They are short staffed because of the environment in the store, unless it is suddenly getting more traffic volume. Even then, confidence, safety, sense of being a team, and the smell are still contributing to what is the employer's staffing problem. Bring it up by asking what company policy and procedure is for dealing with unprofessional situations. Then use that to your advantage, either by staying or leaving as needed.
You need and deserve buy-in from coworkers and management to stop harassment. Regardless of whether they provide it after being documentably made aware of what is happening in-store, the employer has a legal and ethical obligation to prevent a hostile working environment. You are not responsible for the customer being a creep, and it is natural to feel uncomfortable and even unsafe in what should be a socially unnatural situation.
You, and every employee must be responsible for improving your position to deal with unacceptable behavior around and towards you. I find that it helps me (and those I coach de-escalation and call-control skills with) to re-frame the power in these situations. This job has given you a very powerful opportunity to learn to disengage harassment and abusive behavior while furthering social and business needs.
Finding a means to do so in each situation will help you separate your psyche from the target effect of harassment because you are no longer in the "victim" role and instead have actionable steps that will help you serve and empower:
- Every business you choose to work with, (whether you stay at this cell phone store or not!) because you will be defining the brand as responsible and stable, while allowing it to focus on the true business.
- Your coworkers and, later in your career, employees who report to you.
- Other customers in the store, who are also probably feeling uncomfortable and even unsafe when creeps go unchecked, and may leave a negative review, not initiate business, or leave for a competitor.
- Everyone else the creep interacts with, as you will be part of a pattern that makes clear what is not "acceptable behavior."
To answer your title question, it is professional to leave a position you cannot fill as the company requires. Even if they effectively support harassment prevention, if the restaurant's smell prevents you from bringing your "A" game and having a reasonable experience outside of work, that's enough reason to look for a transfer to another store or employment elsewhere. Odds are, you wouldn't be the first employee to leave because of a shared HVAC system, so the transfer may be difficult.
To answer the underlying question, there are skills more specific and general than "call the police" or "ask a woman what she does when harassed." We give actionable steps to negotiate salary but haven't actually given actionable steps to stop harassment in months. The community is doing everyone a disservice by failing to mention a few.
I prefer to work in non-face-to-face roles because of the layer of physical safety, and because I can better focus on what the customer is really communicating. Then I can take control of the interaction.
Let's reframe the interaction that you mentioned is haunting you. How I might have taken control if I knew that the loss protection officer could guarantee my physical safety, is to respond that "with [phone company name]'s new 4G network in this area, you can enjoy your favorites with less buffering on [this more expensive phone model]'s HD display. Lets get you set up with [company's go-to service plan]." At this point, you will ideally be positioned behind the counter and visibly ready to pull up his profile and input data. Depending on your workflow, you might start with gathering a name or email. Let's say you need email. "What email address should [phone company] have for you?"
This is the same process that de-escalates irate customers.
- Let the customer know you heard them, and move the conversation back onto what the business can do about it.
- Because the interaction was inappropriately personal, don't say "we" or "our," say the company's name. In a less creepy interaction, using "our" 4G network may be ok, but here you have another opportunity to draw upon corporate power to control the interaction.
- Up-sell. Regardless of whether he eventually buys the expensive phone, this clearly draws a line in the sand that this is a BUSINESS interaction. This also gives him the illusion of control if you allow the sales interaction to focus on the cheaper phone instead, while still demonstrating that you are an effective employee in a cell phone store.
- He still hasn't had time to talk or creep more, and now you're off the sales floor and ready to gather the data you need to either get him out of the store with a nice commission or report to the police/corporate if he escalates then runs.
- Finish with an open-ended, business-related question, which is CLEARLY FRAMED as a business question only. Gathering contact info is where I most commonly hear creeps try to make things personal again.
Don't follow customers down inappropriate "rabbit trails." If at any stage they become unprofessional again, confidently deliver the relevant facts. Customer service employees can and should draw a hard line. Practice scripting that fits your situation and company policy, which should focus on "to finish [the current business interaction] you need to stay professional. [Restate the question]."
Make clear that unacceptable behavior is unacceptable, and what the customer can expect if they continue that behavior. Then follow through. In call centers, this may mean disconnecting the call after warning that you will do so. It also means notating in the customer's profile or other relevant reporting form what happened and the resolution. In your case, it may mean " We've already established that kind of question is inappropriate and won't get to know me better. You can leave now, Mr. [use his name], or you can get to know Billy, the one in the uniform and vest over there, as you are removed from the store."