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Manners mean good business

Right here in Clearwater and, I'm sure, in any city you might mention, supermarkets are enlarged, drugstores are renovated, restaurants add new menu items and discount stores advertise heavily, all to bring in more business.

That's fine and good. But it's of little value if the people waiting on us in those business establishments don't treat us well.

You have probably encountered, as I have, the supermarket checkout clerk who barely looks up to acknowledge your presence, the drugstore employee who responds to your question with obvious irritation because you interrupted his stocking of shelves, the restaurant waiter who acts like he is doing you a favor by taking your order.

Of course there are many polite, smiling employees who convey a genuine interest in you and in how they might help. But there also are far too many who don't smile or make eye contact, who appear painfully bored, who are more interested in talking with their co-workers about personal matters than in what you are purchasing.

Some of them act bothered by having to wait on you at all. Others are quite adept at making you feel stupid because of the question you asked.

"They don't have to be chatty," my wife points out. "They don't have to gush all over you." But at least they should look at you, smile and make you feel like they are glad you are there, says the primary shopper in our house.

At one supermarket, where she shops regularly, checkout clerks often ask, "Did you find everything you were looking for?" If the answer is no, the clerk will send a co-worker to get the item or items.

At another supermarket, where she shops as infrequently as possible even though it is closer to our home, the checkout clerks routinely don't look at her, don't smile, don't say a word. My wife is a vocational teacher. When trying to prepare her adult students for the world of work, she tells them, "If you can't show any enthusiasm for the job you're doing, I know a supermarket where you'll fit right in."

My wife and I recently went shopping for a new door. The clerks at one store, although it was teeming with customers, did everything they could to help us, even calling another store in the chain. Then we stopped at a different chain. The only clerk we could find was on the telephone. He certainly wasn't waiting on other customers, because there weren't more than a few in the store.

That's not surprising.

We're talking here about good and bad employees of all ages. But some of the worst offenders, it seems, are young people. You would think that children would learn at home how to interact with other people. My wife says teachers try to get across the importance of good people skills and workplace attitudes. But many young people apparently don't get it, literally, at home or in school.

So that leaves it up to workplace supervisors. If they are doing the job they are being paid for, they can't help but see the employees who are turning off customers. They need to emphasize, over and over, that the most important part of a job is to make customers feel good, whether they are spending $5 or $500.

My wife, maybe because of the teacher in her, occasionally will say something to an inadequate employee or to that employee's supervisor. But most of us, I think, just walk out the door _ and often never return. The employer doesn't even know he's lost another customer, but may wonder later why his profit margin is shrinking.

Share with me, so I can share with readers, your favorite tale about an employee who offended you or made your day. Please keep the story brief, and don't name specific business establishments. I'm at 710 Court St., Clearwater, FL 34616.

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