Disservice with a smileWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | email@example.com
Customer service is a fascinating topic. Given the wide range of human emotion, intelligence and civility, there is no single approach to customer service that is going to be successful 100 percent of the time.
The Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” for those unfamiliar with that timeless advice) should be foolproof, except for the fact that there are so many fools aggressively seeking to prove it isn’t.
Many of my jobs throughout the years have depended on customer service skills, which is the primary reason my current employment revolves around many hours spent alone with a computer. When it comes to dealing with hostility, stupidity and the deadly cross section of the two where so many people dwell, my people skills fall somewhere between wolverine and mockingbird.
For example, when I open the rare email from someone seeking to stop their newspaper delivery, there are generally two paths. The first path is an email that reads, “Thank you for delivering Toledo Free Press each week, but for Reason X, could you please take me off your distribution list?” Even though I have no hand in delivery, I try to personally respond to such emails and quickly guide the customer through the process. The second path is an email that reads, “STOP LITTERING MY DRIVEWAY, YOU SUCK AND I’M CALLING THE POLICE!!! $@#@^&#%.” I pass those emails to Circulation without comment, then carefully record the email address of the sender in my copy of the Necronomicon.
I experienced an interesting customer service interaction June 2 at the Busch’s grocery store in Saline. It was a quick stop to get Sunday breakfast. My wife and I had a rare at-home night without our little boys, so on impulse, I stopped by the adult beverage case and picked up one of her favorites, Mike’s Hard Lemonade, black cherry flavor.
At the register, the clerk rang up the few items from my cart, and the woman who was bagging groceries asked, “Paper or plastic?” to which I replied, “Plastic, thanks.”
“Would you like your milk in a bag?” she asked.
“Please,” I said.
“Would you like your girlie drinks in a bag?” she asked.
I stopped in mid-credit card swipe, looked at the clerk, whose eyes had gone wide, and said/laughed/choked, “Wow.”
The clerk said something I didn’t quite catch and the bagger replied with something along the line of “Well, it’s a fruity drink,” a phrase which can be interpreted in at least two ways: “The drink itself is fruity” and “The purchaser of said drink is fruity.” Since these are not mutually exclusive propositions, that’s at least three possible interpretations.
I was more amused than offended, but I could see the clerk was not comfortable. “Tell her you bought them for Shannon,” she said. That threw me off for a second — how did she know my wife’s name? — until I realized my credit card must have brought up our customer loyalty information.
The bagger was grinning mischievously, and I studied her to make sure she was a stranger and not someone who knew me well enough to push her luck with her oddly aggressive comments.
I was still more amused than offended. After all, a hundred years ago, when I was acting like a lone wolf, circling around women like I was shopping and assuming every one of them was a member of the Coalition of the Willing, my drink of choice was Zima, so I’ve never confused heterosexual prowess with manly drinks like whiskey or Two-Buck Chuck.
Still, it wasn’t mutual sparring — I wasn’t speculating on her sexuality or returning her vollies.
I paid and walked the short distance to pick up my plastic bags. As the bagger handed me the last one, she leaned in and asked, “Did you want the little pink umbrellas to go with your girlie drinks?”
I had not engaged in her game — it’s a dangerous dynamic for an older male to make playful or mock-aggressive comments to a young woman, especially when lured into innuendo/sexuality territory. Especially for me, as I tend to go from zero to nuclear, seeking permanent, scarring damage instead of gentle ribbing. But she continued to take shots, and I thought, “Now you’re kind of crossing the line.”
“Now you’re kind of crossing the line,” I said out loud, as she turned to help the next customer. I already knew she had gifted me with a column idea, so I stepped back and asked, “What’s your name?” and saw “Kimberly” on her plastic name tag as she jokingly tried to cover it.
Her last words as I walked away were a mock (I assume) “I know people.”
“And I’m going to introduce you to 200,000 more people next Sunday,” I thought to myself as I walked out.
There’s no way for me to know if Kimberly is Saline’s version of Chelsea Handler or if she just took one look at me and decided I would either be amenable to her jokes or incapable of firing back.
I was neither, as she now knows. Good for Kimberly that she is comfortable enough in her role as grocery bagger to playfully question a customer’s manhood and sexuality based on his drink purchase. Good for Kimberly that she must feel her jabs can be separated from what a more sensitive person might construe as a bullying form of homophobia.
Kimberly’s comments certainly won’t stop me from shopping at Busch’s. But the next time I’m buying Mike’s Hard Lemonade, maybe I’ll stop a mile down the road at the Country Market.
They may even sell little pink umbrellas.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.