A conflict in itself is often not the root of the problem.
I waited in a return line as the person in front of me argued about her bill. The staff person was unable to respond in a way that was satisfactory and the customer started shouting. Management was called and the young staff member fled crying.
The manager arrived and, before hearing the customer complaint, told her she was not welcome in the store and asked her to leave. The situation became heated and tense as both were now shouting. People were getting uncomfortable.
The area of contention was a charge for $9.98. The customer claimed to not have made a purchase for $9.98 while the manager insisted if it showed on a receipt, she did indeed purchase something for $9.98.
I wondered — given today’s technology in retail systems — why the time was not taken to trace the charge back to the product in the system? What resources were available to the manager and staff to refresh them on handling situations that escalated? Was there not an ability to override the charge to ensure customer satisfaction and have that as part of the cost of drift or damage? The staff likely rotated to the customer service desk. What was their training in determining a charge and more importantly in conflict mitigation?
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In the end, the customer stormed out of the store, vowing never to return. The manager called her a name as she left, the young staff observing were now shaken and the customers in line were deeply focused on looking down at the floor. It was clear the staff at every level were at the breaking point and no doubt so were the customers who, like me, just needed to get out of the store.
My return was next.
Quietly and gently, I asked the manager to stay and deal with my return. I then took him to the side and spoke to him about his behaviour and he was receptive to talking about it. At one point he looked at me and in exasperation said, “But this goes on all day,” as his hand swept toward the long return line.
Ah, there we have it.
What needs addressing first is this question: Why is the return line so long?
What I witnessed was not bad people or even a lack of technical resources. What I experienced was the result of a broken system in the absence of a culture of quality and care. If the return line is as long as the checkout line then there is an issue with quality in terms of product. And if staff do not have the tools or authority to deal with conflict, there is a lack of care.
How I am treated today determines not only my behaviour, but my buying patterns in the future. My first thought was that based on my experience, I will not return to this store. There is nothing I need that badly that I would ever consider supporting this culture.
Yet, leadership reminds me that there is always more to the story and that the stakeholders are diverse and may not be obvious. What role does the manufacturing, transport, tariffs, consumer preference, local demographic, technology, store layout, current economic or health environment, access to child care, local food security, weather, board and staff training and governance, have to do with this one incident? I suggest that they could all be part of that one explosive moment and ongoing cultural erosion.
A recent example of cultural destruction is the rollback of the minor wage increase which had been deservedly given to grocery store staff during the ongoing pandemic.
Not only is this rollback in poor taste, disrespectful, morally degrading, unjust and selfish, it exemplifies poor leadership. Forgotten is the effect on mental, physical, economic and community health. The Canadian demographic is already under considerable social fatigue and most people just want to eat and to live simply. Certainly they deserve this.
Does a lack of appreciation or a daily explosion sound like your world?
It could well be, but there is always a starting point for cultural development. If our people are confident, happy, well equipped, supported, feel comfortable in being curious, and decisive and proud of what they do or sell, then the customer and the community know this.
Creating this culture takes authenticity, time and requires listening to a diverse set of voices. It also necessitates a feedback loop as people want to be part of a regenerative, nurturing process and not feel like disposable parts in a linear model.
Regardless of the size of the business or the type of service, we can provide quality and lead with a culture of care in our families and our staff. The goal is in the creation of resilient communities by taking stock of the stakeholders, listening, providing training and respectful spaces, caring for and rewarding our people. This we can do.