Working in customer service holds immense power.
Monday evening my manager told me to help a woman load four cases of bottled water onto her shopping cart. As we walked to the front of the store, I tried to make small talk, asking about her day.
She sucked in a deep breath.
“One of those days?” I asked.
She told me she woke up to some bad news. But life goes on, she said.
“Yeah, we have to keep moving,” I agreed. Unsure whether it was appropriate to ask about a serious, personal issue, I added, “I hope it wasn’t anything too life-changing.”
“Oh no,” she said with relief. “No, that happened last year.”
She then explained how her husband had been diagnosed last year with a disease that left little chance for surviving even a few months. Her news yesterday couldn’t compare with the day she heard about her husband’s condition. With that news, her life had suddenly come to an edge. Her husband struggled through, though, and has survived this far.
Even so, it was clear she had grit her teeth through a long and painful day.
We continued talking while I pushed the cart outside to her car. The sun had sunk below the hills far enough to leave the clouded sky grimly lit. I hefted a case of bottled water into her trunk and said, “I hope things turn around for you before the day is over.”
Waiting by the shopping cart, she smiled wide. “Oh, honey, my day got better as soon as I saw your smile.”
Soon after I started working at Walgreens, I noticed a strange phenomenon. My training included the instructions to greet every customer who walked through the doors. Usually my voice is near inaudible, so my manager told me to project for the many elderly customers. To further suit the role, I also unconsciously took on an ultra-friendly, ultra-cheerful persona while at work. When someone comes in–feet shuffling, shoulders hunched, eyes glazed–I belt out as best I can, “Hello! Welcome to Walgreens!”
The customer jolts to awareness, craning their head around to see where the faceless greeting came from. Then they spot me, waving and smiling at them from behind the front counter. A smile sets on their face. Their eyes brighten. “Hello!” they respond back. “How are you?”
“Doing good. How are you?” I say.
“Good, good.” And they continue on with their shopping, standing perhaps a little taller, walking with just a bit more energy.
A brief exchange lifted their mood. Wherever they may have come from, a welcoming hello, a smile, and a wave shifted their day. They walked in dull and distracted, with a mind clouded by the day’s demands. But then someone noticed them. Someone recognized their presence and even looked happy to see them. For some, the employee behind the counter may be the first person to speak to them that day. Suddenly a stranger made them matter. Suddenly they are worthy of at least a friendly smile.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me….’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’ (Matthew 25:34-35, 40).”
“Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7).