The elderly often report that store clerks ignore them. I guess I’m not yet old enough to become invisible in the eyes of retailers. In fact, quite the opposite. I sometimes feel smothered by solicitousness. Last week at a hair salon a stylist, the receptionist and the owner nearly crushed me in their efforts to make sure I had a robe, that my coat was hung up and I had a cup off coffee (which I don’t drink) in hand. Later that day, as a friend and I were leaving a restaurant, the hostess ran to hold the door open for us.
Grocery checkers also receive friendliness training, but with a different focus. After they have begun scanning your items they always ask if you found everything you were looking for. I now say yes, whether it’s true or not, because they look sad if you say, “No, I couldn’t find the pureed rutabaga,” and they don’t know where to find it either, and it wouldn’t matter if they did, because by then you’re already paying your bill.
I’m sure that bank tellers, loan officers, and VP’s have all gone to the same school of customer service. Even the bankers leap to their feet, not just smile, but beam and throw a perky greeting to anyone who dares walk in the bank hoping to be left alone. “How’s your day going so far?”asks the earnest teller at our current bank. This is a relief from the last bank, where the twenty-something tellers receive instructions to address all customers by their first names, which they read off their checks. Since my name and my mother’s were on her checks, they always called me by my mother’s first name.
Grocery store employees learn to thank you using your last name, which I prefer, but I can hear the panic in their voices when they look at mine. Their relief when they finish stumbling over the pronunciation is palpable.
The main shortcoming of bank teller training is that it leaves out the idea of, “Know your audience.” The bank teller query most likely to leave me speechless is, “Are you planning anything exciting for the weekend?” Is he really looking at his audience? At our age, do my husband and I look like people who routinely plan something that anyone would consider exciting for a weekday, much less a weekend? Lately we have come up with a standard answer to this question: “Every day is the weekend,” we say, avoiding the topic of excitement entirely.
Years ago, when I bought a Saturn, all the employees had to come outside and sing to me and someone gave me a rose. That was a lot like having a crowd of strangers sing “Happy Birthday” at a restaurant, and, unfortunately, even that was not enough to keep the company in business.
I’m getting used to uber-friendly, only bristling at it occasionally. And it’s a lot better than rude.