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Refusal To Serve Until You Get That Cell Phone Conversation Over

Using a mobile phone at the dinner table or in any other social situation is often frowned on as bad manners.  But when a Sainsbury’s employee decided the embargo extended to the checkout one of her customers quickly took offence.   Jo Clarke complained to store bosses that the unidentified worker had refused to serve her unless she put down her phone.

She said: ‘I was standing at the foot of the till waiting to bag my shopping up, yet the lady on the checkout was just staring at me.   ‘When I stopped my conversation and said “Is everything okay?” she said: “I will not check your shopping out until you get off your mobile phone”.

There is some added complexity in this story in that Sainsbury has no actual store policy about using cell phones during check out and that the employee was rude.   But it does bring up the issue of whether it is impolite to have a cell phone conversation while attempting to engage in a business transaction.   My thoughts are that any face-to-face interaction should have each person’s undivided attention and if the roles were reversed, as in the employee was talking to another co-worker or on a cell phone, that the customer would have a verifiable right to be offended at the employee’s distractions.   Customers on cellphones during financial transactions can slow down the check out for those behind them, the risk of misunderstanding (“Did you give me back a $10 or a$20?”) is greater and it’s just generally rude to dismiss those serving you as not worthy of a moment or two of your uninterrupted attention.

{ 117 comments… add one }
  • Therese July 12, 2013, 2:04 pm

    My argument with people constantly on their phones is that I feel like it invalidates the time of the person that is working with/for them at that moment. It is the same, in a sense, as someone that cannot be bothered to hold a door open for someone else.

    In any case, I tell people to hang up their phones on a regular basis when I am at work but I also am employed in a medical office and try to enforce a sense of privacy (HIPPA) even when there is no immediate need. At least, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking with it!

  • Miss-E July 12, 2013, 5:38 pm

    @ Jenn50 – this one is for you: http://notalwaysworking.com/cashier-remarks/29793

    I hate when people remark on my food too. It’s just really intrusive and strange. As a cashier I might say something like “oh, I love these” but I’d never comment on someone’s health choices! So SO rude!

  • Jenn50 July 12, 2013, 11:44 pm

    Love it, Miss-E!

  • EchoGirl July 13, 2013, 2:23 am

    Library Diva, overhearing phone calls is a pet peeve of mine as well, for a different reason. I work in phone captioning. I listen to people talk on the phone for 16 hours every week (so I can caption for them), I don’t need to hear even more when I’m not working!

  • Gilraen July 13, 2013, 7:00 am

    I think people using a cell phone while being served are rude. End of story – there is no reason to ignore people that are serving you and to treat them effectively as invisible. They too are people trying to do a job and the least you can do is treat them with dignity. If you treat people as a commodity or being invisible says a lot about you as a person.
    I also feel that the woman in question by raising this in the public domain (i.e. running to the newspaper) is really out of line and underlining her feeling of inflated importance and contempt for people working for her. To me it seems she is trying to humiliate the checkout lady while basking in attention from others.

  • TimeLady July 13, 2013, 7:42 pm

    I am in full agreement with the opinion that the woman on her phone was out of line. Honestly, it takes a few minutes to get all the shopping sorted and bagged, a polite “thank you” to the cashier if they’ve had to provide you with bags, payment (have you swiped your nectar card? Did you use your own bags?) and boom. You’re done. You don’t have to share your life story or whatnot if you’re uncomfortable with small talk, but politeness doesn’t cost a penny.

    I wonder if perhaps the checkout lady had been a bit brusque in her approach to the situation, but as far as I can see the media has only been sharing Jo Clarke’s side of the story, and of *course* she would be wanting to make herself look good. Who’s to say she hadn’t been rude and belligerent to the employee?

    To those who don’t think it’s a problem being on their mobiles whilst checking out etc, I think one of the strongest deterrents should be money-handling. There is always the potential for something to go wrong with money if you’re not paying full attention to the cashier, and I think that could very easily be a worry to them. In today’s sue-happy society, it is a very real danger that any errors would be immediately blamed on the cashier, regardless of whether the blame was theirs or not. I read a comment further up stating similar.

    To date the only time I have ever used my mobile whilst at a till was when my son’s childminder called. I apologised to the cashier and took the call, as I know the childminder wouldn’t call without good reason (she had called to tell me her daughter had broken her wrist and I needed to pick my son up as she had to take daughter to the hospital).

  • FunkyMunky July 14, 2013, 3:49 am

    I currently work in a call centre and I’ve had customers take a call on a second phone, WHILE talking to me on another. No ‘sorry, this is an emergency’, just they stop taking to me an start talking to someone else. I wish I was allowed to hang up on those people.

