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Ask Terrah 2 — The Core of Customer Service

Image Credit: Terrah Short.

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Terrah Short earned a Bachelor’s in Philosophy (Analytic) with a Minor in Disaster Risk Reduction from Western Washington University in March 2017. She is a product of a working single father and the Puget Sound area of Western Washington in the United States of America. Here we talk about customer service.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What are the main considerations in keeping a customer happy?

Terrah Short: You must take into account the individual, with each customer. When I really think about it, it does seem quite exhausting! Like in all facets of life, it’s important to remember that they are each an individual person, just like every retail worker. To get more in-depth, how I manage each costumer is going to depend on what shift I’m working, what time of day it is, how busy it is, and sometimes it comes down to my own mood or what’s going on in my life, though I do my best not to let that affect my quality of service.

I do my best to take each customer where they’re at, check in with them as I’m checking their groceries, ask if they need their meat separate, their soaps in a separate bag from their foods, or if they need their bags to be light, and these are the sorts of things customers remember. Knowing you took the time to ask them the small things that can be a lot. I recall a customer who appeared able-bodied, but when I asked if they needed their bags light (they had brought a large amount of them), they lit up and were grateful I asked as they had recently had surgery and couldn’t lift more than 10lbs.

At the end of the day, I think we all appreciate someone taking an interest in the big or small needs that we as a customer may forget to ask or just appreciate even if we weren’t in need of the accommodation.

Jacobsen: When a customer is wrong but belligerent, how do you handle them?

Short: To start, I try to just listen and try to understand it from their perspective. Most often we can solve the issue by getting the transaction done and offering everything we can to make the situation smooth. However, if they get belligerent, we should always escalate it to the person-in-charge (PIC). I will usually offer to have them step aside and to talk to my PIC, and generally they don’t want to wait around. The biggest challenges have come up when I personally was working our swing/night shift (generally 8pm-3:30am), and I have other co-workers who work this shift and have had similar experiences. At night, since there can be anywhere from myself (the cashier) and four others (our grocery night stockers) to just myself and the night PIC. Generally, I would try to triage the situation myself, tolerate what could be described as abusive behavior from customers, because if I wasn’t in danger or if it wasn’t becoming too much of an issue, there was no reason to bring the PIC into it. We have a wide range of customers that come into our store, from college students, seniors, professors, people passing through, tourists, and unfortunately, we also have a large population of people who come in strung out, drunk, or some other combination of intoxication.

Jacobsen: When a lower-level employee is going through a problem, does this become a basis for the reportage up the chain if this becomes unmanageable for them?

Short: It depends on the problem. Most often, things go unmentioned and lower-level employees talk among themselves, we try and problem solve and support one another together. I feel like many of us just try to get through our shifts, not stir the pot, and maintain employment status. Though I’d like to think if things really got bad or uncomfortable, that our entry-level employees, including myself, would be willing to go to our supervisors, or at least our Union, to talk about what we’re going through.

Jacobsen: How does the code of conduct referenced in Ask Terrah 1 — Retail and Customer Service relate to this?

Short: I think it relates to all of it. Do your best to provide a positive experience for the customer, but make sure you adhere to, or even defer to, company policy. That is one way we are encouraged to protect ourselves or to explain decisions made, especially when selling alcohol or tobacco, that it is company policy and there is nothing we can really do. I think it is important that we as retail service folks start to stand up with the power that is being afforded us through our Unions and support from our supervisors. Taking care of ourselves needs to be the priority, but far too often, we just need to pay the bills and sometimes that means putting up with unpleasantness.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Terrah.

Image Credit: Terrah Short.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen founded In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott:



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Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight Publishing. Jacobsen supports science and human rights. Website: