Hello shoppers...

I hate being ignored. Hate it. More than I hate almost any other human behavior. And I've worked at a bar, where drunks won't leave you alone.  

Call me Captain Stinky Pants and I'll understand. Toss your poop at me and I'll forgive you. (Monkeys have done this and I've forgiven them) Yell at me, shoot at me, try to run me over with your car and I can deal with it. (Okay maybe I've got self-worth issues.)  Because in each case you are, at the very least, acknowledging me. Your reaction, any reaction, must mean that I do, indeed, exist - I'm here, present and accounted for, horray!

But act like I'm invisible? Whoo nelly - a part of my heart breaks off and falls into my shoes. Look through me like I'm a window instead of a door and you won't have to shoot me because I'll do it myself. The truth - my truth and, I believe, a universal human truth for all of us - is that being ignored is one of the most destructive things that another person can do or, more accurately, not do to us.

Here's why denying our reality, hurts so much.

The only way any of us knows that we exist, that we are (All of that "I think, therefore I am" rigmarole aside) is because people we come in contact with throughout our lives, from the time we are born to the very moment you're reading this,  react to our presence - they laugh, cry, scream, smile, run away and most important, talk. 

This becomes our expectation and our validation, that we're alive and here - otherwise, why would anyone talk to us if we aren't here? (There are rare exceptions to this that involve padded rooms and major city bus stations.) This need to be acknowledged and thus be validated, accepted and loved is such an integral part of our humanity that I think it's one of the major reasons why we have children - no parent ever wonders if they really exist. "Mom? Mom?? Mooom!"

Yet are there good reasons to be ignored?

Mark Dykeman is an IT pro living in Canada who writes a fascinating blog about human behavior called Broadcast Brain. In a post entitled "The Reasons Why Other People Ignore You," he writes that "being ignored is one of the worst things in the world," but that there are intentional and unintentional reasons why people ignore us. "The main reason that people will ignore you in a callous, ignorant, or hurtful way is that acknowledging you will be unpleasant to them," says Dykeman, who also points out that there are benign reasons, too, including a lack of focus, too much outside stimulus and the fact that those who ignore us, may simply not recognize us. In the circle of our friends, family and acquaintances, there are justifiable reasons for ignoring and being ignored.

And then there's shopping.

When it comes to the world of retail, we're talking about a different world with a different set of rules and expectations. Remember, you're on a retail date - companies are supposed to make you feel loved and wanted and appreciated. Yet regretfully, in today's sad state of customer service, being ignored by employees has become SOP - like we were a bothersome gnat entering their tent instead of a consumer with money entering their workplace. 

Think of how often you go into a convenience, grocery or retail store and employees don't acknowledge you - whether you walk past them or walk up to them at the counter. (Telling you the total you owe after ringing up your merchandise is not acknowledging you.) I can't tell you how many times I've walked up to a check-out clerk who will look me right in the eye, and say nothing. Or continue a conversation they're having with another employee while they completely blow me off. Yikes! We're talking about people who are paid ambassadors for the stores they work for. And they're routinely ignoring us. It's outrageous.

Which is why I draw a line in the sand with employees in training: Acknowledging consumers is not a suggestion, it's a mandate - you will smile, say hello and acknowledge every person who walks through your company's door, every time, without exception. It's something my secret shoppers look for, something we video-tape and train on and something I preach over and over. It's simple my fellow shoppers - I believe that when we're not acknowledged and engaged, we will spend less money and show less loyalty and that should be enough reason for business owners to demand it from their employees.

Which is why I made a decision a month ago - if I'm shopping and an employee doesn't acknowledge me when I bring my merchandise up to the check-out counter, I'm leaving my items there and walking out, no exceptions. So far I've had to do it a half-dozen times - each time I'll explain to the check-out person, "You are three feet from me and yet you didn't say anything to me. That makes me feel like you don't care enough to acknowledge me and so I'm going to shop somewhere where they will." One night I drove to three Hy-Vee's before I bought a jar of salsa. A helpful smile in every aisle? I'd settle for more than a grunt from their cashiers.  

The bottom line - if the only thing somebody can say to me is "$6.37, paper or plastic?" then they don't deserve my business...or yours.


Jonnie Wright is a customer service traininer and evaluator, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of "The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show," which airs Saturday mornings 8-9am on 1350 KRNT. Email Jonnie at jonniewright@thebuyosphere.com.

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