Leadership Challenge #1 – the innocently rude sales clerk


Remember the challenge from Monday? Here it is. My response is below.

You are the owner/manager of a retail department store. Your store is busy so high sales volume also means a lot of returns.  One of the new employees is tasked with handling the checkout register and for restocking items as they are returned when checkout traffic permits. The employee has gone through the company’s orientation and training but has been working the floor only for a few weeks.

You are working the floor, walking the many departments to watch for problems, help where needed, and answering questions. You see a customer browsing the rack of trousers in the men’s wear department. The customer has focused in on one garment and has pushed surrounding garments aside so he can look more closely.

The new employee approaches with an arm load of clothes to restock. She approaches the customer looking at trousers and says, “Excuse me.” Then without waiting for a response from the customer, she pushes the trousers he was looking at back together, spreads others apart, inserts the ones she is carrying, and walks off.

You see the customer’s look of surprise. As the employee walks away, the customer turns and leaves too without selecting a garment for purchase or even looking further.

What would you do?

Here’s what I would do?

  1. Try to find the customer before he leaves the store and apologize. Do not justify the employee’s behavior. Do not try to explain. Just apologize and offer a 10% off compensation. This addresses the effects of what happened immediately.
  2. Find the employee and speak with her. Do not wait until next week or even think about trying to address this in a public meeting. Give her the benefit of the doubt. It is unlikely she considered what she did as rude. She was probably just trying to be efficient and conscientious. She does double duty on the floor and at the cashier’s counter so she was likely trying to get through floor duty so she could get back to the counter. Guide the conversation but do not reprove, at least not at this stage. If you take the time to inform and train now, and see her do it again later, you can be sterner then. But now, explain what happened and why the customer felt the way they did. Then explain what should be done when stocking or restocking merchandise.
  3. Review your training and orientation curriculum. Make sure that it covers situations like this. Do not assume that employees will understand. Some will. Most won’t. They aren’t naturally rude or thoughtless, well most aren’t anyway, but they can be blind to the bigger picture. Change whatever might need to be changed. Add whatever might need to be added to address the finer points of customer relations and service on the sales floor.


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