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Birney Imes: Mary Williams at your service


Birney Imes



We operate in a retail world dominated by chain stores. Too often these stores are staffed with lackadaisical clerks with little knowledge of the goods and services they are selling. In fact, so seldom do we encounter competence and enthusiasm in this arena, it is like a blast of cool, fresh air when we do. Here is one such story. 


On a recent weekday afternoon a customer needing a passport picture approached the photo counter at Walgreens. The sole attendant on duty was busy with a customer wearing pink cowboy boots. She was unhappy with the cropping of an 8x10 glossy of an elderly woman wearing a tiara.  


The technician on duty, Mary Williams, offered to reprint the picture, and while a more tightly cropped version was going through the processor, she picked up a Fuji digital camera and escorted the customer needing the passport photo to a wall of merchandise. Williams pulled down a background, positioned the customer and in a blink made two exposures. After the subject okayed one of the shots, she rolled up the background and, on the way back to her station behind the counter, put the camera's memory card in a kiosk and punched in instructions. 


"Be with you in a minute, sir," Williams said to a third customer. The reprint of the woman in the tiara had emerged from the processor. The woman, seeing the picture, nodded approvingly. Williams gave her a receipt and encouraged her to respond to a customer satisfaction survey. 


"You could win $3,000," Williams said, adding, "My name is Mary." 


Every week Highway 45 Walgreens store manager Brandy Heartsill gets a customer survey report and every week at least one respondent has something good to say about Mary Williams. 


It's easy to see why. Williams is not only competent and cheerful, she connects with the customer. She does this amid the flurry of printing pictures, assisting customers on the store's two self-service printers and even while making I.D. photos for passports, visas and gun permits. 


Taking time to listen is important, Williams says. 


"Some of these people you might be the only conversation they've had all day," she said. "If you listen, they'll tell you half their life story." 


Williams recalls a customer coming in who had just been in a car wreck. The wreck had been the woman's fault and she confided to Williams she was considering suicide. 


"She and I and the customer behind her, the three of us, said a prayer together," said Williams. "I told her my schedule and gave her my cell phone number." 


You might think she's been doing this all her life, but Williams, 53, has only been at Walgreens for two years. Before that, for 32 years, she worked at Microtek Medical, where she was a production scheduler. About six years ago, the company was bought out and soon thereafter Williams was without a job. 


After she absorbed the shock of that loss, she sent out resumes hoping for something in high-tech, Eurocopter or Stark Aerospace. But Walgreens called first. 


Maybe it was providential. 


"I thank God for my job and I love people," she said. 


But what do you do with that impossible customer, the one who refuses to be satisfied? 


"Most of the time if they are really pissed off, they will calm down if you stay calm," Williams says. "If we're both fussing, nothing is going to come of it." 


As for all the juggling of customers -- rarely is there not a customer waiting to be helped -- Williams said the secret is to acknowledge that customer. 


"I say, 'I'll be with you in just one second. I'll take care of you next.' 


"When I started I had no idea how busy this place could be," she said 


If Mike Dulaney's comments are any guide, the busyness of the Walgreens' photo department may be a condition for which Williams is partially to blame. 


Dulaney, a self-employed fire inspector, says he processes somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 pictures a year, most of them at Walgreens. He and Williams carry on with each other like old friends. 


"I rarely go anywhere else; I just like the service here," he says, nodding toward Williams. "You couldn't ask for anyone with a better attitude. 


Birney Imes is the publisher of The Dispatch. Email him at [email protected]


Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.


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