100 Hours of Humo(u)r – Hour 45: Customer Service has Gone Too Far! – Part 1

By Dave Fox
Seattle, Washington

[This two part story originally appeared on my blog in 2006.]


100hours-logo5I’ve been having a problem at my local supermarket lately.

They’re trying. They’re really, really trying to provide friendly customer service.

That’s the problem.

I hate to sound like a curmudgeon, but sometimes I do not like super-friendly customer service, in the same way that I sometimes do not like over-excited poodles attempting to do super-friendly things to my leg.

“How are you doing today?” they ask me. And I shouldn’t be so cynical. Maybe they really do care how I’m doing. Maybe they would listen sympathetically if I said, “Well, not so good. Work is stressing me out, I stubbed my toe really hard yesterday, and my neighbor’s cat hates me for reasons I just don’t understand.”

But I don’t tell them that. I mumble that I’m fine and move on to the produce section.

In the produce section, another friendly employee spots me. “Hey!” he says with a poodle’esque grin. “How are you doing today? Finding everything okay?”

That second question — Are you finding everything okay? — puts me on my guard.

Sometimes when I go grocery shopping, I go with only a vague idea of what I want to buy. I’m a rebel that way. I linger. I browse. I check out the sales in the bread department. I run my fingers through the lettuce to test for crispness. You know. Guy stuff.

In other stores — electronics stores, clothing stores — I would answer, “I’m just browsing, thanks.” But you can’t say that in a grocery store, can you?

The questions wouldn’t be so bad if they happened maybe once per visit, but they don’t. Every time I go to my local supermarket, I am forced to run the gauntlet of at least 23 employees, and every single one of them attempts to ask how I’m doing. They want to ask me so badly, they barrel through the store at breakneck speed, wagging their tails, panting for breath with tongues hanging from their mouths, just to ask me, “How are you doing today?”

By employee 19, my friendly “oh, fine, thanks” has morphed into a hostile grumble. Do all 19 of those people care so much about me that they must sprint through the aisles, knocking over potato chip stands, just to ask how I am doing? Because seriously, if they do care that much, that’s downright neurotic.

But I don’t think that’s the case. I suspect most of these employees are happy, well-adjusted people who don’t care how I’m doing — at least not that much — who have been taken captive by their managers and told that if they don’t ask at least 53 customers per hour how we are doing, they will be strung up by their toes in the back room and force-fed expired food.

Last week in the meat department, I was perusing the steaks when grinning employee number six literally threw herself between me and the meat counter to ask how I was doing.

“Fine,” I said.

The butcher looked up in horror from across the counter. He had been neglecting me.

“How are you doing?” he asked.

“Fine,” I said. “Kind of like how I was doing four seconds ago when you overheard that other nice lady ask me how I was doing.”

He looked worried. I had stood in front of his meat counter for 23 whole seconds before he had acknowledged my presence. This called for dire concessions. He needed to make more small talk.

“Looks like you got some sun today,” he said.

“Damn it! I am trying to choose a steak and you people keep interrupting my thought process! Will you please leave me to shop in peace!”

I wanted to say that, but I couldn’t get the words out. Instead, I just said. “Nope,” and tried to resume my shopping.

The butcher persisted.”Yep! You got some sun! Your face is looking a little pink!”

My face looks a little pink sometimes. It’s not the sun. It’s a skin condition called rosacea.

I would have gone to the pharmacy at that point to get something for it, but I was afraid to talk to anybody else. I decided it was time to leave.

[Coming in Hour 46: Check-Out Line Challenges.]

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Published on Sunday, March 3, 2013

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