Sunday, April 3, 2016

How NOT to help a retail customer

By day, I work at a retail job in another city, in another county. I like the job a lot for many reasons. The associates I work with are, for the most part, kind to me. The company is a good one that offers good benefits, although Obamacare requirements kind of messed up some of that, it seems. The customers are wonderful people, and I like to help them find the products they need to complete the projects or make the repairs necessary in their homes.

I’d tell you the name of the store, but the company’s social media policy is quite strict, and since this column will be posted in the social media, I am prohibited from naming it. It is a store that sells products related to the home is all I can ethically reveal.

(DISCLAIMER:  I must here and now tell you that I do not represent myself as any kind of expert related to home improvement or repairs. I do not speak as an agent of the company that owns the store in which I work, and any opinions I offer today or any day here or anywhere, including church, are strictly my own, not those of the company for which I work.)

Who among us doesn’t like to be helpful to other people and to be appreciated? That’s why I like to help customers. They’re grateful when I help them find what they want or need, and they express appreciation. As a daily newspaper reporter by night, generally I get griped at and about, so I appreciate my daytime retail job immensely.

Here’s a poem I wrote about recently helping one of my customers:


It was right after lunch at the big-box store where I work,
and because helping customers is something I never shirk,
I walked up to the woman who looked like a lost little lamb,
and I said to her, politely. “What can I help you find today, ma’am?”

She was in the lighting department and she held broken bulbs in a bag,
She appeared confused, her tired shoulders seemed to sag,
I didn’t know if she was from the North or from Dixie,
but  her hair was cut in a style you could call pixie.

I spoke to her quietly, gently, because she was older than me,
while she replied in a voice that was soft and lilting as could be,
“I need some ceiling fan lightbulbs, to be exact, two,
“One that is a teardrop shape, and another that is blue.”

“Well, let’s go see if we can find what you need,” I encouragingly said,
and she pushed her cart behind me, as to the bulb aisle I led,
where I quickly found the bulbs with the shape of a tear.
“But, ma’am,” I said. “Bulbs that are blue, we don’t have, I fear.”

Then I saw Charles, the associate in lighting and electrical sales,
who knows a whole lot; with information and help he never fails.
“Charles,” I said, “this lady needs these two broken bulbs to replace.”
Then I said thanks and good-bye to her and left with a smile on my face.

While disposing of trash in the back of the store, later in the day,
I saw Charles walk past, “Hey, ole buddy, what do you say?”
“Were you able to help that woman who I referred to you?
“Did you find her a ceiling fan bulb that was the color blue?”

“No, R.D.,” said Charles. “We don’t have blue bulbs for lights on a ceiling fan.
“By the way, that customer you kept calling a woman was really a man.”
I was dumb-founded, slack-jawed and could not think of what to say.
“Are you sure, Charles,” I said. “Absolutely,” he said, and then walked away.

So, men, whenever to a home improvement store you go,
I want you to know I mean to help you as you spend your hard-earned dough.
But, please, roughen up your voice and don’t cut your hair like a dame.
So I won’t call you ma’am. That will save me from much shame.

I really feel badly about confusing that gentleman for a lady. I’ll be honest with you: With the number of people we see in that store every day and with the way styles of clothing and hair are today, I have seen a number of people who I wasn’t quite sure what gender they represented. In those cases, I was careful not to call them either “Sir” or “Ma’am.” I just acted respectfully and used generic terms.

But in this case, I was fooled. And I feel right foolish.

I am sorry, sir.

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