Journo to Customer Servo: tiny breaks, tiny waistline

I walked into work this morning and my manager said to me ‘do you want the good news or the bad news?’ He says this to me a lot. I told him to give me the bad news first, which was that I would be on the shop floor all day and not behind the Music & Video desk. So then I asked for the good news; the good news was that ‘you won’t be stuck on the desk’. I’m not sure whether he realised that that was the same as the bad news.

Being on the Home and Leisure shop floor all day means carrying, lifting, walking, getting your hands dirty (literally – you should see the colour of the water after you wash your hands), crouching, walking, bending, stretching, sweating and more walking.

I don’t understand how you can work in ASDA (unless you’re on check-outs) and be fat. It must take dedication and a lot of cake when you get home to incorporate those calories into your diet.

I didn’t realise how skinny I was when I started uni after working at ASDA for over a year until today.. I’ve spent the past 6 months being able to eat as much as I want whenever I want during the working day, not including a one hour lunch break. At ASDA you get half an hour and by the time you’ve gone to the toilet, grabbed your food from your locker, fetched your cutlery, made your cup of tea and sat down you’re left with 20 minutes. Also, if you’re chatterbox like me, the more you talk during your lunch break the less time you give yourself to eat. I’d genuinely forgotten how little I used to consume before starting a Masters.

Today for lunch I had an orange, a pear, a yoghurt, a bag of crisps and some banana loaf, and that’s all I ate until I got home and had my tea. Yesterday I had an apple and 2 crackers with cheese.. the clock strikes Return To The Shop Floor o’clock and you realise you haven’t even drunk your tea yet. You find your stomach rumbling whilst you’re carrying around heavy crates of DVDs, 32″ flat-screen TVs or massive bags of compost to old ladies cars (in my case today), but you’re so busy you just ignore it. If you had longer for lunch you would eat more, but you don’t, and you can’t eat when you get back downstairs.

I figure my body must be in shock right now.

An ASDA employee walks miles in an 8 hour shift and today I was on the shop floor moving pots and pans and cutlery to and from the top shelves. My feet hurt and my legs ache because I’m no longer to used to standing up and walking around for hours on end: it’s a hard-knock life.

I hate being sat at a computer all day in the MA newsroom at Falmouth because I’m naturally a very energetic person, however the freedom that comes with that is something you lose entirely in a job as a shop assistant. Today my dad told me the reason he wanted me and my brother to go to university was for exactly that reason – so we didn’t have a £6 an hour job where you have to wait for hours to have a cup of tea for the rest of your life. Although saying that, the amount of ASDA employees that are graduates…

Having a BA Honours degree these days unfortunately isn’t enough to get you a decent job. Though I agree with his point entirely.

Being on the shop floor also means:


1. A sneaky human being with a clipboard in their handbag or notepad in their back pocket pretending to be a customer and scoring you on your repetitive phrasing capabilities.

2. Failed mathematicians who like to mark shop workers’ helpfulness using percentages.

They say for every unit of alcohol you drink you kill something like 10,000 brain cells. Every time I say ‘thank you for waiting’ and ‘is there anything else I can help you with?’ I swear the same thing happens.

Last time and the only time I’ve ever been mystery shopped I got 100% (thank god). If they can’t see your name badge and if you don’t say ‘is there anything else I can help you with?’ when you’re on the shop floor, you don’t get 100% and if you don’t get 100% your life isn’t worth living. ASDA prides itself on it’s customer service. I know people that have cried after being told off for not hitting the one zero zero, that’s how seriously they take it.

If you’re on the till you must greet your customer, say ‘thank you for waiting’ and offer a parting statement (some kind on elaboration on goodbye). You’re now specifically requested to say thank you for waiting and not sorry for waiting – which is what you instinctively say. If you say sorry and not thank you you can wave goodbye to your 100%. Apparently greeting someone with the words sorry initiates a negative beginning to the transaction (which is BAD). However it doesn’t please all. My colleague Anne once said thank you for waiting to a customer whereupon she received the response, “well it’s not like I have much bloody choice is it?” Perhaps a little brusque however he had a point. Why thank someone for something they have no choice but to acquiesce to? If you don’t queue to pay, you don’t get the goods – it’s as simple as that!

Fortunately for me I’ll be back in uni before I can find out whether I get mystery shopped or not this week. What a shame.

There’s something to be said for customer service though. It’s great for the people that receive it but crap for those who have to give it. When you’re working in journalism you’re constantly learning new things about the world you live in and utilising that information in a way that can be digested by other people – the kind of people that shop in ASDA and expect good customer service.

And I don’t want to be the one that tells them where the peanut butter is, I want to be the one that tells them it’s the anniversary of Charles Dickens’s death or what the government is going to do about the rise in unemployment.

Whether I hated working online during our rolling news days.. whether I dislike having to listen to Cornwall Council’s podcasts or produce TV packages on public toilets (though I don’t hold the claim to fame on that one!) at least I’m learning something. I’m digesting new information everyday. When you work in retail you’re repeating the same sentences to (often) the same people and doing the same jobs every day, every week, every year. You move things around shelves and then a few hours or a few days later do the exact same thing all over again. You refill, re-stock, re-scan, remove, replace: repeat, repeat, repeat.

The biggest satisfaction I got in a long time was 7 months ago informing ASDA I was leaving to do a Masters. My manager couldn’t believe it; he conceded he thought I was going to be there forever like nearly every other university graduate who works there.

I don’t regret spending the four and a half grand if only for the look on his face when I told him..


2 thoughts on “Journo to Customer Servo: tiny breaks, tiny waistline

  1. I’ve had the same kind of bodyshock returning to waitressing/barmaiding for the last few summers after sitting on my arse writing essays/reading books all day at uni. Knackering going back to 12 hour shifts of running around as a dogsbody. It’s such a weird position to be in, carrying around a vague, misplaced superiority complex for being above it all by being in undergrad/postgrad education, as customers give you hell and bosses treat you with total disrespect. Then suddenly, and sometimes by surprise, your real career takes off and boom! You’re finally treated as though you’re worth something. We’re in the gutter, my love, but we’re looking at the stars, and we’ll reach them one day!

  2. Ha! I hope so Tashalino 😉
    It is the most bizarre position to be in – a lot of people, including those you work with assume that because you’re working in a supermarket you must be stupid and have no aspirations.
    People are always shocked to find out there are other things you want to do and places you want to be. You come back from higher education seemingly the same person and no-one thinks any differently of you, until you say something like ‘that’s like the Oedipus complex’ and discover that no-body you’re working with knows what that is and that none of them have even heard of Freud!

    You spend months and months just learning; engrossed in reading, writing and educating yourself and you’d like to think bettering yourself, then out of nowhere you find that you’re wearing a vile green shirt and being yelled at by some smelly old man for not having the TV he wants.

    When I go back to work it feels like having a split personality.. everything I know outside of the workplace becomes obsolete. It’s all about sales and smiling constantly.

    Strange lives we lead eh?

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