No. The customer is not always right. Sometimes you just have to stand up for yourself.
The shift started out like any other.
Behind my cash register, I was scanning items like a champ. I had been spending my summer off school at the local grocery store, trying to earn some cash for college. Not only could I scan and bag quickly and efficiently, I was starting to nail down every produce code out there. Bananas: 4011. Green beans: 4062. Red delicious apple? Bah, somebody challenge me please! 3885.
As my next customer took his place in my line, a strange feeling started to take hold of me, as if something was off.
The man took his place in line, with a woman placed behind him a few feet down the lane. A case of water bottles sat at the front of the lane, and the lady behind him had placed another item far away so nobody else could load their groceries onto the belt.
As I started to ring the man up to charge him, he placed a red pack of Mentos on the lane so the belt wouldn’t move forward at all. I told him his total, and he pulled out a 100-dollar bill.
It’s always a little nerve-wracking to accept a 100 dollar bill. That little piece of paper holds a lot of power, and it’s strange that someone would pay for such a small order with such a big bill.
As I started to count his change, he continuously demanded that I count and recount his change, and give it to him in strange ways. He continued this flurry of requests, ordering me to take cash out of the register and count it, and making exchanges with me at a pace that I could not keep up with.
I’m not gonna cheat ya, he kept re-assuring me.
As I picked up the phone to call my service coordinator, he asked for the receipt, his bills, and he went on his way, leaving everything that he “purchased” behind.
I stood there stunned, not even sure how to process what happened. I was in a state of shock.
I composed myself, called my service coordinator, and had him come over right away. I told him what happened, and he immediately knew.
“You were short-changed, Nathan. We need to check the drawer.”
For those that don’t know, there are con men (and women) out there called short-change artists, and they excel at confusing cashiers into giving them more money than they started with. Through a series of quick, simultaneous transactions, they cause the cashier to lose count of the money they owe, and they can end up stealing lots of cash.
I was relieved from the lane and given a quick interview with my manager to find out what happened. She told me this was not the first time that it had happened at the store, and that these short-change artists tend to target newer cashiers who haven’t experienced such cons before.
After returning to the lane, the service coordinator told me how much money was lost. Over 100 dollars. I was shocked and angry that I could fall for such stupid mind-games.
The service coordinator had assured me that he himself had fallen victim to such a theft when he was a newer cashier, and he had lost even more money than I had.
But how could this happen to me? I’m a smart guy who wouldn’t just give money away like that, would I? That’s what I kept thinking to myself anyway.
Why didn’t I just tell him no? Why didn’t I just pick up the phone when I knew something was wrong and tell my service coordinator about it?
I simply could not believe I was so easily persuaded to give the thief so much money.
So what did I learn from this incident?
I learned that if you don’t know how to say no, someone else is going to prioritize your life and their priorities are going to clash with yours.
As the employee, you’re taught that the “customer is always right.”
That fact, along with my people-pleasing nature and lack of backbone led me to meeting the customers’ each and every request. This time that meant I had literally handed him over 100 dollars from the cash register.
There came a point when I knew something was horribly wrong, but I still wouldn’t admit defeat. I already had over 100 dollars sitting outside of the cash register that I was trying to keep track of. It felt like it was too late to ask for help, and that I had gotten myself into this mess, and I needed to get myself out of it.
Why I thought that was possible is beyond me.
Had I just stopped, taken a breath, and told him to wait one minute while I called my service coordinator at that very moment I knew something was off, I would have stopped the short change artist cold.
By saying no, I would have had to admit that I did something wrong.
I would have completely disappointed him. Ruined his day. The people in line behind him would have been annoyed that I slowed down the line. To me, at the time, that was a lot of pressure.
But at the end of the day, he would have respected me. He would have thought wow, for a new cashier, that guy has some confidence. I’m not gonna mess with him anymore.
I would have left my shift with dignity, and I would have saved the company quite a bit of money.
In the end, which outcome was more beneficial for the world? Him liking me, or him respecting me, saving my dignity, and the store some money?
Though the second outcome is much more desirable, I could not have possibly sorted out those scenarios in my head as I was responding to his flurry of requests. My default mode was to say “yes” and sort out the benefits and drawbacks later.
The problem with always saying “yes” and sorting the fallout later is that it’s way too easy and you give up any control you have on the situation.
Saying no can be hard. It sucks having to let people down, and for some, losing the approval of others is enough to make you physically uncomfortable.
But in the end, they are always going to respect you for saying no. They might not like your decision in the moment, it’ll pass more quickly than you think.
A few weeks later, a man came through my lane with nothing but a roll of paper towel. When he tried to pay for it with a 100 dollar bill, I told him confidently that you can get change at the service desk.
He didn’t give me any resistance and he went on his way. Saying no had never felt so good.
Photo Credit: m anima/flickr