Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Oh hey, I'm a consumer too!

I have been working in the service industry since I was 14 years old.  Even now, as a part-time music teacher (arguably also a service industry), I am still working part-time in a bakery as "the-girl-at-the-counter".  I prefer the phrase "presenter of pastries".

Over the years, I have had a lot of time to watch people interact with each other and with the people behind the counter.  I've watched wealthier older folks and younger folks, mothers and fathers coaching their kids in the art of placing an order, overly affectionate (like, gross PDA) couples and first dates.  I've seen break-ups and marriage proposals.  You can say that I've seen a lot of different scenarios play out.

I've also had momentary interactions with all of those people.  Every. Single. One.

Because, I am the girl that has made your white mocha with extra syrup, soy milk, and extra foam latte.  I've been one of the first people to talk to you in the morning before you've gone in to work and one of the last people to talk to you before you head home at the end of the day to your family.

 I've been the one that has had to say "Sorry, there is a $5.00 minimum on all credit card purchases".  After which I get a happy smile while you search for cash or purchase something else, or I hear a complaint followed by, "Well, you must not want my business then".

I've been the girl that is busy trying to sweep and mop after hours so I can get home to my walk my dog when you come banging on the door asking if you can "please-just-buy-one-thing-quick".  I've also been the one to have been told "you know, new businesses shouldn't treat their customers like this", when I calmly (and kindly) inform you that we will be working on closing up shop in 10 minutes...even though you knew that based on the hours on our doors.

And, after each and every experience, I am left with an impression of who you are as a person. Similarly, you are left with an impression of who I am as a person.

Or are you?

I have this theory that something strange happens when you put a counter and a register between two people.  Some sort of de-humanizing effect where suddenly the customer no longer sees the person on the other side of the counter as a human and more as an extension of the machine. And, since machines were created to make our lives easier and do not have any emotional response, those same characteristics are transferred onto the employee.  So, suddenly, it's okay for you to scoff, or complain, or interrupt, or be quite rude to that strange, humanoid form.

Meanwhile, (most of the time), the person on the other side of the counter is fully aware that you are a sentient human being with emotions and a life of your own.  That is, after all, part of the point of customer service: to help you as an individual gain something that you'd like (whether that's a beverage, a pastry, or a new faux finish for a wall in your house).  And, as I've been that person on the other side of the counter thousands of times, let me tell you that "Please" and "Thank You" aren't just magic words that you need to teach your children.  They're magic words that need to be taught and modeled to your children.  What good does it do to say "Whenever someone does something kind for you, you're need to say "Thank You"" to your child and then get angry and demand to know if there will be any more of (insert item here) today, or should you just go elsewhere.

A trend I've also been noticing is that folks have begun to do the "Hi, how are you, I'd like....." phrase more frequently.  They ask how you are, and don't stop to listen.  I promise, I am not going to tell you about my woes and worries and joys and such when you ask how I am, so please stop to listen to my response or don't ask at all.  However, if you do, and you stop to listen, it won't take long, and it will help form a better connection between you and I.

After all, it is this better connection and getting to know you that makes me want to provide better service.  It can be the difference between me offering to heat up your baked good in the oven a bit while I ring you up, or just giving you a croissant that, while still delicious, has been sitting a while.

I know this post isn't the most organized...but it is something that I've been thinking about a lot as we head towards the summer months when I regularly work at the bakery.  So, let's summarize.

The take-away points:
- On either side of the counter, you will find a human.  Please treat them as such.
- The employee sees a lot of people everyday.  We want your experience to be positive, but please understand that we get tired too.
- Some things (minimum purchase amounts, for example) aren't our rules..but our employer's.  We are enforcers of the rules because there are reasons to them.  This doesn't mean that we deserve your ire.
- "Please" and "Thank You" are magic words.
- Listening when you ask us "How are you" is a magical action that can result in a better experience for everyone involved
- We want you to have a positive experience, please don't forget that.  We aren't here to make your life difficult or hellacious.

Oh, and if I may, one final thing.  Please check the hours of wherever you are going.  It is a common courtesy to not walk in and make a mess 10 minutes before close. Similarly, pounding on the door 2 minutes before open will not get us to like you more.  In fact, we're probably running around trying to get everything ready for you.

Patience is key.


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