The world needs more Shirleys

Published 3:21 pm Friday, June 1, 2012

For all the times that you encounter poor customer service in the restaurant or retail industry — and it seems to be a daily occurrence — there are those increasingly rare folks that make you feel a little better about your day and, sometimes, society as a whole.

I came across one of those people this week. Her name is Shirley Anderson. And she went out of her way to help an exhausted, stressed out rookie dad.

It was Monday night, just after 10:30. Blythe and I were coming back from our Memorial Day weekend trip to visit her family in Florida. All told, we were on the road somewhere around six hours that day.

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Six hours on the road is tiring. It is even more so when you are taking care of a month-old newborn child. So we were anxious to get home. Unfortunately, Langston — our newborn son — was pretty miserable from a stomach issue that had plagued him for about 27 or 28 hours.

The weariness from the road in addition to general exhaustion and the ever-thinning nerves that Walmart in Demopolis some 20 minutes before closing time.

A brief text message conversation with Langston’s doctor informed me that I needed Gerber apple prune juice and some sort of infant suppository thing. I’m a new dad. I’m a new dad and a tired dad. My odds of figuring this out on my own in such a state were small. My odds of finding anyone willing to help me at that hour were smaller.

But I spent about 10 minutes walking around the baby section of the store and managed to locate the juice before spending five minutes determining that the other item was not there.

So, nearly exasperated, I asked an employee who was readying to stock shelves nearby. Her name was Shirley.

She wasn’t sure where the item would be, but she was determined to find it. Without huffing, puffing, groaning or complaining, Shirley immediately turned around and headed to the opposite corner of the store toward the pharmacy. She chatted with me along the way and expressed sympathy for my child, whom she has never met.

Once she arrived at the proper aisle, she studied item after item to make sure she could find the best thing for my son. The only such item was listed as one to be used for children ages 2-5 unless otherwise instructed by a doctor.

She read the box carefully, and asked questions to make sure that I had consulted a doctor before putting her recommendation on the item.

That was impressive to me. It was impressive that this woman was working on a holiday, doing a task that was not expressly in her job description, going well out of her way to accomplish it and showing genuine concern for my son, whom she had never met.

For all the negativity that so often surrounds us, for all the disgruntled individuals who begrudgingly do their jobs in a manner that makes the term “service industry” seem an oxymoron, it was nice to find this one person who apparently still believes in caring service with a smile. The world needs more people with an infectious willingness to serve. The world needs more Shirleys.