MARY THOMAS: Small acts of kindness enhance customer service



She must have been in her 80s, a woman small in stature, attempting to maneuver a walker through the aisles of a clothing store. I was nearby, sifting through a sales rack. Two clerks stood a few feet away. They glanced at the lady but continued to talk about their frustrations with a supervisor and something about being overwhelmed, overworked and underpaid.

All this time the elderly lady tried to steady herself with one hand on the walker while looking at blouse sizes with the other. I walked over and asked the lady if I could help. She said she was looking for a certain brand. Not familiar with the clothing name, I approached the two employees and asked if they could help. They looked at me as if I had just suggested something crazy, something outlandish – like doing their job!

What has happened to good customer service? Those two clerks should never have aired their private business or frustrations on the floor. They should have focused their attention on the customers, especially the elderly lady. Don’t they realize the only thing separating us and the woman grasping the walker is time?

This type of apathy doesn’t just happen in retail stores. While I was in a medical clinic waiting room, an elderly man walked in and was instructed to sign his name. After he stood at the window for a few seconds, the receptionist, without looking up, motioned for him to take a seat. Just moments after he carefully lowered himself into a chair, the receptionist called his name. He grabbed the arms of the chair, struggled to pull himself up, and shuffled back to the window where she handed him a clipboard of papers to fill out.

If, for a moment, she had looked into the eyes of this patient, she would have seen that he could barely walk and would have difficulty writing because of arthritis in his fingers. Could she not have greeted him with a smile, called him by his name and asked how he was doing? There were other staff members behind the desk. Could she not have asked one of them to sit at the window while she walked the clipboard to the man and helped him fill out the forms? Not only would that have shown the client she cared, but the entire waiting room would have appreciated her gift of empathy.

In spite of all the businesses that fail at customer service, there are many that shine. I’ve had a tire store send an employee to change a flat in the snow on a Saturday for no charge, just because, as the employee said, “It was the right thing to do.” I’ve had a restaurant offer free desserts because the wait was longer than expected. And I love this one I read recently:

When a family had returned home from vacation, one of the couple’s children was distraught when he realized he had left Joshie, his stuffed giraffe, at the hotel. The clerk found Joshie and assured the father it would soon be on its way home. A few days later, the young child opened a package that not only contained his beloved giraffe, but also a book of photographs featuring the many adventures Joshie had enjoyed while at the hotel – sunning poolside in a lounge chair, receiving a massage with cucumbers over his eyes, driving the hotel’s golf cart and spending time with other stuffed animals still waiting to be claimed.

What sets certain businesses apart from their competition? Yes, a good product. But ask most people why they become loyal customers and they will tell you it’s because they consistently receive great customer service.

A few days ago, as I finished paying for some groceries, a bag boy approached me. “I’d be glad to carry that,” he said with a smile. “And I don’t even want a tip.”

Having only one bag, I told him I thought I could manage, and slipped a dollar into his hand.

“I can’t take this,” he said, looking at the money. “I didn’t even help you.”

“No,” I replied. “But you cared enough to offer.”

Mary Thomas is an independent professional journalist and community columnist. She resides in Tupelo. Contact her at

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  • Shannon Hopkins

    I totally agree, Mary. I would rather pay more to a business who went out of their way to treat me with kindness, than pay less at a place that was rude and ignored their customers. Customers are who pay your bills…..if you run them off, they’ll be happy to pay someone else’s bills instead of yours!