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You Can’t Overcommunicate to Your Customers—Especially About Sensitive Issues

Suzi Shopper: Thoughts on business from a consumer’s perspective

How many of you have thought twice about using a credit card when shopping at Target? But that tragic security breach could have happened to any retailer—and in fact, was just one of many that continue to keep consumers on edge. I have another example that hopefully will keep you and your customers from joining Target et al and their customers on that list of victims.

My story starts with a quick dash to a local restaurant for lunch. I wanted something other than fast food, but I needed it to go, so I could get back to work. I walked up to the bar and placed my order. I handed over my card to pay. The cashier ran my card…and then tried again. I had assumed it was not working, because she then got on the phone. What I gathered by her conversation with the other employee and the person on the other end of the line was that their POS was not working properly. They thought they had corrected the issue last night, but apparently they had not. Keep in mind that I was overhearing this—their backs were to me.

After the cashier left the counter with my card, she returned with it and then proceeded to continue to swipe it in the machine. At this point, I had become beyond agitated. All I kept thinking was, how many times has this lunch been charged to my card? Four? Five? Six? And at this point, no one had said a single word directly to me about issues with the credit card machine.

I interrupted the cashier, told her to stop running my card, and told her I’d be happy to get cash while they prepared by order. She then informed me there was an ATM in the restaurant. Still no word of explanation…or an apology for the inconvenience…or an assurance that my card would not be charged.

After paying for my food, I left the restaurant wondering if that cashier realized how uncomfortable she made this customer –not only today – but for at least a month to come, as I will be checking my account to ensure none of those transactions went through.

Everything I learned about that restaurant’s POS issues I learned by listening to a conversation I wasn’t included in. To me, this is a serious training issue—particularly regarding something as sensitive as handling of credit cards. The server should have communicated to me the issue immediately, given me the option to pay cash, given me instructions as to what to do if a charge showed up on my statement—basically knowing to address what would be an obvious concern to anyone clued into the world today.

How are you training your employees to communicate when technical issues are preventing the completion of a transaction, without risking not only this sale, but future sales? Do your employees know how to handle sensitive issues that could scare your customers away?