Mar 162012

Christy Lorio (photo by Leslie Almeida)

Judging by a handful of my previous articles, I’m obsessed with two things: customer service and grocery stores. Which is funny, given my pawning off of makin’ groceries on my husband. In our household we divide chores evenly, and while I’m relegated to loading the dishwasher and being the primary dog walker, he’s the one keeping our pantry stocked and the litter box clean. A funny thing happened last week, however; somehow we both hit up two different grocers, and we both had exceptionally foul experiences.

I’m not one to trash talk businesses, but something is amiss at our locally owned grocery stores. My experience was pretty typical; I’m standing in the checkout line and six (I counted) cashiers and bag boys were conversing amongst each other, talking about things best left at a party. “We better stop talking about this or XYZ Manager is going to write us up!” exclaimed one high school-age worker. Of course, I was not once greeted, much less spoken to. As they continued their banter, I pretended like I was checking my e-mail on my phone.  I’m not a prude, nor am I easy to offend, but I was horrified to think of the ramifications of such poor customer service. And while I was silently snickering at their crude jokes, I couldn’t help but think a slightly more sensitive customer would probably complain to management.

Just a few days earlier, my husband was borderline harassed by a cashier at a different chain grocery store on the same street. Innocent flirting is one thing. Suggestively stroking someones hand is another. Fortunately I’m not the jealous type, and it was hilarious to think of the double entendre of the phrase “check-out line” while he was relaying the scenario. But seriously, when is that cool? And why would someone think that is appropriate behavior in the workplace?

The saddest part is that these cashiers are tarnishing the reputation of these businesses. In any retail setting, your cash register is literally where you are making money. Cashiers are often the last point of contact that a customer has with your business. So no matter how much of your budget you spend on PR, pleasant overhead lighting, or eye catching signs, the last impression is the most important.

Taking the time to instill a sense of pride in the work place, customer service coaching, and providing feedback are all not only smart, but essential. In the meantime, I’ll shop elsewhere, until these grocery workers get their personal issues sorted out.

Christy Lorio, a native New Orleanian, writes on fashion at and is also a freelance writer whose work has been featured online and in print magazines both locally and nationally.

  10 Responses to “Christy Lorio: What the heck is up with our grocery stores?”

  1. We’ve all had similar experiences, but if you don’t identify the stores, there will be no consequences for the customer service failures other than your own refusal to do business there (which will, in and of itself, make you feel better but do little to change behavior).

    • Ron, my intent wasn’t to slander the businesses on the internet. The most effective thing to do would be put in a formal complaint to the management team.

  2. When a business only staffs with teenagers on minimum wage, this is what you get. If store chains hired adults, things would be different. Of course, that would involve paying real wages & providing benefits…

    • what expatmom says.

    • Don’t necessarily agree with expatmom. All the customer service skills I have (and still use) today where acquired when I was a teenager running a cash register at a discount department store, making the minimum wage ($2.65/hr at the time. Yeah, I’m that old.) True, I had the benefit of good “home training” and a personality suited for retail, but I also received TRAINING from management. It’s not rocket science, and even the most unsophisticated kid CAN be taught politeness, discretion, posture, or whatever else it takes to exhibit good customer service. I saw plenty of my rough-around-the-edges coworkers do it. Management at these stores needs to step it up and INSIST upon appropriate behavior and conversation in front of customers. Train. Your. Employees.

      • I agree Robin. I used to work with teenagers a lot at the store I worked at in Arizona. They would often turn out to be my best employees since they were in school and used to taking direction from their teachers. When given the proper guidance and mentoring, teenagers can be remarkable employees.

  3. Being in retail, I would imagine if a customer would have an off experience in your business, you would want them to alert you, yes? Did either of you bring either of these experiences to the attention of any higher-ups?

    Collectively we cannt expect a behavior to change unless put on notice. If the behavior persists, the ax falls. Tell these businesses your experiences and give them another shot.

    If things don’t change, take a break, but you can’t expect the change to just happen.

    • I haven’t notified anyone yet, but I am planning on it. I’ve been known to follow up with businesses with a well worded letter or e-mail. I generally wait, because I don’t want to come across as just ranting. And I always phrase it as “I’m trying to help you” vs. “I’m trying to get something something for free” since that used to happen a lot in the restaurant industry.

  4. I’ve had wonderful service at Rouse’s on Tchopitoulas. I’ve been greeted by cashiers, the bag boys have taken groceries to my car, and I’ve ordered specialty items from the store without a problem. It’s always clean and they have good food. By far my choice for shopping, and I think they exceed most grocery store chains.

  5. I generally find the service in the uptown supermarkets to be courteous and appropriate (Breaux Mart, Rouses, Winn Dixie, Whole Foods, etc…). When there is a something out of the ordinary I generally attribute it to the idiosyncratic nature of New Orleans and the people that live here. I am not saying it isn’t important for businesses to pay attention to customer service faux pas, just that some of it is New Orleans being New Orleans.

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