“Yeah, we have too many customers!” That’s what the harried checkout clerk said.
This was back in the 1990s, in a big retail store in Texas. I don’t remember what city it was in, or what I was buying. But I do remember that the store was crowded. The checkout lines were long. There weren’t many lines open; there were a number of closed checkout stations.
When I finally got up to the front of the line, I made a casual remark to the checker: “Kinda busy here today…” The checker didn’t look at me; she was starting to ring me up. But she said, “Yeah, we have too many customers today!” She wasn’t smiling.
I was speechless. How do you respond to that? Was she essentially saying, “I wish you and a lot of other customers in my line would just go away”? Hmm.
Here’s what she didn’t choose to say:
“I know, I know! I’m hoping they open a few more registers here in a minute.”
Or, “Yes, and I apologize for the wait. Thanks for your patience.”
Or at least, “I know, it’s crazy! Happy Holidays!”
That was a time in the history of retailing when the universe was changing: Walmart was just beginning to take over the world.
Have you ever heard a “too many customers” line from a Walmart employee? Or a Target checker? Or anyone at The Home Depot? Me neither.
Now in all fairness to that checker on that day, the store management hadn’t done a good job of resourcing the checkout stations. Maybe that store’s checkers weren’t trained very well. At least some of that comment probably wasn’t her fault. And maybe she was just having a bad day and said the first thing that came to mind, like we all do sometimes.
Even so, my wife and I made that experience a code phrase for bad customer service. Ever since, whenever we have a bad employee interaction in a store, restaurant, airline counter, etc., nothing more need be said between us than “Too many customers”.