Secrets of a French Checkout Operative

Discussion
Mar 16, 2009

By Bernice Hurst, Managing Partner, Fine
Food Network

There are some people that many of us take
for granted and never even notice. We either ignore them or use them as
a target on which we can vent the frustrations of the day. Amongst these,
frequently, are checkout staff. Checkout staff who many of us only greet,
let alone thank, on the rarest of occasions.

But one of that category has decided to vent her own frustrations. Anna Sam,
who worked in a French supermarket for almost a decade, has written a book
about her experiences with customers and employers alike. Since its appearance
in France last year, Les Tribulations d’une Caissière (The Tribulations of a Checkout Girl) has been
reprinted 19 times and sold 100,000 copies, according to a report in The Times. The film rights have also been acquired,
a musical comedy based on it is planned and a comic-strip version is to
appear this year. English is not one of the ten languages into which it
has been translated.

Ms. Sam claims that despite smiling at shoppers,
she received "little besides insults and disdain in return. She witnessed
behavior ranging from the loathsome to the lustful
– queue-jumping, cheating, thieving, moaning and sometimes a quick
fondle between the meat and the cheese counter." Self-important managers
watched from behind a one-way mirror.

Described by the paper as "the voice
of the voiceless, and the witty observer of a place that seems to bring
out the worst in us all," Ms. Sam often said "bonjour" 250
times a day but received few responses. She needed authorization to go
to the toilet from managers who kept her waiting. When greeting families
at the cash register, parents warned their children, "If you don’t
work hard at school, you’ll end up like that lady."

A blog to let off
steam eventually led to the book. Her advice is now sought by politicians,
retailers and even a cash register manufacturer developing a training course
for his products’ use. But her main advice to retailers is that both managers
and checkout staff would benefit from training in how to deal with people
as well as products. "You can’t educate shoppers to behave better
but you can train employees to handle them," she said.

Discussion questions: How would you rate
working conditions for retail cashiers and sales associates? Are retailers
doing enough to teach managers and checkout staff how to deal with people?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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13 Comments on "Secrets of a French Checkout Operative"


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Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
13 years 2 months ago

Retail’s most important service unit is the most neglected. How many staff meetings have you been to with no cashiers because someone has to work up front? How many cashier’s have missed training because of being short staffed at the tills? Cash associates are the last image or interaction customers have with the retailer. It makes common sense to have your best people manning the registers but we must also invest in their training and development. A cashier with advanced selling skills is how you improve baskets and transactions. A zombie at the register will not help you grow your business!

David Biernbaum
Guest
13 years 2 months ago

Tough question because people are people, and in any given situation, there might a jerk on either side of the checkstand, be it the employee or the customer. However, some basic training is definitely a necessity to help employees deal with three basic fundamentals:

1. How to reflect the right image and perception of the store.
2. How to be genuinely helpful to the customer.
3. How to deal with “bad” customers (rude people, unreasonable customers, etc).

Kevin Graff
Guest
13 years 2 months ago

While I feel for cashiers and the range of customers they have to deal with, I have little to no empathy for their performance shortcomings. Now, much of the blame for the absolute lack of anything resembling service at the checkout in most stores rests with management and their inability/unwillingness to properly train and manage the front line. We continually are met with cashiers who don’t smile, don’t care, only talk to their fellow cashiers, and never, ever say ‘thank you’. (It’s ridiculous to watch the number of times the customer has to say ‘thank you’, only to be ignored by the cashier.)

Are some customers tough, and out of line? Yes. But, that certainly isn’t the majority.

Seems to me that too many retailers have lost sight of how their brand is being destroyed at the checkout. That’s a shame, because it’s so easy to fix.

Kunal Puri
Guest
Kunal Puri
13 years 2 months ago

Anyone who has been to a Costco, Publix or Whole Foods store knows what an engaged employee in a grocery store looks like. It’s also not surprising that these are among the strongest players in retail today, irrespective of the economic situation.

Is there a co-relation? Any sane retailer would agree.

Robert Nied
Guest
Robert Nied
13 years 2 months ago

Is this not the extension of where we in the retail community have been going for a long time? We no longer have products behind a counter but allow self service. We really do not have salespeople, we have people who scan barcodes. We see this across retail shops from centralized checkouts in department stores to the self checkouts at many grocery stores where one “Cashier” is servicing up to 10 customers at once.

The value is driving down the cost to the company and pushing the labor onto the customer. The barcode scanner is there just to make sure a price is charged and the money is taken. The emphases is not on service. The ultimate question is, will most people pay $1.00 for a box of cereal for better, more friendly service? No.

Barton A. Weitz
Guest
Barton A. Weitz
13 years 2 months ago

Service providers such as check out clerks and airline hostesses are often required to regulate their emotions (smiling, not get angry) when confronted by unpleasant customers. This need to regulate their emotions is refereed to as emotional labor. Managers of front-line service providers typical focus on helping service providers do their task better but do not spend enough time helping service provider cope with emotional labor.

