So I was organizing watches the other day at the Wal-Mart Jewelry Counter. It takes a fair amount of focus, to keep from losing one's place, keeping multiple numbers in one's head while searching for little boxes with UPCs that match those numbers, and just trying to remember and match a lot of little pictures of watches that don't necessarily have the same UPCs as the ones in the drawers. Since these are small, expensive items, it's not a good idea to start a project like this and just walk away from it. I had noticed the customer standing 20 feet away looking at some jewelry, but she was wandering from case to case, and didn't look in my direction at all. So I kept working on my watches, looking up at her from time to time until the phone rang. I got up and went over close to her and answered it. Still no eye contact, so I didn't say anything.
I don't know who was on the phone, but it had the feel of management. "Are you busy?"
"It depends." I replied. "What do you need?"
"The woman standing behind you says you've been ignoring her."
"Oh. Thanks." I hung up and turned to help her. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize you needed help," I offered.
"I've only been standing here for ten minutes," she said. I honestly couldn't have told you whether that was true or not, only that it was irrelevant. It seems to me that if a salesperson who is working on something doesn't seem to notice you after 10 minutes, perhaps you should try talking to them, rather than going right for management.
"I noticed you, but you looked pretty intent, and some customers don't like to be bothered while they're looking. Anyway, what can I do for you?" From that point, it chilled out into a more normal customer encounter. She picked out a couple of things which I took up to one of the registers for her. In the end she came around to my irresistible charm (of course), and seemed to be pretty much over the bad beginning. I apologized one more time for not coming over sooner. I didn't suggest that perhaps next time she might try asking for help. Why bother? She had already been proven wrong once in judging me as someone who would deliberately ignore her, but she didn't have to admit it in so many words. If I had suggested different behavior next time, she might have taken it as another insult, and left annoyed. This way she left happy, and all I had to do was be nice when I didn't feel like it.
There. That's my customer story. Take a moment or two to digest it. Decide who you think was right and who was wrong, if such a judgment can be made. I've told you my motivations, so what were hers? Bear in mind that as both reporter and participant, I am unable to completely put my own biases behind me. I have tried to present this as factually as possible, but let's face it: Each of us is the hero in the story we tell ourselves that is our life. Think about it, and two paragraphs from now I will add one bit of data that may put a bit of a different spin on it.
So take a moment.
There. Did you do it? Doesn't matter. I can't hear your answer, no matter how loud you yell it, so stop annoying the other people in the room. I ask because I'm about to throw out that little piece of information that I referred to earlier. Namely this: the customer had darker skin than mine.
[This is where my original post left off. I believe I was aiming for something like this to finish:
Does it change the story? Does it make me seem like more of a jerk? Am I more of a jerk? Was she just unloading some of her baggage on me? I'm not sure. I feel like the moral of the story is "Be more sensitive to some people than others," if not, "Don't be such a jerk."]