely matched his long stringy white hair that poked out around his pair of dark rimmed glasses. Had it not been for the people between Andrew and myself I’m fairly certain there would have been a fair odour about him as well because the lady about four-ish feet away kept cringing her nose and saying things to her husband that eluded to body odour or a skunk or both.

What really got me was the casual conversation between Chelsea and Andrew like they were close casual friends. It reminded me of a movie I watched back in my twenties about “single serving friends” when people sit on public transportation next to each other. It was about airplane passengers, if I recall correctly.

As the bags were lifted off the conveyor belt and into his basket Andrew looked sharply into Chelsea’s eyes and thanked her for her kindness than pushed his 15-plastic shopping bags in the overly large green shopping cart past the end of the till and out the “exit door” leading back into the frigid February evening temperatures.

“Okay buddy,” she began, “do you want these flowers wrapped up? together or separate?” giving the guy in front of me her pearly white smile and best customer service. The guy shrugged then said, “whatever you think is best Chelsea.” She scooped up the two packages of fresh cut flowers and wandered away whistling. Upon her return with the singular brown paper bag and finished up the guy. “That’ll be twenty-six oh-five. Cash, debit, Visa? Do you have Air Miles?” she rattled off the racket that plagues every cashier in every store across the country.

“Okay, Mrs., please place your things on the conveyor,” she said without a smile towards the woman who a few minutes ago was making snarky comments about Andrew. “Well how are you folks tonight?” she began in a pleasant manner. “Oh really. Just coming in from the cold for a bit of the rub and rug chicken’ are’yea!” She flashed a wicked smile at the woman in her dark brown fur ankle length coat. “Beat’cha you folks have one of those nifty EELectric vehicles out there in the parker-lot, don’t cha,” She continued egging the couple on. “Will you need some more plastic for your things?” She was on fire! The woman in her fur snuck a look at her husband and I’m certain the daggers in her eyes were protruding wildly. Although from my angle I couldn’t make out if it was a bit embarrassing too.

“Okay love,” Chelsea looked in my direction, “you may place your things on the conveyor.” Except my brain had wandered off some place else and wasn’t paying attention to the commands of Chelsea the cashier. “Love?” she starred in my direction as I was looking down at the floor contemplating how many 4×4-inch square tiles it took to complete this part of the walk-through at the cashiers till.

“Hey BUDDY!” she was nearly shouting in my direction the anger trying to subside as the fur coated lady passed her with her single plastic bag heading for the exit door with a grimace upon her face. Tonight the customer was not always correct at this till. I giggled inwardly. Then my eyes drifted up into my hands which were holding onto two gluten-free no-sugar added 454g of peppered salami and a 250g chocolate bar called “a Cuban Lunch”.

  • Cuban Lunch The “original” was made from milk chocolate and Spanish peanuts. Today the “knockoff” is made with regular peanuts and dark chocolate.  

A moment later the gentleman behind me says, “Hey buddy, I think the till lady wants you to put…” turning around I look at the guy and said, “sorry … she’s a bit scary! I’m not sure if she’s going to be nice to me like Andrew and the flower guy? Or if she’s going to bit my head off like she did with that fur coat lady. Maybe if I offer her my Cuban Lunch then she’ll be kind to me, too?” I stood sheepishly looking down at the delicious choco-bar in the palm of my left hand. “To be honest, if you don’t step up to the till, then I’m just going to go on around you ‘cuz my truck is out there warminup for me’e.”

Without thinking much more about the world around me, I thanked the guy behind for the gentle shove in the proverbial back and approached Chelsea the hot-and-cold cashier. Dropping my items on the conveyor and slowly approached my standing position behind the thick sheet of plastic which separated us like fish in a fish bowl.

She starred at me through her own thick rimmed glasses and says, “Oooooh the Cuban Lunch. Have you ever had the ‘real one’ ?”

Starring down at the choco-bar my brain skipped passed answering her question when my thoughts crept over me learning that both the chaco-bar and myself were the two “fake things” standing in this line. Then without answering her question I replied to her, “why did you treat that fur coat lady so poorly? And why did you treat the flower guy and Andrew differently? Isn’t the customer always right?”

She looked hard at me through the fish bowl glass between us. Her hands grabbed the salami and swiped it past the scanner. She picked up the fake choco-bar and slide it passed the front of the computer without scanning it. I starred at her. She starred at me. “That’ll be $15,97 sir. Do you have Air Miles? And how will you be paying?” I starred in disbelief. She was trying to pull a fast one. “Um, miss. Um… I don’t have Air Miles. and Um, I do believe you didn’t scan that there choco-bar,” my hands trembled whilst I corrected her behaviour. She smiled down the bridge of her stout nose and said, “Agh… you’re one of the good ones. Thanks for catching that, their buddy.”

I smiled at her.

She smiled back.

The pleasantries were officially over as I paid with the visa heard the cashier register accept the transaction and start printing out the receipt. Receipt stuffed into the plastic bag she set it at the end of the pickup area and with a flick of her right wrist she waved me onward towards the exit door with a shoo-fly-shoo motion.

And as I walked the eight-steps towards the exit door, I heard over my shoulder “Okay bud, you can place your stuff up on the conveyor…and don’t YOU be a wise arse like that last fella was! Or I’m goin’ ta take a break from it, yeah-hear.”

~ James Curtis