Store clerks wish list: Calm customers who wait their turn AT YOU SERVICE

November 25, 1994|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,Sun Staff Writer

Retailers prepare for Black Friday -- the start of the Christmas shopping season -- almost like soldiers getting ready for battle.

They hire and train extra staff, discuss strategy and even install more cash registers. They psych themselves up to handle the crush of customers, and they discuss the importance of good customer relations with their sales staffs.

But it's not always easy to handle the shopping hordes, clerks and cashiers say.

"Everyone wants to get in and get the same things," says Jonas White, a salesman at Chesapeake Knife and Tool Co. at the White Marsh Mall. "And then get out quickly. Everyone is doing this at the same time."

Most people are courteous and patient, salespeople say. But they acknowledge that some customers aren't exactly aglow with the spirit of Christmas. Some, in fact, are demanding, impatient or downright surly.

L You fall into the awful customer category, they say, if you:

* Repeatedly say "Excuse me! Excuse me!" to a salesperson who dares to spend all of 60 seconds waiting on another customer -- who was there first.

* Rip off the real price tags and replace them with lower ones.

* Scream or whine because the purple, polka dotted sweater perfect for your Aunt Matilda is out of stock. And you don't care that more will be arriving in the store tomorrow.

* Allow your children to run willy-nilly around the store plastering their sticky, little hands all over the delicate merchandise.

* Decide that this, the busiest retail weekend of the year, is the only time to get all your Christmas shopping done. Then complain about the crowds.

Remember, the harried people behind the counter are fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, grandparents. Many are temporary employees not earning much more than the minimum wage. They know they need your business and will try their best to accommodate you.

But there can be a vast difference between the customer traffic some stores see all year compared with what they handle this weekend, says saleswoman Lisa Burgard.

"Compared to the other weekends, there is such an extreme," says Ms. Burgard, who has spent the last three Christmas seasons working at a clothing store in Laurel.

"It almost makes you wonder why people all head to the mall that [Thanksgiving] weekend," says Ms. Burgard who now works at Accessory Lady at the Owings Mills Mall.

Still, most retailers look forward to the crush of people. The more shoppers circling the mall parking lot, the more money they make.

"We do not look at this as a bad time of year. We enjoy this time of year," says Ken Juvelier, a regional manager for Trans World Music Corp.

Mr. Juvelier was at the Record Town store at the Owings Mills Mall overseeing preparation for the season. He loves to see any customer walk through his doors. However, Mr. Juvelier offered a few suggestions to make holiday shopping a more pleasant experience.

"We like to see it when people walk through that door and pull a list out of their purses or pockets," he says. "We have the best time with customers who come in with a list."

Mr. Juvelier is puzzled why some customers walk into a store apparently expecting the worst.

"A lot of times, it seems that customers come in expecting bad service. We will walk up and say, 'Hi. How are you. May I help you?' They will say nothing and wave you away with their hand. I've seen a lot of that. Customers should expect good service," he says.

Saleswoman Cindy Barcase insists that, no matter what, the customer is always right.

"The customers don't need to be nicer," says Ms. Barcase, who works at Wilson's Leather at the Security Square Mall.

"I know when I'm out shopping, I run into salespeople who are rude. And that makes for a bad shopping experience," she says. "It's the salespeople at some of the stores who need to be nicer."

So what does this saleswoman do when she runs into rude customers?

"Just close my mouth, hold my tongue and smile," Ms. Barcase says.

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