An Interaction with a Stranger

Over eleven years I was employed at a financial organization that prided itself on customer service.  So much so, that for the time I worked there, customer service became a core value of mine.  Everywhere I go, I have high standards for customer service excellence.  It also impacted my core values when I opened my own consulting business in 2003.  The way you treat your customers drives everything else.

So, today, when I entered a local supermarket to go food shopping, my values of customer service couldn’t help but stay with me.  I gathered my grocery items into my cart and headed to one of the registers to pay for my items.  Many registers were open, so I randomly chose one (…or was it so random?).  As I approached the register the cashier was putting plastic bags into the slots where they place your groceries once you have paid. 

Before I headed down the aisle to place my items on the conveyor belt, I said, “excuse me, is this register opened?”  The woman, turned to me, and said “yes” in a tone I interpreted as that she really wanted to say “no, the register is closed and I don’t want to help you right now” and her eyes appeared to lack the luster to show she wanted to help.  Hmm, how did I assume all this so quickly?

I debated, as I hesitantly placed my items on the conveyor belt, whether I should move to another cashier who might be more interested to help, but something inside me said to stay, so I did.

While the cashier was scanning my items, I helped bag them.  The cashier never spoke to me throughout the entire transaction, never made eye contact, didn’t thank me for shopping at their supermarket or wished me a nice day.  I felt like I was doing her a disservice being there.

After all the items were paid and in my cart, I couldn’t help but say “Hope you have a good day today.”  She looked at me as if wanting me to say something else, so I said  “It doesn’t look like you are having a good day, I hope everything is okay?”

It was at that point, her facial expressions changed and she literally moved away from the register and walk around to where I was and said, “I am not having a good day, someone just passed away.” Her tone was sincere, her eyes filled with warmth.  Now, I wondered, was this interaction random or meant to be.

  • How often do you let your first impression influence your thought process?  
  • How often do you pay attention to and pick up when a colleague or team member is not doing well?  
  • How often do we ask an open ended question to see if there is more you can understand and in turn, make someone’s day a bit brighter?

One might argue, it’s a customer service role and regardless of what is going on, you need to push through it and maintain that high standards of excellence.  There is certainly some validity to this, yet we are humans, and not perfect.  Learning to find those moments of compassion and care when a colleague, team member or manager may need it the most can go a long way in establishing a connection that could otherwise not have occurred.

So, rather than leaving the food store wanting to complain about their customer service or feeling bad, I left feeling like somehow a complete stranger and I made a connection that helped make each other’s day just a little bit better.

Try to avoid making assumptions about another person’s behavior based on first impressions or not enough facts and information.  More times than not, you will find by learning more about the other person’s reasons for their behavior, that it will influence, ultimately, what you decide to feel and act.

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JM Consulting Group, LLC