Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Don't smack your gum

October 11, 2010

On my way to interview Gina Budhai for this month’s Profile in Success (read here), I stopped at a gas station in Williamsburg, VA, for a bottle of water. I was in and out in less than two minutes, but had time enough to witness two examples of customer service at either end of the poor/excellent spectrum.

As is usually the case, I made a mental note of this occasion so that I could share it in conversations at Car Care World Expo 2010 and in the pages of PC&D. I’m not alone. Ryan Carlson, founder and host of, a weekly Internet podcast, recently had a similar experience and devoted an entire talk session to dissecting its details. I am sure you have many stories of your own to share amongst family, friends and colleagues.

For my part, let me share the two moments I witnessed that day:

I had no sooner grabbed my water and returned to the front of the store than discovered a line had formed (out of thin air) there. I took my place and listened as a woman asked for a few packs of cigarettes and presented the clerk with a winning lotto ticket.

It is probably worth mentioning that the woman was elderly and had a kind voice. There’s no use pretending that we treat each and every customer with the same amount of respect as the next, and I’m sure we all hold a special place in our hearts for women that remind us of our Grandmas, Nanas and Meemaws.

The winning ticket was, unfortunately, a dud. The clerk told her so by rolling her eyes and snidely remarking that she didn’t have the right numbers with a scoff. The woman inquired again, asking if 6 and 12 and 13 didn’t make it right? “Nope,” the clerk answered, smacking her gum and staring at the ceiling. “Oh, I guess I must have it wrong…” she answered, lingering at the counter hoping for her jackpot still.

Instead of taking the time to smile and explain the numbers to the woman, or to apologize at her misfortune, the clerk repeated her “Nope,” and reached her hand out and over the counter for the items from the next customer. Her words and tone, which had already shooed the woman away, now echoed the body language and hand gesture.

Maybe that woman is in the store three times a day, always trying to convince the staff that some dud is a winner. I don’t know. What I do know is that clerk, smacking her gum and rolling her eyes, made the most horrible impression on me. I felt awkward and depressed for the elderly woman.

At the same time, I remained in line, waiting my turn. A businessman rushed in and stood to my right, avoiding the line behind me. I realize he was there to pay for gas, but I didn’t see how that made his business magically more important than mine.

A young clerk, recognizing the man’s brusqueness and that the few of us still in line might be uncomfortable saying anything, instead opened up a second cashier and took my items at the same time the man approached the cashier I should have rightfully belonged to. She allowed me to forget the sad moment I had witnessed and replaced it with a smile and a “Thank you, come again.”

The lesson: Each and every moment is an opportunity for you and your staff to make an impression on your customers. Don’t smack your gum.

Kate Carr, Editor in Chief