  • Library Diva July 15, 2013, 9:35 am

    Angel #89 made a good point. It’s been about ten years since I’ve worked a frontlines customer service job, but all of this cell phone garbage was going on then, too. My job was at a store similar to a Macy’s or Bonwit Teller, so we frequently offered coupons or had sales going on. Store policy was very gray on discounts in the absence of a coupon. If a customer said “Oh, I can’t believe I forgot my coupon at home,” it was acceptable to ring in the discount anyway. Most of us would do it for customers who were nice or neutral even if they didn’t bring it up first. Someone who approaches the register engaged in a trivial conversation on their phones, who needs multiple prompts just to figure out what form of payment they’ll be using, and treats me like I’m a self-checkout machine? Yeah, I’m not going out of my way for them.

  • Tracy July 15, 2013, 9:50 am

    BagelLover said: “I used to work at a hardware store and generally spent at least three hours a shift on register (I was a manager but was better on register than most cashiers) and this happened a few times. Generally the people would pull out their money and set it on the counter, and then leave it there. I would tell them the total and they would just look at the money. Sometimes I would say, in a tone implying they weren’t quite with it mentally “Is the money on the counter what you would like to pay for your purchase with?” A few times i would just blithely ignore it. Once, when the customer chucked their credit card on the counter, I silently stuck it in my vest pocket and finished ringing up their items. When they finally cottoned on I was all “oh you threw that at me so I thought it was mine to keep” *pointed look*”

    I don’t understand. People put their money on the counter in front of you and you pretended you didn’t know they intended to use it to pay for their purchase? Why?

  • Jennifer Goodland July 15, 2013, 5:32 pm

    In 99.99% of situations, using a cell phone at a checkout stand is undeniably rude.

    I just with that the gentleman behind me in line at Walmart a couple of weeks ago had kept in mind that there are exceptions. I have dementia and sometimes find Walmart confusing and disorienting, so my caregiver was on the other end of the line explaining how to pay and with which card. I’d explained to the cashier and was paying attention to her and answering her questions fine, but apparently not good enough for the guy behind me.

    When I check out, he yelled at me and insulted me. I explained I have dementia and my caregiver was helping me. He pursued his bullying and yelling until I collapsed and hit my head and was sobbing on the floor in a full-blown attack, and continued on his way out the door. The cashier did nothing about it and only the customer behind the abusive one had a shred of human decency about him, and he got some employees to help me out. (Well, they gave me a glass of water and said “people are terrible” but at least they were compassionate and caring.)

    With a little patience, yes, Walmart could be a piece of cake for me. It was important and rehabilitative for me to be able to shop by myself, choose appropriate foods, and deal with the lights. When I get up to the cashier, I need help unloading and paying because my brain tries to revisit every decision I made while shopping. It won’t make the connection between why I bought peanut butter AND jelly because there is also spaghetti or broccoli in the cart and those things don’t go together, put them back. Wait, why am I buying a shirt? I’m already wearing a shirt. Is there something wrong with my shirt? How many shirts do I have? It gets too overwhelming, and I abandon my purchases and don’t eat for the next couple of days. Having my caregiver on the other end of the phone guided me through the process.

    It’s like Time Lady said, “Politeness doesn’t cost a penny.” And lack of politeness has now cost me my ability to shop for my own food. I cannot even approach a Walmart without thinking I am going to be judged and bullied for having dementia and nobody will help me. People will say “there’s no excuse” or that I’m being “rude – end of story.” No WalMart, no Target, no big-box stores of any kind. Black and white judgment is just way too important to some people, and people act on it, and nobody cares if they’re making fun of you for being handicapped – because you were on a cell phone and who cares why. And we are really so pressed for time as a society that we have to judge people for those five seconds they theoretically might have saved.

    (P.S. I wrote about this to both the local and corporate Walmart – about the cashier’s lack of concern when she saw me fall and hit my head, the bullying and screaming that went on in front of her, her lack of response, the fact that an ambulance was not called, and it turns out that’s one of the only things I can remember that entire week because I got a concussion.)

  • siobhan July 16, 2013, 2:00 am

    I have worked in retail from the start of the mobile phone popularity and it drives me mad when someone talks on their phone while being served. It drives me so mad that I have learnt to be a bit passive aggresive to it. I now loudly and clearly and in a very cheerful tone talk to the customer when I need to talk to them. ÏT COMES TO $xx.xx, HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO PAY?” “PLEASE SWIPE YOUR CARD, SELECT YOUR ACCOUNT, ANY CASHOUT?”. It really annoys the customer as they are unable to talk o the phone but I, unlike the article, cannot be writen up for bad customer service.

    Please put your phone down for at least the payment part to avoid confusion, you will be served quicker too.

