By Themba Mkhize
It is Saturday. Summer is ending. We need water, but the air conditioning is a welcomed distraction from the heat outside. With the cool air, the shoes on display have become that much more interesting.
For the moment, we are excited to be out as a family. We are comfortable here despite the risk of being out in a public space. We’re free to imagine exciting events where we would want to wear nice shoes. A good boot has regained its meaning.
Before we know it, we are ready to let our hard earned cash escape our grips. We are even happy doing so. Everyone appears satisfied with the flow of events. That is, everyone excluding the cashier.
She is angry. She is annoyed. She rolls her eyes. There is something about this sale which must make her particularly uncomfortable. She does not want to be here, and all of a sudden, neither do we.
The spell is broken. Forgotten forces, like hunger, start breathing down our necks. My memory activates as I recall that this is not even a Jamaican company. I think of a number of Jamaicans who would probably handcraft better footwear, and the charm of the air conditioning is suddenly lost.
An artisan I call Leather comes to mind. Leather would be very happy to see me after all this time. He would greet me with genuine delight, even if I had no intention to make a purchase. With that same poise, he would greet a stranger.
Leather makes sandals, not shoes, but I realise that sandals are more suitable for these times. They are good for strolling and showing off my feet, which I like to see. I will probably be doing more walking than attending events, anyhow. Within two seconds I remember every reason I don’t need to spend any money in this place.
I have also remembered that good customer service doesn’t get enough praise! I hope that we don’t only remember this when faced with bad customer service. Whether it is a person’s job or not, it is good to encourage quality customer service – paid or otherwise. I think that, in our own small ways, we should make a point of supporting those organisations which invest in durable customer relationships, securing our best interests and delivering quality service before this economic squeeze came on.
At the same time, especially given the current business climate, I am stunned to find people who still make no attempt to create quality customer experiences.
Customers are not an abstract market force. We are the troops ensuring the viability of any business. I wanted the cashier to realize that making this sale, satisfying me with simple courtesy, is in her best interest. But I realize that I do not, in fact, know anything about her best interest.
Maybe she is not excited about life in general. Beyond that, and perhaps more relevantly, maybe she is the victim of an inhospitable working environment. She may even have had an unsavoury experience with the last customer or maybe it is about how her boss treats her. Unhappy workplaces will cyclically make unhappy workers.
I wonder how much was invested in her training. I wonder what ambitions she has and how much hope she still has of realising any of them. I wonder if this job is not itself an expression of resignation and a lack of excitement. She doesn’t seem to have been built for client facing work. I assume she is only here because, like many others in her field, she has limited options.
I want to say I understand, but I cannot excuse the discomfort I feel spending at such an establishment – whether the problem is the employee or the employer. As we stroll out with our money in our pockets, I think about her behaviour as a subset of the wider society. I wonder if business will pick up for them – being that we were the only ones in the cashiers’ line at the time. I wonder if she will have a job in a few months. I wonder if her, or her employer, have accounted for what has happened before their eyes, and whether there will be brighter days for the Jamaican consumer.
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