Red Light, Green Light

Ah, yuletide cheer. We in the retail business are supposed to be full of energy, joyfully helping each and every smiling customer who begs us for one last look in the box before we wrap up a special surprise.

Easier said than done.

There have been countless essays by workers across the whole spectrum of retail, each one detailing why they have it the worst. My usual non-sleep-deprived self would link to at least a few of them for you, but frankly, I just don’t have the time.

I prefer to believe that at this time of year, we’re all in this together. There is little if any energy to spare as it is, so we might as well expend what we have on a strong sense of solidarity.

Many customers are experiencing higher-than-normal demands and pressures at this point, with some inevitable temper flares and even a few tantrums. I find that this type of interaction can sometimes be avoided by deploying a mental game of the childhood favorite “Red Light, Green Light.”

It goes something like this: when a customer begins to react poorly to a situation (usually in response to not finding a desired item in stock), that’s a red light and it signals me to give that person some space. When he or she enters the red light frame of mind, no suggestion — no matter how utterly perfect and on budget — will be a success. That customer needs room to breathe, not another smiling associate clutching diamonds and pearls.

On the other hand, a customer gives the green light when he (sorry, it’s usually a he at this point) asks for suggestions, is willing to listen and respond to questions, and remains interested in a purchase even if the first item shown isn’t The One.

It is possible for a green light to turn red if he or she gets truly frustrated, but a seasoned sales person usually won’t let that happen. An angry red lighter often needs time and kid-gloved handling, but even they can be satisfied with a bit more charm and graceful interaction.

As 2015 winds its way to a close, please take this gentle reminder to keep kindness in your heart as you dash about on a mad chase for the last few gifts on your list. We — all of us — are here to serve you to the best of our abilities, and then finally make our way home to our own family gatherings. Besides, it’s a well known fact that red light customers rarely make the nice list!

Wishing my wonderful readers a happy holiday season, with warm wishes for a sparkling 2016.

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