I work in the retail industry which means I spend a lot of time talking to people. I'm well-versed in accepting the "your customer is always right" rule and smiling all day, no matter what the circumstances. Over the years though, there are the things I've noticed that I'm not "supposed" to do as an employee, according to customers' reactions. Obviously, this doesn't apply to every customer out there, instances have occurred often enough that I'm going to make some sweeping generalisations. Don't sue me.

1. We shouldn't laugh. Customer reactions: sneers, scowls, grimaces.

Here's the thing about retail: sometimes it sucks. We're on our feet the entire day, maintaining the floor, answering questions, making small talk and handling the point of sale system. It can be extremely exhausting, just like sitting in front of a computer all day in an office is exhausting. So when our team is made up of people we genuinely get along with, it makes our day go a little faster if we can make a joke or two. Yet, according to customers, that's not okay. In my case, these aren't jokes are rarely about customers. We're not laughing at you. We're laughing at each other and with each other. Whether we've just recounted a funny story about a dating mishap or we've made a terrible pun talking about the latest news, it's not about you. But without a doubt, customers will always scowl when we're caught laughing. 

2. We shouldn't take longer than 3 minutes to find something in the stock room. Customer reactions: exasperated sigh, eye rolling, tongue-clicking.

Stock rooms are the bane of our existence. There are way too many products, often stuffed into the most narrow, dark, and dinghy rooms. Even if we know exactly where something should be, often it just isn't there. Even when the system says we have a size on hand, sometimes we can't find it. So when it takes us longer than a few minutes to find something for you, don't meet us with an exasperated sigh. We've spent our time trying to assist you as best we can. Truly.

3. We shouldn't not know the answer. Customer reactions: impatience, anger.

For many of us, working retail is a part-time job. That often means we only come in on weekends or evenings. That also means that stock rotations happen during the week, of which we're not always aware. Our managers do their best to let us know when new items come in but, it would take ages for them to explain every new product to us. We also don't always know how to fix faulty point of sale systems, broken tills or printers that refuse to print. We'll try the standard quick-fixes: restarting the system, unplugging the printer, etc. but, it doesn't always work. And most of the time, that means we have to call the company in charge of our system. When customers get impatient with us because we're not IT geniuses or because we don't know how to wash that new clothing item, it only makes us despise them. We're all learning here.

4. We shouldn't take mental breaks. Customer reactions: going to management, calling us unhelpful.

Like I said before, days in retail can be long and tiring. So sometimes we need a mental break. And sometimes that means zoning out in behind the till or while folding clothes. But according to customers, we're not doing our jobs. We'll get told that we're being utterly unhelpful, just for taking a breather. We would apologise but, unfortunately, we're too busy with our heads in the clouds.

5. We shouldn't not return or exchange something... based on our return policy. Customer reactions: anger, denial, long-winded stories.

How many times have we had customers try to return or exchange an item past its return date? Trust me, we'll do our best to talk to managers and get the item returned or exchanged but, sometimes there's just no leeway. If your item is faulty, we often don't hesitate. Otherwise, getting angry at us for reasons such as, "I got this at Christmas and I hate it", "But it's only two days after the 30-day policy", and "Nobody told me the return policy" (hint: most shops have their return policies on the back of their receipts) doesn't make us want to help you any more. It just frustrates us. Policies are company-set. Our job is to help you but, it's also to follow company policies.

There you are. Five things I've learned I "shouldn't" do as a retail employee, serving customers, according to customers. Buck up, customers. We're just trying to get through the day, just like you.

Published by Michelle Teo