I will never shop at Walmart on Black Friday again. I know. You are never supposed to say never. I really mean it though. I. Will. Never. Ever. Shop. At Walmart. On Black Friday. Again!! Now, I wasn’t at the one with the pepper spray or arrests, but it was still a very, very unpleasant experience. I lost count of how many times I was rear ended with another cart and nearly decapitated by flying, leopard print, memory foam bath mats (evidently the hot item this Christmas). And those were the high points of the trip.
I was so pleasant and patient though. Quite proud of myself actually. My pleasantness continued through my hour long wait in cold temperatures for my midnight Target trip and then again a few hours later at several other retail outlets. And then it happened. The guy at the frozen yogurt place was giving me grief about honoring my coupon. Something about him not having my telephone number. I snapped. All my pent up frustration was ready! While I didn’t curse or throw things, my voice did raise a few decibels as I made it clear they would honor their coupon. Not my best moment. Maybe you can identify??
I worked in retail quite a bit in my early twenties. You can understand the occasional customer meltdown. Certain situations just seem to bring out the worst in anyone, especially when the store is giving less than stellar customer service. What is sad are the people who are consistently rude, thoughtless and dismissive. What is even sadder is that most servers and retail people will tell you the worst offenders are Christians on Sunday mornings after church!
If some of our main purposes as Christians are to glorify God and point others towards Him (especially our children), shouldn’t we be more like Jesus when we shop and eat out? Maybe it is just the lack of what we used to call “home training” that causes people to be so thoughtless in public. Of course that doesn’t explain the bad reputation of Sunday morning Christians among retail workers. Maybe their expectations of us are just a little higher. Or maybe we are just tired of “being good” all morning and take it out on the people who are trying to serve us.
Whatever the reasons, the result is non-Christians (and our children) are seeing a poor reflection of Jesus in our behavior. As a former retail worker and an ex-New Yorker with lots of restaurant server friends, here are some things you might not have thought of when dealing with service people. If you and your family practice some of these with the next person who serves you, you may be surprised to find yourself telling them about God and inviting them to church. At the very least, they may have a more positive impression of Christians and as a result, God.
1. Look them in the eye and recognize them as real people. Be honest. How many times have you needed your server or been asked at check out who helped you and you have absolutely no clue what the person looks like? Servers and check out people are often treated as robots or some other non-human. Make a point to notice the color of her eyes and whether he looks happy or tired. It is an old trick that trains you to not just look, but see.
2. Carry on a brief pleasant conversation as if she were an old friend you just ran into at the mall. Exchange pleasantries. Make a joke. If you can tell he is having a rough day, try to empathize. If you frequent the same places, you will begin establishing a relationship with some people. Relationships are the best foundation for sharing Jesus’ love with them.
3. Don’t let your children tear the place up. In the retail store I managed, I can’t tell you how many parents let their children come in my store and destroy all of the displays. What was worse is that they didn’t correct the child or help the child clean up the mess. I guess they thought it was an expensive playground. If you let your children tear up your house too, then it really is time for you to start training them to be good stewards. This means they are careful with everything they touch. It also means that if they make a mess, they clean it up.
4. If something goes wrong, make sure you are angry at the right person. If the kitchen is slow, it is not your server’s fault. If an item is out of stock, it is not the cashier’s fault. Your anger may be “righteous”, but address the issue with the manager. Don’t take it out on the person who has no control over the situation. They are probably as frustrated as you are.
5. If you are getting poor customer service or are ignored or treated rudely, it is perfectly fine to expect the issue to be addressed. Try to approach the manager as someone trying to help improve her business, not as someone who wants all of the free stuff they can get. Managers are usually responsive if they feel you are being reasonable and trying to make things better for everyone. If asked, make sure your demands are in line with the “crime”. If the manager is also rude, feel free to contact his boss.
6. Tip generously! Most servers are paid way below minimum wage and live mainly off of their tips. On a $50 check, that extra 2% only costs you $1 (and an extra 10% only costs you $5). That $1 may mean the difference in not only how you are perceived, but whether or not your server can pay one of her bills this month. If it helps, try and remember your early working days and how just a few extra dollars made a huge difference. Teach your children how to figure out tips and let them practice.
7. Use your manners. All requests should be preceded by “please” and followed by “thank you”. Teach your children to treat everyone with respect and good manners. Store clerks are notorious for treating children poorly under the assumption they have no money to spend. Teach your child how to politely, but firmly ask for and receive respect from the people they encounter. Using good manners, is an excellent way for a child to get more respect and attention from adults.
8. Be patient. Count to 40 or 100 or 1000 before losing your cool. Remember, you are probably the 20th or 50th person that salesperson has served today. Many of those customers were rude, dismissive and just plain mean. Even the most patient person would start to feel beaten up after a bad day. It doesn’t excuse their rude behavior to you, but it may help you feel a little empathy for them before you start to deal with the situation.
9. If someone gives you particularly good service, make a huge deal about it. Ask to speak to his manager and tell her what an excellent employee she has in him. Write her district manager a complementary letter about her. It takes a few extra minutes on your part, but it can be a wonderful gift to the employee who helped you. Make as big of a positive fuss as you would a negative one had the employee given you poor service.
None of us is perfect and retail and restaurant life can bring out the worst in anyone. Especially when you are starving! Maybe if we imagine Jesus shopping or dining with us, we will remember what our goals are – to glorify God and take as many people with us to heaven as possible. Especially our children. What better witness than to treat the people you encounter the way Jesus would treat them. You may just end up sitting next to your cashier in church next Sunday!