During the pandemic, I found myself back home from university and applying for a supermarket job. I thought it would get me out of the house – and my overdraft. Having already worked in a supermarket and a student bar, I also reckoned I’d had my fair share of customer experience, and how different could it be?
Very, I realised.
I learned that while customer service comes with its stresses, regardless of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s a new experience to try to keep yourself and others safe, all the while keeping a smile.
For anyone going back to work, or starting a new, customer-facing job, here is some advice to flatten the otherwise steep learning curve.
First, be clear on what your employer’s policy is and communicate it clearly. Every restaurant, gym and supermarket is different in its layout and management. It’s frustrating for customers to be expected to know what to do and it’s even more stressful during a pandemic. Be clear from the offset if they’re meant to order or queue in a certain way, stand in a particular zone or leave through a different route.
Also, be patient and get used to explaining the measures, even if it’s already been signposted. It’ll make your life a little easier if you avoid unnecessary anger being pointed at you.
Having said that, some people will disagree with the queueing system and make it known. Others will step over the markers on the floor without thinking, and a fair few will coming within a metre of you. If you’re met with rolling eyes and passive aggression when you correct them or ask them to move, it’s not personal. Take your time, stand your ground and don’t take it to heart.
Usually you can pick up on how a customer feels. If they’re smiley, you might talk for ten minutes and if they’re not, even weather chat may be a no-go zone. Face masks mean you can’t always judge people’s mood and you have to tread even more carefully.
I’ll always ask my customers how they are, but I now let them be the instigators of further conversation. Let it be on their terms.
As with all things, no matter how much you prepare, it won’t all go smoothly. During one of my first shifts during the coronavirus, a lady’s mobility scooter got wedged underneath the rubber of the checkout I was on and I had to pull the scooter out. We weren’t supposed to get that close to other people, but there may be situations where you have to help someone in need. Just make sure it’s safe and be cautious for the sake of everyone involved.
And on the note of safety, watch what people do with their cash. I often joke that I would be surprised if I hadn’t caught the virus by now, considering the time when a customer took out her ?20 note and put it in her mouth while she zipped up her purse. Without so much as wiping it on her trousers, she passed it to me. I took it without saying anything and quietly disinfected it.
Long queues as non-essential shops reopen across England
While it has garnered a few laughs on Twitter, on reflection I wish I’d stood up for myself and had refused the note. Don’t be like me and put yourself at risk just because you don’t want to cause a scene or be awkward – your safety is always more important than being polite.
For people going back to work, it will be a learning curve no matter how much you prepare. Just remember to stay safe, stay positive and remember than your safety is as important as anyone else’s.