Dear Captain Awkward:
I have a part-time job that is, at its core, a retail job. The gist of it is that our paying customers come in once a week and sit and talk with each other. One of our customers has, there is no way to mince words here, the Worst Body Odor I Have Ever Smelled. I can easily be 10 feet away and still smell him.
Two of our other customers have noticed this and mentioned it to me. What I don’t want to have happen is that this problem gets to the point where my customers don’t return because it’s just not worth the hassle.
I’ve spoken to my supervisor about this (she is not on site with me when I work) and she admitted to me that she was stumped. We each agreed to ask around and see if there are others who have been in our situation, and what they have done. My supervisor said she’d know what to do if this were an EMPLOYEE, but when it’s a paying customer, it’s a slightly different dynamic.
I am the worst at confrontation and uncomfortably honest discussions, so this chills me to the core. Supervisor has said that if we decide a frank discussion is needed, she can be there to do it and/or support me in it, so that’s good. But we are, at this point, wondering how to handle this. Help us, Captain Awkward!
Temporary Mouth Breather
I do not envy you. Either the customer does not know he smells and has to be told, or he does know and it’s because of some health issue that he can’t help (in which case you’re in disability/civil rights territory).
You’re going to have to rip the bandaid off and address it with him. And you’re going to have to talk about the smell that you have personally noticed and not hide behind “other customers have noticed” or “There have been complaints…” First, it’s a coward’s refuge, and second, it makes the whole thing that much more horrible to tell him, “Yeah, we all got together and talked about you behind your back. ENJOY RELIVING JUNIOR HIGH, CHUMP!”
Also, you have to do it face-to-face or on the phone, not through email. And you can’t have your supervisor do it for you or with you – it’s completely insulting to him. It has to be you and him, human to human.
Next time he comes in, after you all do what you do, pull him aside for a private chat. And then what you say can be some variation of this:
“Hey, _____, I need to bring up something very awkward with you.
The past few times you’ve been in, I’ve noticed a strong and distinct body odor. If that’s something you are aware of and can control, I need to ask you to take a shower and generally freshen up before you come here. If it’s not something that you were aware of, I need to say that extreme body odor can be the sign of a serious medical condition (like diabetes) and that you should get a health checkup if you haven’t had one recently.
I’m really sorry to have to have this talk, I’ve been enjoying your contributions to our meetings and really want you to feel comfortable here. Please know that I would not bring it up if it was not a serious issue.”
He might run screaming from the room and never be seen again, too embarrassed, which would be a shame, but that’s probably the most classy, least awkward way that you can handle a really awkward thing. Sometimes smooth corporatespeak and the passive voice is your friend.
Good luck, I don’t envy you that talk. Let us know how it went?
P.S. I tried looking for a witty image, but it was too insulting/depressing.