We’ve all been in the scenario where we’ve either been observing a customer being abused, or ourselves been behind the till, you know this person. You may even be this person. Unless the average individual magically became a writer, actor or had a sad enough story to get through reality TV, it’s likely that one of us at some point in our careers has held a basic wage job dealing with the fluctuating emotional spectrum, that is the average shopper.

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Photo: KNGMP.com

When a sales assistant in Sainsbury’s refused to serve a customer because they were on their mobile phone during a transaction, it raised interesting points about who was in the right side. For instance, if the customer was already on the phone before being served, and the call was of somewhat importance, should they be expected to hang up if it was a particularly important call? Equally, one could argue that if for such a low wage someone is putting your items in a bag for your convenience, a minimal bit of manners is not too much to ask.

It is interesting to note that the customer being on the phone is not simply the rudest thing that can be done. In fact, people can be polite on the phone, if they miss a conversation cue to say thank you or anything else, than that can mean a lot to the person on the till. Indeed, the worst type of people are the ones that look at you like you’re not human, give short answers and offer no courtesy. It falls under the principle of even if they had a bad day, don’t bring that on us. Sometimes these sale assistants are treated as a passive third party, like a film where the customer can do what they want, with the assistant just has to smile and ask them if there’s anything else they can do for them, while they violate basic human decency.

If you’re at a party and bring up the idea of bad customers, everyone’s likely to chime in with a war story, that either happened to them or a friend. These include sexual harassment, discharge of various fluids and verbal abuse; we can only pray that none of these things happened simultaneously. A customer once tried to convert me to Christianity and seemed offended that the fact that I had to listen to her and bag up her stationary on a summer’s Saturday day is enough proof that I shouldn’t go to church.

Yet perhaps the ball is not entirely in the customers’ court. We cannot promise that each shift we turn up dedicated to the world of retail or hospitality; we are often tired, lazy or hungover. One customer can tip us in the wrong direction and we ourselves struggle to differentiate between other customers, particularly on a monotonous day, as products and phrases from customers can blur into one. Yet the customer in Sainsburys got compensated with vouchers, which seems to me to be the only definitive wrong in the event. Unless the sales assistant was out of order, than there should be a loyalty to its workers as well as customers, which goes a long way.

Often employees can feel six pounds away from being fired, so it’s a struggle to retain how you feel you should act in a professional situation when you need the money. It’s a case by case scenario and is difficult to tell who is right, but there is always the right to refuse service, and we should be able to enforce it at our own discretion, while treating others as human beings.