By Marlene Lang

The card reader accepted my payment as the cashier stuffed the last of my groceries—plantain chips made with coconut oil—into a bag. The screen then asked a question. “Was your checker great today?” My options displayed in three buttons: NO, NEUTRAL, YES. He’d acted mildly annoyed when I asked him to put a few more items in a bag so I wouldn’t use so many, but so what? I hit NEUTRAL.

It bothered me that this young man, 21 or 22 years old I guessed, had to work under that kind of scrutiny. Were they paying him enough to be “great” every time, to every customer? Because: the guy in front of me wasn’t “great.” He’d cut into a parking spot being vacated as I waited to turn into one next to it, also being vacated. He backed in with a whip-around turn, just in case I went for it instead of waiting for the other to back out. He tromped past me on his way toward the doors, looking straight ahead.

It was Friday afternoon. Lines were three-deep for the three check-outs open. Both self-check areas were full with lines, also. Finally, the young man arrived to open a new lane. The man at the end of my little line, behind me and another person, cut over to the newly opened spot without asking politely if either of us might want to keep our place ahead of him. The older man in front of me advanced with his cart, so I moved to the newly opened lane. I looked closer to be certain, but, yes, the lane-cutter checking out was also the parking space grabber. Trimmed and tidy, middle-aged, he wore his take-no-second-place attitude without apology.

I wonder if he hit YES for his checker’s “great” customer service? I’d only hit NEUTRAL. Maybe the young man was neutral after checking out the Bulldozer guy. Or maybe I was a not-great customer when he asked me what the two dirt-ridden root vegetables were. “Beets,” I said. “They’re good for you.”

Or maybe I was a not-great customer
when he asked me what the two dirt-ridden root vegetables were.
“Beets,” I said. “They’re good for you.”

Maybe that annoyed him. He’s a person. The checker at the grocery store is a person! Maybe he didn’t want MOM advice about root vegetables while he was working.

I thought about it on the drive home, wondering how much the checker made per hour, and what his card-reader ratings were after a Friday afternoon shift. Did he get a lot of YES “great” hits? What if he didn’t?

On-the-spot service rating would seem like a good idea, something that might encourage better customer service. But really, I felt sorry for him. It was like Yelp! but with your manager reading every instant review.

And, what if customers aren’t great? “The customer is always right.” Maybe that is a necessary stance for business purposes, but where is there some breathing room for low-paid checkers dealing with tired, after-work shoppers, and their tired post-daycare children, and older folks who are slow, and people who have 18 coupons?

Does he get a raise if he gets enough YES hits? That’s all I wanted to know, after some thought. Next time I’m in the store, I’m going to hit YES, because, just holding together and being polite, customer after customer, is actually GREAT.


MarlbillyJackHatene Lang, Ph.D. is  Asst. Professor of Religious Studies at Mount St. Joseph University. She previously worked for more than a decade as a government reporter, editor, and columnist.

Redwing Post and this column are the property of Marlene Lang. Copyright 2018.


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