John Norris: When it comes to shopping, know what you’re paying for

August 29, 2017, by John Norris

The other day, I went to a local grocery to buy a couple of helium balloons for my wife’s birthday. A small sign on the counter at the floral department directed me to the customer service desk for attention. I waited there a few minutes before a relatively young employee sauntered – a good word choice – over to ask how they could help.

I told her, and she ambled over to another employee no fewer than five aisles away. This person apparently told them to go back to the customer service desk, and call for yet someone else over the intercom. As you can imagine, it took a few minutes for this individual to come from the back of the store to assist me. Then, it took a little while longer to figure out how to open the balloon packages, fill the things and tie them off with colored string.

All told, after waiting in line to check out, the process of purchasing two balloons took about 25 minutes in the store. While this might have been frustrating to some, I wasn’t put out in the slightest.

You see, I wasn’t really paying for service, let alone good service. I was paying for balloons, and this particular store wasn’t making much money on the transaction, in either absolute or relative terms. If the store wasn’t making money on me, you can rest assured the employees didn’t make any either, outside of their normal pay. What was in it for them and why should they care if I had to wait a few minutes? In truth, I interrupted what they had been doing, and I knew I had.

When I got home, my son asked me what I had taken so long. I told him what had happened, and he asked whether I had gotten annoyed. After all, he has seen me pretty red faced at restaurants owing to poor service and at fast food joints when they botch my order. The latter seems to happen with great regularity, but maybe it is just me. However, I told him what I just wrote: I wasn’t paying for service and didn’t get any in return.

Don’t get wrong. Customers should complain when they are paying for something and don’t get it. They should do so loudly and in no uncertain terms. On the flipside, they should know when they are paying for something and when they aren’t. Admittedly, this can sometimes be a fine line. When it is, I would recommend a deep breath and happy thoughts. After all, I can’t remember a single time in my life when I was happy with being angry, even if I deserved to be the latter.

With that said, yeah, I will remember how slow this particular grocery was in filling my balloons. In fact, I will go a block away to another the next time I need the things, which isn’t all that often. Frankly, that’s the best way to really hurt a company. It isn’t getting upside down with the cashier or the backup to the backup attendant in the floral department.

I have heard it said that, “in today’s service economy, there isn’t a lot of service.” I would counter with: “In today’s service economy, there are a lot of people who think they are paying for it when they really aren’t.”

Just keep that in mind the next time your blood starts to boil. It might help.

(Read this article as previously published in the Montgomery Advertiser on August 29th, 2017)