Column: Thoughtless customers are the other side of the coin

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 15, 2002

&uot;Rudeness is better than any argument; it totally eclipses intellect.&uot; &045;Arthur Schopenhauer, &uot;Position&uot; in &uot;Essays,&uot; 1851

A few months ago, I wrote a column describing what seems to be retailers’ lack of concern for good customer service. By no means did I intend to suggest that good service is non-existent. Some places of business are the exception, and I appreciate their efforts to see that my needs as a customer are met.

As deserving as these places are of the recognition, however, this column is not about them. It describes instead how some people can take advantage of the philosophy that &uot;the customer is always right.&uot; There is such a thing as being a &uot;problem customer,&uot; and you don’t have to work in a retail setting to notice it. I have noticed it rather frequently as a customer myself.

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One example occurred recently while I was eating at a fast-food restaurant. An elderly couple came in and looked all over the restaurant for a table that was to their liking. None of the many seats available seemed to suit them. Finally, they took a table across from me. The gentleman went to the front of the restaurant and brought one of the employees to the table, while his wife pointed out several &uot;unclean&uot; spots on the table and seat. The employee wiped them off, one by one, until the entire surface met their approval.

I understand the importance of restaurant cleanliness, but this was ridiculous. Granted, the tables may not have been spotless, but they were clean enough, considering that you can use the carrying tray or the food wrappers as a sort of plate. Had the couple been in the kind of restaurant where you order from a menu and the server brings your food to the table, they would have been more justified in their actions.

Ordering the employees around is crossing the line, however, in a restaurant where you order from a menu on the wall. There is a reason why the prices are lower and no tipping is expected &045; it is largely a self-serve experience. A solution to this problem might be to offer actually waiting on the customers in fast-food restaurants &045; for a 15 percent gratuity added automatically to the bill.

Another example of rudeness is people who accept calls on their cellular phone while in a place of business. They don’t respond if greeted, and they roll their eyes in irritation if they are interrupted by the salesperson, even for a legitimate question about their purchase.

This is just as impolite as the salesperson who carries on a conversation with a friend while ignoring the customer. Since the culprits guilty of this crime against polite society probably won’t abandon that charming trait soon, I propose a solution for everyone who works in a retail setting: Remember, it is rude to interrupt people. If the customer is on the phone, let him or her finish the call before burdening them with service. And don’t forget to smile! Politeness goes a long way.

In any business, this would definitely reduce the number of customers trying to make purchases during a conversation. Granted, it might reduce the number of customers altogether &045; but at least you won’t have to hear someone giving a caller the details of Aunt Martha’s hip surgery anymore.

One problem customer we’ve all seen is the shopper who tries to sneak more than 12 items through the express lane in a store. I don’t mean the shopper who sneaks an extra three or six items through when there aren’t any other customers in the line. I’m referring to the person who will, without a second thought about it, empty an entire shopping cart onto the conveyor belt, regardless of how many other people are in line.

The only way I can think of to discourage this activity is to allow this only on the condition that the customer doing this will be allowed only one bag. If they insist on getting it all through the &uot;12 or less&uot; lane, they should have to get it all in one bag as well.

In a perfect world, rude customers would shop only in stores with poor customer service. That is seldom the case, though, and I think I understand why: Even they have the good sense to not do business with people like themselves.

Dustin Petersen is an Albert Lea resident. His column appears Mondays.