The Life of a Retail Worker

As the holidays approach, do you think about the people who assist you in retail stores or even scan your items for purchase?  Working retail is a very thankless job.  It’s one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever worked.  There is no gratitude in it. When is the last time you said “thank you” and meant it to someone who helped you?

Although not everyone can be pleased, there are a handful who are satisfied with the service they’ve received.  At many stores and restaurants, have you noticed the website and code on your receipt?  It’s a survey. If you’ve ever had good service at an establishment, by all means, PLEASE fill that survey out!! Many jobs rely on providing wonderful customer service and by letting the company know about the service you’ve received can determine how the company can grow.

As much as I have protested against pronouncing my profession, I am a pharmacy technician.  I do my best to assist my patients (I prefer to call the people I help rather than customers) with excellent customer service.  I work at a very high volume establishment and often deal with cranky, albeit polite, patients.  I am the friendly voice that you hear on the phone.  I am the smile you see at the window or cash register.

I understand that you’re tired.  You may not be feeling well either.  I empathize with that.  I’ve had days where I’ve worked with one of the most intense migraines or perhaps a vicious bout of insomnia.  However, I don’t let that deter from my service.  I have no reason to treat anyone poorly.  I do no like making any patient wait for their medicine.  I may be having a horrible day but I want you to feel important.  You are important to me.  Why?  Because without you, I would not be able to feed my family or have a roof over my head.

I have encountered some of the most awful retail workers around.  I was polite but determined to change how the cashier treated me.  I’ve had many examples but what impacts me the most is how I can make a difference in someone else’s life.  I want you, as a customer, as a patient, to remember me when you come into my pharmacy.  I want to be the one who changes your day and makes it better.  It does not matter to me what kind of day I’m having.  Your day is just as important to me as mine is.

A couple of weeks ago, I was working the drop-off window and had to answer the phone.  My greeting is always the same:  “Thank you for calling your pharmacy, this is Mia.  How can I assist you today?”  On this particular day, a woman was on the other end.  Her first statement to me was, “Wow!  You are so friendly and I really like that.”  She then proceeded to tell me how her experience with my pharmacy has been so bad during this past year that she really didn’t want to get her medicine from us.  I was apologetic and asked how I could make her experience better.  Then, she said if my coworkers could be as kind as I am, then she would continue to come to my pharmacy.  I then proceeded to take her refill request and gave her a time to pick it up.  Unfortunately, I was at lunch when she picked up her medicine but she told the cashier that she enjoyed talking to me and hoped to see me next time.  What the woman didn’t know, was that I was stressed to the point that taking my medicine was useless.  I was so stressed, that I spent my breaks and lunch crying in my car.  She never knew that.  None of the patients I was waiting on knew what kind of day I was having.  Their day was much more important and if I can make them smile, it makes my day.

On the opposite scale, last week I received a phone call from a customer (she didn’t have any medicine to be ordered) who was looking for a particular OTC (over-the-counter) product.  I had a patient at the window and a few others in line.  I asked the woman to hold for a moment as I had to finish with the person in front of me, then I could go to the floor.  I finished with Mr. Smith, then informed the next patient that I would be right with them.  I went to the floor to find the product the customer wanted and memorized the pricing.  I resumed the phone call with the information the customer requested, let her know that there were a variety in stock along with the request that she come in to find which exact item she wanted.  She then told me that I wasted her time and I was totally worthless as a person.  I politely thanked her and told her to have a nice day.  Honestly, there is no point in being mean or rude, despite the desire to bite back when a customer is nasty.  The next patient at the window more than made up for what the mean lady said.  Yeah, she was a mean lady and I’m grateful that I don’t have to deal with her.

I did tell my manager that a customer said I was totally worthless.  I was laughing as was she.

It’s not every day that I get thanked for what I do.  At least not by patients or customers.  Think about it for a moment…  The cashier who is ringing up your purchases says nothing.  Not a single word.  Not to the customer before you (as you witnessed the transaction while you waited in line).  Not to the customer after you.  Not to you.  The cashier has their head down as they scan your items.  No eye contact.  No smile.  Just a simple “thank you” as they hand you your receipt.  I’m willing to bet it does not make you feel very good as a customer.  You most likely won’t return or keep your business to a minimum (if it’s the only store in town).

That cashier feels defeated.  At some point during his/her shift, a customer was mean, rude, and downright nasty to them.  The customer most likely complained about the products or services.  It is situations like this that make retail workers feel like they don’t matter.  We do matter.  We are just as valuable as you are.  It is the customers who make us feel like we are doing something worthwhile.  It is so simple, to make someone who works hard for what little they make, for them to feel as important as the customer.

Over the many years I’ve worked retail (in all capacities – cashier, manager, etc.), I have performed a social experiment.  While I’ve not kept track on paper of my study on humanity, I have come up with some helpful tips.  These tips or ideas if you prefer, will help you survive the upcoming holidays as you shop along with any other time you shop at a retail establishment.

  1.  Greet your cashier/assistant by their name.  It’s on their badge.  If the badge is flipped or missing, ask them their name. Saying their name makes them feel human, like a person.  Like more than just a retail worker.
  2. Ask them how their day is going.  They are will ask if you’ve found everything you needed but beat them to the punch and ask them about their day. They may respond with something as simple as “fine” or “good” or “busy”.
  3. Smile at them.  Even if you are struggling to find your smile after a long day at your job or your child is in the cart screaming because he/she didn’t get that toy they saw.  The cashier often will understand and provide you with sympathy about your day. (You will get the cashier that doesn’t understand what you have dealt with during their day but don’t let that stop you from coming back – you never know when I’ll be providing excellent customer service to you.)
  4. Thank them for their assistance.  A THANK YOU can change everything for a retail worker.  It sounds easy but sincerity in your “thank you” is the kindest thing you can give a retail worker.
  5. Do not hesitate to fill out a survey or tell a manager about the service you received, especially if your cashier/assistant was helpful.  Also, if they were not cordial, a manager that is not aware of the issue cannot rectify the situation.

Retail companies depend upon shoppers to stay in business.  I enjoy my job.  Particularly because I believe that something so small as a genuine smile can make a person feel better than any other type of medicine.

The holidays are coming, so please be kind to the person assisting you with your purchases!

Edit: Today, when I helped a patient in the drive-thru (there were two), I received this note when she returned the carrier:

This made my day (as the other patient yelled at me). I really appreciate this note.