Thinking Out Loud

November 6, 2016

If God’s Name is on the Shop Door, Customer Service Should be Exemplary

closed signAnyone who has worked retail knows that closing time can be a challenge. Staff are tired and want to go home, but store policies do try to put customers and their needs first.

In the bulk food environment my wife worked in, staff were not allowed at all to do anything to communicate the store was closed. Not a word. Not a hint. The door would be locked quietly, but customers in before that closing — by which I mean the exact posted closing time — could continue to complete their purchases.

In the Christian bookstore environment I’ve worked in our commitment to our customers has always been superlative. I found it took me at least 15 minutes to balance the cash anyway, and I often kept the door unlocked and the sign on “OPEN” until I was actually leaving. When I see the end in sight, I might cut the sound system, and if it doesn’t impede the part of the store they’re shopping in, I might cut one of the light circuits after 30 minutes. I’ve also been known to say, “You can stay as long as you wish, but just let me know if you’ll be paying by cash or plastic.” I’ve also kept open for a few minutes only to have another person walk in who turns out to be the biggest sale of the day.

So I’m a little surprised at the approach taken by a chain of Christian thrift shops in Canada that is clearly identifiable as a Christian organization. (No, not St. Vincent de Paul and not Salvation Army.)

We entered at 3:43 for a 4:00 closing. We were told, “We’re closing now, but you look like you can power-shop.” I checked the sign on the door. I pulled out my phone. “It’s only 3:43;” I grumbled to myself and a guy looking at CDs overheard and said, “She’s always mean.”

Mean? That’s her reputation?

At 3:48 a guy came and was told the store was closed. He walked out. Another incident at 3:54 with the same result.

“Actually, you’re still open;” I said to another staff member, pulling out my phone.

“We don’t go by your phone;” she said, “We go by the clock on the wall.”

I looked at the clock on the wall. “They’re the same;” I told her.

What matters here is that this is a mentality that exists in some thrift shop environments that has no place at all in a Christian institution.

In the Christian bookstore I mentioned, our abiding principle is that we want to be “a place of grace.”

I asked the woman if she felt that this closing policy reflected well on the organization whose name appears in the store’s name. So then (sorry about this) I played the WWJD card. Would Jesus turn people away at 3:48?

“Everyone is free to set their own policies.”

I asked her — very pleasantly — if she was a Christian.

“That’s irrelevant;” she said. I was not expecting that answer, served up in the way she delivered it; but I was done pressing her buttons.

I called the staff associate that was working for us that day. “Don’t ever pressure anyone to leave, unless you’re facing a personal emergency;” I told her; “I will pay you for however long it takes to meet their needs.”

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