This is a very weak explanation for choosing to answer a phone over serving a waiting person, but I had one boss tell me "The phone call is a chance for you to capture new business, and the person waiting at the desk to be served is already guaranteed business."
Definitely weak. That boss is wrong. if I'm waiting at the desk to be served, I can still walk out, and have done before when I got tired of waiting. The person waiting to actually spend money at the desk is probably the one you don't want to annoy.
I agree with the customer that the clerk should have picked up the phone, asked the caller to hold for a moment, and then gone and finished her transaction. I've worked tons of retail and found that this is what works best. Though I do know what a difficult juggling act it can be when management expects you to pick up within three rings, and you have three lines ringing, a line-up of customers right in front of you, another person wanting help somewhere out on the floor, and the store has recently cut back on staff to save on payroll and still expects you to accomplish all this. And to top it off, your coworker is on their break. There is bound to be somebody angry at you or thinking you should be doing things in a different order. But in this instance I do agree with the customer who said she should have put that customer on hold; it's not good to abandon someone mid-transaction.