Vincent Kelly
Guest
Vincent Kelly
13 years 2 months ago

Once again, managers do not understand that retail is unique in that the face the customer sees is the face of the company and not the CEO. Where other companies (e.g. Apple) are lead from the top down as far as customers are concerned, in retail they are led from the bottom up with your company being represented by a 16 year old spotty, bored teen on minimum wage. His only answer to a question of “do your have any more in this size” is to say “no,” when you have a stockroom full of the stuff.

Retailers who skimp on cost here always lose. Customer service and retention of workers is paramount for a company to maintain a history with its customers. Retailing is a career; let’s make it a successful one.

Ben Ball
Guest
13 years 2 months ago
One of my most memorable learning experiences/parables was at a Mike Vance seminar. Mike pioneered many Disney people-development programs and was a great teacher. If you are lucky enough to have heard him, you will know what I mean. Mike told a fabulous story about being called by an Atlantic City casino. Management said they had “scuzzy employees” and they wanted Mike to come “Disneyize them.” Mike took the job and showed up at the casino a day early and unannounced. He sat in the lobby and watched bus loads of pensioners show up and swamp the staff, shaking their umbrellas and shouting to be checked into their rooms immediately so they could get to the slot machines. The next morning Mike met with the management team to begin the assignment. He told them, “you don’t need me. You do not have scuzzy employees. I have met them and they are very polite people. You have scuzzy customers.” I can’t think of another environment more impersonal than retail, and that anonymity encourages us to show… Read more »
Bob Phibbs
Guest
13 years 2 months ago

People hire people and then forget them. They are looking to fill a hole and often; that’s it. It’s resulted in the shy, rude, quiet, lazy employee to define your brand. I say now is the time to fire ’em all and start again at bobphibbs.wordpress.com but that goes for their managers who put them in those places to begin with.

Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
13 years 2 months ago
We always hear plenty from shoppers about the lack of customer service. It’s nice to hear from the other side of the POS–even though it sounds like the unfriendly atmosphere at this French shop is largely due to bad management. Across the industry, retailers can and should conduct more staff training in all areas of customer service, including how to deal with rude shoppers. That said, let’s not forget that customer service is a two-way street. All too often, the unhappy shopper edits their bad behavior from the storyline and instead shifts all blame onto staff. Not so. Shoppers can be downright rude, as this former associate, current overnight sensation notes. So along with more staff training, I think more merchants should explore “shopper training.” For example, I’m noticing more small merchants posting signs on store doors and at checkout telling customers that the associate will serve them when they finish chatting on their phones. Essentially, shoppers need to be reminded of the value of the Golden Rule–so quaint, but still so valid. Such “shopper… Read more »
Mark Burr
Guest
13 years 2 months ago
Retailers are probably doing what they think they need to do as far as training is concerned. But, do they have the right expectations? Store associates act and react how they are taught to act and react. It’s that simple. Customers act and react how they have been taught they can act. Sometimes neither are acceptable. Yet, does either side let the other know when that occurs in an acceptable manner? There are teachable moments in both circumstances. Can you think of a retailer that teaches customers their expectations? And in turn, can you think of one that equally sets the same for their associates? We’ve all heard stories of bad experiences at retailers. The word of mouth travels like fire. Yet, you never hear of the experiences at a retailer where they appropriately told the customer their actions or reactions were unacceptable and the retailer was willing to have that customer be business they didn’t want. Would that travel like fire? Likely not. It would, however, be a teachable moment. When we accept the… Read more »
Mike Osorio
Guest
Mike Osorio
13 years 2 months ago
The key reason for apathetic front-line workers and the resultant poor service is the poor level of leadership skills in front-line managers–usually due to poor leadership skills of the senior management. Please read the full article in the Times to understand the experience the author writes about. This passage is a great example: At a retail trade conference in Luxembourg, Sam suggested to executives that they should greet checkout staff every day. “It was as though they had never thought of it. Oh yes, that’s a good idea, they said. They all made a note–‘say hello in the morning’–to remind themselves.” Pathetic, but unfortunately common. The message: Retailers must invest in understanding and hiring for the talent that make effective front line workers and leaders: empathy, customer focus, high energy, etc. Provide significant training on people management: personality types, conflict management, etc. Then, ensure that senior management consistently models people-centric behaviors: saying hello to front-line staff, asking their opinions of product, procedures, store design, customer service initiatives, etc. Treat front-line staff as professionals engaged in… Read more »
R Lane
Guest
R Lane
13 years 2 months ago
Cashiering is the entry level position in supermarkets, and the least desirable and most emotionally draining. New hires must face a largely hostile public, often without any prior retail experience. There was an instance in a store that I have worked in, where a customer started giving a young girl–a newly-hired cashier–a ration. The girl looked at the customer, said, “I don’t have to take this “f—ing S—” for $7.25 an hour and left the customer, jaw hanging and transaction incomplete, standing there when she walked out the door. I applauded when I heard the story. Another customer, when it was suggested that she could use the new self-scanners to check out her small order, said, “If I wanted a job here I’d fill out an application.” Two very rude women. Retailers don’t care about cashiers, they see them as expendable, then spend fortunes trying to increase market share, shoveling bad money after good. Narcissistic, self-important, paper shuffling nincompoops. If it doesn’t contribute to his/her bonus, evaluation, career advancement monomania, it gets no attention and/or… Read more »
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