Or perhaps you just happened to be out shopping at the exact moment your mom decided to call for the first time in a few weeks and you just have to catch up with her. You know you can’t be rude to her, because you’re such a likable person, and thank goodness that we invented cell phones so you can do so while you’re trying on shoes at your favorite department store.
Perhaps even more familiar to you is this scenario: You’re stopping by your local fast food restaurant and you can’t remember what your spouse wanted for dinner, so you call her while at the counter to quickly check, ordering while on the phone. What a miracle that we’re able to do this now, rather than having to guess or remember what our loved ones like to eat!
Cell phones are a fantastic invention. When I’m not at work, I’ll admit – I’m pretty attached to mine. Whether I’m texting non-stop or using it to keep in touch with my family who live a few states away, my phone and I are rarely apart. That being said, the moment I set foot inside the door of a business my phone gets slid into a pocket and I don’t look at it until I walk back out again. If I’m shopping I keep it on vibrate and only answer it or text with it when I’m far, far away from a sales associate. Because there is no singular thing I can think of that makes me hate you more than you talking on your cell phone when you’re in my store.
When I started working retail cell phones were still a commodity. Occasionally I’d run into a customer who would be on their phone trying to track down their spouse in the mall because they were on their way to the food court for lunch, with my store as their last stop. Or perhaps a quick call to check on what exactly was the name of the board game they were supposed to buy. But generally my encounters with cell phone customers were few and far between. Always there was an embarrassed apology, a quick step to the door or corner to quickly finish their call, and they always finished the call before resuming a discussion with me. I liked those customers, and I still like them to this day, which is exactly why I strive to be one of those customers – someone who only uses their phone in an absolutely urgent situation if I am in a store. Someone who doesn’t try to maintain a conversation with an associate (clerk, cashier, employee) while I’m on the phone. And I never, never try to pay while on the phone. I have been known to hang up the phone when I reach the cashier at even the biggest of big mega mart stores.
Somewhere in the year that I was away from retail this standard practice changed. All of a sudden customers were trying to keep a conversation going with me while their phone was cradled against their ear. It became common practice for me to have to interpret erratic hand gestures and mouthed words. Suddenly I was having third person conversations. “Well, she’s looking for a shoe that has a strap on it, but not a thick strap… Oh, wait, it’s not a thin strap either. And it has a heel?” Cell phones are now everywhere, and rather than it being a rare customer that rudely tried to talk to me while maintaining a conversation on the phone, it became a rare customer that politely hung up the phone to converse with me.
Cell phones are a problem.
A big problem.
If you’ve ever been in a store with a cell phone attached to your ear while a sales associate was trying to talk you, trust me, you’ve been hated. If you’ve ever ordered food while carrying on a conversation with your mumsy, you’ve been hated. Have you ever had to gesture silently toward something, generally frustrated that the associate wasn’t magically getting your meaning because you were too involved with your conversation to hang up? Trust me, they hate you.
If I could install a cell phone jammer in every business in which I’ve ever worked I would do so willingly, just to foil the average cell phone user. I have been known to use horrible guerrilla tactics with cell phone users. When I was working in the shoe store I would hold off on letting people actually try on the shoes until their conversation was over. “Oh, don’t worry, I can wait until you’re finished. I don’t want to interrupt you!” is the polite customer service speak for “Hang up your phone you idiot, I’m tired of dealing with you already.” As a cashier I’ve intentionally given people the wrong change, knowing they were too busy on their phone to actually look at the bills being set in their hands before it was shoved mindlessly into a pocket. People on cell phones don’t tip – so the dollar I took out of your change became my tip for having to deal with your idiocy. Are we running a buy one get one sale? Could you have saved a significant amount if you’d been able to listen to me explaining the sale to you? Too bad, because you’re on a phone and I’m not going to mention those savings to you.
Clearly there are benefits to hanging up your phone beyond avoiding hatred. Of all the bad habits that you might have, odds are this is the one that you have. In this current world of cell phone ubiquity it seems that most people no longer consider exactly how rude it is to use your phone in the ways illustrated above. The problem has permeated our society so completely that I now see businesses with signs requesting their customers to hang up their phones before conducting business. Sadly I’ve never had the honor of being allowed to work in a store with one of these signs, and I worship every business that has one.
I’ll end this chapter with a favorite anecdote of mine, which illustrates both the frustration of the cell phone rule, and also hints at a few more of my pet peeves that we’ll be addressing in future entries. Bonus points if you can figure out all of the pet peeves!
I was working in the shoe store when this gentleman came in. I was helping another customer as he entered, and I saw he was on a phone so I smiled at him and nodded, not wanting to interrupt his call. A few minutes later as I was ringing up my original customer, he came over, interrupted the other customer as they were asking me a question and thrust three pairs of shoes in my face. “I need these in a size thirteen!” He said, phone still glued to his ear. The next words out of his mouth were a hushed, “I’m in the shoe store, she’s going to go get some shoes now.” As he walked away toward one of our benches.
I set phone- customer’s shoes on the counter as I finished dealing with the customer I’d been helping originally. As soon as I’d finished ringing her up I headed toward the back to get the man his shoes. I quickly had all of them and emerged from the back room, shoes in hand. He was still on his phone, so I set them at the edge of a table, and prepared to patiently wait for him to finish his conversation. After a few moments, he paused in his dialogue and looked at me. “Can I try them?” he curtly said to me.
“Oh, that’s okay! I don’t want to interrupt. I can wait while you finish.” My standard, ever so sweet salesperson reply.
“You’re not interrupting, I just need her opinion on the shoes while I’m trying them.” He rolled his eyes and continued discussing his plans for the weekend with who I presume was his psychic on the end of the line. Last time I checked, shoes aren’t something you can evaluate over the phone.
The next half hour was a drawn out torturous process of this man trying on a shoe, trying to ask me questions about the leathers, construction, and durability of the shoe, while also trying to get his girlfriend to look up the shoes online to evaluate their style. At the end of the marathon event, the startling revelation was reached – one simply cannot shoe shop over the phone! “I’ll come back with my girlfriend this weekend. She can’t decide while I’m on the phone.” He humbly apologized, and left the store. Half an hour of interaction, very, very frustrating interaction, and the only thing he learned was exactly what I could have told him when he entered – cell phones are not shopping aids. They are shopping hindrances. Disavow that phone and I’ll disavow hating you.
Listen. I hate you:
- You’re on the phone while ordering food
- You’re on the phone while shopping
- You’re on the phone while paying
- You’re trying to have a conversation with a sales clerk while also having a conversation with your phone
- You’ve just gestured a cashier/sales clerk/server while on the phone because you can’t interrupt the conversation.
How to be likeable:
- Hang up the phone
- HANG UP THE PHONE
- If the phone call is too important to hang up, then it is important enough that you shouldn’t be shopping or ordering food while having it. If it isn’t that important, then you can just as easily hang up, shop or order, then call the person back.
- Did I mention that you should hang up the phone?