  • Library Diva July 16, 2013, 4:09 pm

    @Jennifer Goodland — I’m so sorry this happened to you, and your story is an indelible reminder of the fact that you can’t always judge people.

    Years ago, I was in a Wal-Mart parking lot and saw a man going nuts. That’s the only way I can describe it. He was punching cars, ricocheting off them, yelling unintelligibly. A woman and four frightened children looked on. Unbelieveably, so did several Wal-Mart employees. They just stared. Then one shrugged her shoulders and went back inside. I called 911. It turned out that the man was acting this way because his blood sugar was crashing. He could have died if no one had acted. His family didn’t know any English and (based on the location and time of year) were likely migrant workers unfamiliar with how to get help anyway. I know you can’t generalize based on two stories, but I wonder if Wal-Mart doesn’t want the flashing lights in front of their store and goes out of their way to avoid it.

  • Melalucci July 17, 2013, 1:38 am

    Jennifer Goodland, that’s awful. I wish you had been treated better. Can you bring someone along with you to go to big stores like that, or do you just stick to smaller stores now? Also, I never would have known you had any sort of dementia from the skillful way you write.

  • mumsyjr July 17, 2013, 1:08 pm

    I always hang up before I get to the cashier because the phone is just distracting and I’m a very poor multi-tasker. Also, because it doesn’t feel right to me: I make a point of treating cashiers, servers, etc. as fellow human beings rather than automatons and part of that is getting off my phone so I can engage with them during a transaction.

  • Jennifer Goodland July 19, 2013, 1:29 am

    Thank you for all your kind words. I cannot do the shopping for myself or ask for accommodations anywhere now, which led to me forgetting to eat for five days, which has led to me needing to be under a guardian ad litem. etc. Not being able to shop for yourself often takes with it your ability to feed yourself. I’m fiercely independent and always have been, so this was a big, big blow.

    Melalucci, this is one of the surprises about dementia, particularly when it hits you at my age. I’m 36 and I have developed what my neurologist believes is multi-infarct dementia because of two genetic circulatory conditions causing repeated mini-strokes. Each time, a little bit of my brain gets damaged. I cannot prepare or plan meals for myself, remember to take my medications, follow a daily schedule without prompting, or do chores without prompting. I have to think about going down stairs manually (unless they’re at a national park, because my brain thinks of them as historical artifacts and not stairs). I bought ten jars of the same peanut butter because I kept forgetting I had peanut butter! Each time I would go to the store, figure I have the fixings for PB & Js, and get peanut butter. And find nine unopened jars in the cupboard. There are of course worse things – the outbursts, wandering, self-harm, which I’m learning to deal with, and of course eventually you die (I won’t, I’ll forget to), but those are more familiar dementia behaviors.

    There are certain portions of the brain that govern things like daily activities. So my cognition is intact, which leads to some interesting scenarios. I’m a professor in a university honors program teaching, of all things, critical thinking. My students know that when we walk out together after class, continuing our discussions, whoever is next to me throws his arm in front of me when we’re at the crosswalk. After class one of my students is likely to tell me “go eat lunch” and the Faculty/Staff Club makes something for me. My campus is protective of me like it is of its other disabled members.

    I incorporate dementia and other neurological disorders and information into my lectures frequently. I once taught for three days with an EEG glued to my head, and my students could ask questions, take pictures, etc. This inspired one of my freshmen to declare pre-med. She wants to be a neurologist, which is so awesome to me I can hardly stand it. Everything is a teaching moment and you can never tell what’s going to make a difference.

    Example: I started a social justice campaign on Facebook based on the utter indifference of Walmart on any level to care about what happened. Now I have filed an ADA complaint. But even better – a store manager in Washington saw my Facebook forward and has decided to hold a training session on how to handle customers with nonvisible disabilities, using what happened to me as a “how would we improve this?” scenario. Whatever happens with the ADA, I’m amazed that even though my brain is made of candy floss and the horrible sticky labels at the ends of DVDs, there’s been at least one impact.

  • Rebecca July 19, 2013, 8:45 am

    I work in retail, and if somebody tosses money or their card at me while talking on a mobile phone, I take it into my hand, then remain stationary while they finish their conversation. I often look away casually so that they can’t catch my eye and motion for me to proceed. If they act disturbed by it, I’ll say politely and with a big smile, “just waiting until you’re ready!” This retail robot doesn’t perform unless you put in a respect token.

  • Bane July 15, 2015, 8:27 pm

    I worked in retail for 7 years…plenty to whinge about, but how is someone talking on their phone any different to them talking to a companion who’s going through the checkout with them? Suck it up retail workers, I don’t want to have a conversation with you. I will however, say please and thankyou and give you a smile, whether I’m talking to an actual friend at the same time or not

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