The customer seemed quite confused when he approached the kiosk at the supermarket fuel center.
It was during the early days of my brief career as a clerk at the fuel center (aka gas station). I was stationed inside a kiosk and communicated with customers through a poorly functioning intercom system.
The customer was an older man with a long white beard and a big straw hat over his white hair. He was dressed like a city cowboy or maybe a vacationer at a dude ranch, but when he spoke, he had an accent that was maybe from Australia or maybe from New Zealand. I never can tell the difference between the accents, but I remember from my days working in tourist traps in New Orleans that New Zealanders and Australians can get testy when they’re confused for one another.
I asked the fellow how I could help him today, and he told me the communication screen at the pump had instructed him to see the cashier. I asked him if he was using the credit card we didn’t accept, and he was. I assured him the use of that particular credit card was the problem.
He rummaged through his wallet. He found another credit card to use. He decided that since he was already standing in front of me, he would pay me instead of trying to pay at the pump.
I asked what pump he was on, and he said he was on pump 2. I asked how much he wanted to put on pump 2.
He started rambling out loud, doing some elaborate calculations involving how much fuel was already in the tank, the number of gallons the tank held, how far he was going, how far he had already gone, the distance we were from the equator, and the alignment of the stars. (Okay, yes, I made up those last two factors.) Finally he said he would take eleven on pump 2.
I assumed he wanted to spend $11 on fuel on pump 2. (I know, Dad, when I assume, I make an ass of u and me.) All day long, people told me they wanted twenty on 2 or ten on 6 or fifteen on 8. Most people never even said the word dollars.
So the guy put his credit card in the drawer, and I pulled the drawer into the kiosk with me. I authorized pump 2 to give the customer $11 worth of fuel, then ran the credit card for $11. When the transaction was complete, I put the customer’s card and receipt in the drawer and slid it back out to him. He took the card and receipt and walked to pump 2.
It wasn’t long before the fellow was back at my window.
Oh goodness. What now? I thought.
How can I help you? I asked and forced a smile.
He told me pump 2 had quit pumping. I looked over at the POS (point-of-sale) system that showed me the activity on all pumps. Yep, pump 2 had quit pumping because this guy had pumped his $11 worth of fuel.
Yes, sir, I said through the intercom. I authorized the pump for $11 and you pumped $11 worth of fuel.
Eleven dollars? he asked as if I were an idiot. I wanted 11 gallons!
I wanted to ask him how I was supposed to know he meant 11 gallons. I wanted to ask him if I looked like a mind reader. I wanted to point out that he’d never said the word “gallons.” Alas, I knew I’d never said the word “dollars.” He could have asked me how he was supposed to know I meant 11 dollars. He could have asked me if he looked like a mind reader. (No, not particularly, I would have had to reply.) We were at an impasse because we’d both failed in our communication.
Because of customer service and all of that, I said wearily, I’m so sorry about that sir. My mistake. Would you like me to run your card for another amount?
He chose another amount and sent his credit card in to me. I authorized the pump, ran the card, then sent it back out to him. He was a little miffed, but not excessively angry. I was ready to move on to the next transaction, hoping the next customer and I would not experience a communication breakdown.