Tuesday, May 02, 2006

So, it's you again.

Shopping for new cellular phone service this weekend, I was slightly insulted in the casual manner in which a particular salesperson addressed me. I don’t expect to be hailed as royalty, but if you want to sell me on what amounts to a $2,000 plus transaction*, you’re going to have to do better than “Hi buddy.”

I’m not the first person to bemoan the dismal state of communication in the retail environment, most of which can be blamed on whoever you happen to disagree with politically. I hold free-soilism responsible, a lasting remnant of their laissez-faire attitude towards customer service. But rather than curse their darkness, I’ll light a candle for retail employees and offer my observations on the most important aspect of customer/associate relations: the greeting.

Not only do I not require the royal treatment when shopping, I don’t even particularly like being called “sir.” I appreciate the good manners, mind you. But when a younger person says it, it makes me feel old. And when an older person says it, it creates this uncomfortable class division as if they are in servitude to me based on my fiscal superiority at the time of the transaction. I don’t need that. Besides, I always cede the title of sir to my elders and I’m not yet ready to assume that position.

“Hello, friend” has a nice ring to it. It’s wholesome and optimistic yet avoids being too familiar. If delivered too eagerly or with a suspicious twinkle in the eye, however, it could be a sign of an impending hustle in the style of Harold Hecuba.

Colloquial-type greetings are fine in the right situation. A cheerfully-intoned “Howdy”, “Que Pasa?” or “Whassup?” can add to the ambiance at an accordingly themed restaurant. Although, I’m not sure you want to hear any of these greetings coming from a sommelier.

“Hey, man” is only appropriate in head shops and organic delis. “Hey, Joe” should be reserved for Asian brothels. "Hey, Bill" is inappropriate at any brothel, the more formal "Welcome back Mr. Clinton" being the preferred form of address.

I still get “sweetie” and “honey” on occasion, and it becomes more disconcerting as the years go by. Not long ago, a girl some twenty years my junior called me “sweetie” no less than three times during our brief fast-food encounter. What’s worse, it rang with an almost maternal tone, as if she was impressed that I was such a big boy now that I could go to Burger King all by myself.

Since I often do my retailing with a pack of children, much of the communication is directed at them. While most of the fellas at Menard's are too embarrassed to tell me that I have beautiful eyes, grocery store cashiers are forever saying that about my children. It makes me proud to hear their compliments and if tipping a cashier weren’t frowned upon socially, I’d leave a little something extra on the conveyor belt.

You can’t go wrong with “hello”, “how are you?” or “did you find everything okay?” They’re pretty meaningless as sentiments go, yet the mere sounds of these words are comforting and they help convey the ritualistic aspects of human behavior during a forced confrontation with another member of the species.

Of course, we’ve gotten to the point where you can be forgiven for wondering if the person on the other side of the counter is of the same species. Some seem to lack even the most basic communicative skills associated with human beings. Even a “what, jerk?” is preferable to the silent distain and barely perceptible eye contact that often signals that it’s your turn next to receive some of that good ole Mickey D’s hospitality.

At some outlets, the greeting has been replaced with a sales pitch. This happens a lot at Jewel where the cashiers are required to apprise customers of the daily special. It probably wasn’t management’s intent that the greeting be lost, but that has been the effect. Apparently there is some sort of demerit system in place for cashiers who forget to push the special, so most of the time they recite it right off the bat lest they forget amidst a floundering of platitudes.

While greetings vary greatly, there is one closing remark whose popularity hasn’t waned despite its chronic overuse. I speak of course of the folksy, “Have a good one!” A good what? “Day,” I suppose, but why not just say that. It doesn’t require any extra syllabication and you won’t sound like you’ve been watching Roseanne reruns all day. But that’s a personal peeve.

You might consider it ironic in light of my preachings here, but I’ve decided to purchase new cellular service through the human-less environs of the Internet. It’s simply a better deal. I visited four different retail outlets this weekend looking for new wireless service, and none of them offered anything in terms of personal service that would justify my paying more than the online price. Isn’t that a fine “how do ya do?”

*80 bucks a month over a two year contract plus activation fees and phone costs.


The 26th Man said...

As far as retail greetings go, I'm not picky. Some form of "hello" will suffice.

What bugs me is when clerks follow up that "hello" with "How are you today?" I'd like to say, "Dude, what the eff do you care? It's none of your business anyway!" But no, my overriding politeness forces to me lie and say "Fine, thanks."

What really irritates me, though, is being asked if I "found everything okay." What the hell? Of course I found everything okay! Why would I be bringing my merch to you to ring up if I hadn't found it okay? How dumb do you think I am?

Crap. Sorry, Dan. I guess that struck a nerve.

ThirtyWhat said...

I just had to comment on this. I think general retail service has been sliding downhill ... but I was so impressed yesterday. Mr. ThirtyWhat and I went to Starbucks on Monroe and the people there were genuinely nice. I was amazed. As we were leaving, the clerk said, "Have a great morning!" ... and, go figure, I did! :)

Can I ask ... was your bad phone experience at Cingular? We have our plan through Cingular ... because of family obligations, we basically had to go with them. In any case, our first experience with their sales pigs was so bad that I walked out of the store. I mean, it was mind blowingly awful.

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

Sorry to get your dander up Jeff. It doesn't have anything to do with the Cardinals dropping two games to the Reds does it? I agree the "did you find everything okay" is kind of a stupid thing to say, but at least they are acknowledging your presence and showing some degree of helpfulness.


As a matter of fact, it was Cingular. The guys weren't really bad, just kind of groggy. And they didn't tell me anything I didn't already know from reading their Web site. I mistakenly assumed that they would have the power and gumption to negotiate a little bit in order to land a new customer. But apparently it's a take it our leave it deal.

As for your experience at Starbucks, I would chalk that up to the fact that they're hopped up on caffiene. Try showing up some day when they're going through withdrawal and it will probably be like Normandy in there.

Thanks for commenting,

Monkey Boy said...

My two cents;

"Hello friend?"......gay.

I thought I was listening to a Leno monologue with the Clinton crack......it was still good though.

I too am totally mystified and sickened by the "sweetie - honey" nonsense that is currently spewed by high school girls at everyone they meet. My wife even commented on that a few days ago. As fads go however I will take that over "rat-tail" hairstyles and the oversized baggie pants worn below the waist.

When an employee approaches me and asks, "did you find everything OK?" I automatically assume they think I am shoplifting. Must be the Northeast white trash conditioning in me coming out.

I wouldn't mind seeing every person who says, "have a good one", injured severely with some type of sharp object. You can add oil company executives to that list as well.

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

I alway said that if I ever get compared to Leno, it will be time to take a step back and reassess what I'm doing here with this blog. I knew that I went with the easy punchline when I mentioned Clinton, but I thought the sharp timing made up for the obviousness. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I'm not cut out for blogging afterall. I may need some time to myself.