At JCPenney, new employees are asked to watch a video in the training room called Give ‘Em the Pickle. It’s this video about this crazy old guy who says “Give ‘em the pickle!” at any chance he gets. The guy tells a story about a restaurant where he once worked. At this restaurant, there was one loyal customer who asked for a pickle. The waiter who was tending the customer said he needed to ask the manager about whether or not a pickle could be added to this particular dish on the menu. And the manager (I think it was the same crazy old guy who made the video) said something like, “You know what? This is a loyal customer – just give ‘em the pickle!”
The reason they show that video is to empower the salespeople to, at times, make their own little executive decisions without always having to ask the managers. The idea is that sometimes if you can go a little extra way to help a customer out, it will pay off in the end because the customer will grow fond of your company and keep coming back.
When I worked in one such kind of department store where this kind of mentality was encouraged, I always thought about that pickle story when a new customer came to my counter. *
If it was a really nice customer who was polite to me and who even signed up for one of the store’s credit cards (which of course helped me out with a little cash bonus), then I would always help those customers out as well. Because the customer was so great, I would break out my stash of newspaper coupons for the store and tell the customer which coupons could help them save money on their overall purchase. And they would thank me so much, and walk out of the store with a huge smile on their faces and they would promise to come back. And the store could never get mad at me because I “gave ‘em the pickle.”
But then there were the bad customers. I could see coming them a mile away, and I hoped they would go to someone else’s counter, but I got my share of bad customers. They would interrupt me each time I rang up an item, yelling and demanding that they saw it at $1 cheaper on some counter. I would just believe them and ring it up at the lower price, just wanting them to hurry up and get away from me. I know it’s a tough economy, but people who are flaming cheapskates are really quite unattractive.
I remember this one very rude couple who came to my counter once. They bought a bunch of clothes at the store, and they demanded that I put each item into a suit bag. Even though none of their items were suits. So as not to anger them further, I got out some large plastic suit bags and started specially bagging each item. But then they got furious because they wanted the nice black department-store suit bags. I told them we didn’t have any, because I really thought we didn’t. So I kept on bagging their items in the plastic suit bags. Just then my co-worker came back from her lunch break, and she told the customers that we had nice black department-store suit bags in the back storeroom. I turned to the co-worker and gave her a “just stop talking!” look.
“We knew it!” explained the mean customers triumphantly.
And do you know what they did? While my co-worker went to get the nice suit bags, the two mean customers stood there at my counter and literally ripped the plastic suit bags off of each of the articles they had purchased. Even though I had just finished painstakingly wrapping each one. They just tore the plastic off, throwing it unceremoniously on the floor! They were like a little assembly line of evil – the wife tearing the plastic off and the husband removing the clothes from the offending packaging. All the while they wore these “if you want something done right, do it yourself” kinds of expressions on their faces – those faces which got uglier by the second.
When that gruesome twosome finally left, they walked out with arrogant smirks, congratulating each other for getting great deals and walking out with the nice suit bags. They were visibly pleased by their aggressive shopping attitudes.
But instead of standing there and crying them a river, I actually remember smiling. Because there, under my counter was the most perfect coupon. Twenty percent off a total purchase of over $200. This couple had spent around $300, so if they had seen this coupon from the newspaper, it could have saved them $60. After the way they had just treated me, do you really think I was going to save them $60?
So you see: that old adage definitely rings true when you are ringing up items at the sales counter: you catch more flies with sugar. And that lowly sales clerk at the counter holds more power than you think; you would be wise to remember that. We are trained to “give ‘em the pickle,” and we always give it to the nice customers, who end up saving lots of money. For the bad customers, we quietly tell them where they can stick that pickle.
* Note: This story is a work of fiction, and any similarity with any persons or places is purely coincidental.