It would have taken just a look. One look. A meeting of the eyes, a flicker of understanding, a slight nod of the head. Recognition, acknowledgement of our presence.
Instead, we got nothing. The woman at the cash register continued her determined activity with pointed indifference to the growing line. Her focus on the task at hand was so concentrated, so deliberate, that in the fifteen minutes we waited without any discernible progress, her studious ignoring of our presence seemed intentional. In that amount of time, our eyes should have met at least once, even if only by chance.
We felt shut out.
This scenario played out a couple of weeks ago, when a colleague and I found ourselves in a Food Lion several states from home, buying supplies for a job site film shoot. We unloaded our cart onto the conveyor band behind a woman whose pile of provisions didn’t look too intimidating. Unfortunately, the transaction took a complicated posture when we realized the clerk was shuffling a handful of vouchers, counting items, adding totals, making cryptic pen marks, and reshuffling the papers in her hand. Initially, we weren’t fazed; we had a little time, and this kind of thing is a normal grocery store event.
Unfortunately, time seemed to stop. Nothing on the band moved. As clerk shuffled and reshuffled, the bags of ice we had placed on the conveyor belt slowly started to melt. Five minutes passed, then ten. My colleague and I shifted from foot to foot, starting to get nervous about our return to the job site. After fifteen minutes, another clerk took pity on us and invited us to his newly opened station, four lanes over. We piled everything back into the cart and made the move. By the time we left the store, the woman in our original lane was just wrapping up.
Frustrated as we felt, the problem wasn’t the wait. Anyone who has ever visited a grocery store knows that this stuff happens. The problem was how the clerk handled it. Never once did she look at us or let us know that SHE knew we were there. She never acknowledged our presence or our wait, never offered a sympathetic smile, never made a connection. Instead, she put up an invisible barrier and locked us out of her world.
I figure she was flustered by the transaction and that the growing line was overwhelming for her. She imagined the rising discontent and shrank away. Sadly, she could have diffused much of the frustration by simply recognizing it. She could have looked us in the eye and nodded, or said Good afternoon. I’ll be with you just as soon as I can. We would have understood, perhaps even found a sort of limited solidarity. Instead, when we finally walked away from her line, we left feeling frustrated and unimportant.
Just one look. That’s all it would have taken.
Sometimes, customer service is as simple as that.