Article Date: 10/1/2008

Even When Things Go Wrong
lessons learned

Even When Things Go Wrong

Is there anything that can alleviate the pressure of the dreaded checkout line?


I recently witnessed a great example of maintaining good customer relations, wherein the employees retained their composure and good humor, even when everything went wrong.

My lady friend and I were shopping at Sam's, and arrived at the checkout counter with our respective (or as Dizzy Dean used to say, "respectable") purchases. There a problem arose. She had inadvertently brought the credit card for the non-profit agency, of which she is the director, rather than her personal card.

"Charges on this card are automatically billed to the non-profit agency, so you cannot pay with cash or personal check," the clerk informed her. She then called in a couple of other employees to have a conference on how to get around this.

Which line?

You know how it is at the grocery store, for example. You have completed your shopping and are trying to decide which of the three open checkout lines you should select. Then you realize it really doesn't matter which one you choose, because that one will turn out to be the slowest one anyway.

You pick a line and sure enough, the person in front of you has some sort of problem. This requires the tracking down of the assistant manager, and finally the manager must come to the counter to sort out the matter.

During this time, you watch other shoppers breeze quickly through the lines you did not choose. Some of these shoppers had not even entered the store to begin shopping while you were already standing in the molasses line.


Finally the matter is solved. Only then does the customer begin to look in the convoluted snarl of multitudinous items in a purse the size of a suitcase, for her checkbook. After a 10-minute search she finally finds it, and then laboriously begins to fill out all the items on the check, most of which she could and should have already filled in beforehand.

Restless and hostile

Thus I could appreciate how the line behind us at the counter was becoming restless, and even hostile, as the conference on what to do continued. The cart contents of one gentleman consisted of a very large flat screen TV and a case of beer. I asked him if I could go home with him, but he refused to give me his address.

The conferees finally decided the way to solve the problem was for my friend to go to the service desk where they would issue her a duplicate personal card. However, the first computer refused to have anything to do with this fiasco, and would not print the card. The second computer also wanted nothing to do with it, and again the card would not print.

Fortunately, the third computer was further away, and not having heard what was going on, printed out the new card. So now she was able to pay for the purchases by check. However the total appeared to be somewhat high. The reason being that the two chickens she had purchased had been billed at $9,415.56.

By this time, my friend had the staff so confused that they forgot she was the one responsible for the whole fiasco, and gave her a free umbrella as an apology. (Or perhaps what the gift meant was that it would be a rainy day in hell before she's welcome back).

Throughout the entire ordeal, the employees kept their courteous manner and sense of humor. A good lesson for optometric offices as well. OM


Optometric Management, Issue: October 2008