Friday, 2 December 2016

Show a Little Kindness When Christmas Shopping This December

A shopping mall at Christmas

Christmas is almost upon us, and so begins the rush to buy Christmas presents. Most of our shopping is likely to be done online, but there are still those of us who like to brave the freezing temperatures and go to physical brick and mortar shops. You'll be busy, you might be in a flap because you're struggling to find the exact gift you want, you might also be in a rush - but I ask you to please think of the retail workers when you engage with them.

Christmas is also a busy time for us; an influx in stock will arrive to keep up with Christmas demand that we need to get on shelves, there's ordering to do for stock that has sold, an increase in the number of customers coming through our doors requiring assistance, and so on. There are only so many of us in a shop, and even with Christmas temps, we're pretty flat out. You're busy, we're busy - it can be a stressful time. I just ask that - at Christmas and the rest of the year - you remember that retail staff are people, too, and treat them with respect, politeness, and kindness.

I cannot tell you the number of customers I have served who don't show any manners. "Would you like a bag?" I ask, "Yeah," they respond. "Here you go, sir," I say as I hand them their shopping, which they take and walk away. No please, no thank you, nothing. Worse, though, are the customers who don't say a single thing. They place their items on the counter, and just look at you. You scan, you bag, you tell them the how much it is, they pay by cash or card, take their items and leave, and the whole time they haven't uttered a single word to you.

There are those customers who treat you as if it's your fault, personally, that the shop is out of stick of what they're after. Those who have a complaint about something that had nothing to do with you, but act like they are holding you personally responsible. Those who are sexist and/or pervy. Those who take out their bad day on you. And on, and on.

They might only sound like small things, but if each example throughout your working week, maybe even two or three times each? It adds up, and it's demoralising. You're just there trying to do your job, and you're made to feel like you're not worth the dirt under the customer's shoe. Yes, you're busy, you're tired, you're stressed - but so are we. The difference is, we're not allowed to show it. We have to be polite and cordial at all times.

And yes, there are some retail workers who aren't always the politest, and I know it can have exactly the same affect on a customer when treated disrespectfully. But the majority of us do try not to show the strain we're under when serving our customers - it's bad customer service, and we'd like you to come back as well as keep our jobs. You, however, are not under threat of getting in trouble with your manager or potentially losing your job for treating retail staff unkindly. It's not part of your job to be friendly, helpful and welcoming. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't be respectful, because your actions can affect our whole work day.

And I truly mean that. I've had customers who have made me feel like crap for the rest of the day, but I've also had customers who have made my day. Seriously. You've know idea how far a little consideration and kindness can go. Having a customer simply ask, "How are you?" or say, "Have a good evening," as they leave means so much. It's an acknowledgement that we are people, too, we are here working, and have a life outside the shop.

There was a customer I served several weeks ago who was such a pleasure to serve, and genuinely made me smile for the rest of the day. He was really friendly and open; he looked me in the eye with a happy grin and said, "Hey, you all right?" We exchanged pleasantries as I served him, I handed over his goods, and he left. Just a small interaction, but it was his demeanour and how he treated me that made all the difference. He really smiled at me, you know? Maybe he had just received some good news and was feeling particularly pleased, but his genuine smile and friendly, open nature and just plain nice-ness made a whole difference to my day. That was such a good work day! And what was particularly surprising about this customer wasn't just how nice he was, but that he was an actor  and was who was being that nice.

Just an aside, the shop I work in is in Central London, and is pretty well known, so we get a number of famous customers. I've never served a rude or impolite famous customer , but they do keep themselves a little distant - and really, who can blame them? How often must they get stopped to be asked if they are such-and-such and if they would mind being in a photo? They're just out doing some shopping, and don't want to be hassled. So there's a little less eye-contact, there's a bit of a wall in how they interact with you, not wanting to be recognised, and you, as an employee of the shop, respect their silent plea for some privacy and treat them like any other customer. But, at the time, this particular actor was on TV in a drama every week, and had also played a significant part for a while in a well known fantasy TV series. So I did have an, "Oh my god, it's you!" moment in my head, but I was struck by just how nice he was. There was no wall, no distance, just friendliness. He was probably the nicest customer I've ever served. Simply because he treated me with some respect.

So I would ask, when you're shopping this December - and whenever in the future - please try to be nice to the people who serve you. Maybe ask them how they are when you're at the till, or wish them a good day before you leave. Maybe enquire how they're getting on with their own Christmas shopping, or if they're working this Christmas or off. It's such a small thing, just a two minute conversation, if that, but it will mean so much to be seen and not ignored, to be acknowledged as a person, as someone who has a life outside of the shop.

Please, be polite, be respectful, and maybe show an extra little bit of kindness. You might really make our day.

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