Thursday, December 28, 2006

Living in DC
Pentagon City, December 23. Purchasing soap at The Body Shop. One customer in front of me, attempting to contribute a gift certificate or a special percentage deal into her purchase. One “sales associate” at the checkout register. From the associate, a number of comments, the full text of which is unimportant. But the first words of each quote are:

“You need to…”
“You can’t use this…”
“You have to…”
“You don’t want to…”

This goes on for 15 seconds or so (which equals 5 minutes in store-waiting time). Then, a second “sales associate” steps in behind the next register, and joins in the explanation:

“What you need to know is…”
“She’s saying you have to go and pick out…”
“You have to buy $25 dollars worth of…”

We’re up to 30 seconds of this now (which equals 5.3 hours in store waiting time). I take control of my situation and hold out my debit card to this second associate. She looks at it, then takes it from me.

“Sorry,” she says.

I’m surprised the customer in front of me lasted as long as she did, with patience no less. I’m not too amazed that the sale went on and was made. As I walked out of the mall (with my soap), I thought of years ago, when I worked for a short time in retail. It was pretty miserable. The public can be so psychotic. You’re on your feet until your toes are numb. If it’s busy the line never ends. If it’s slow you have to straighten things up so that customers can knock them over once again. Definitely not an activity that’s going to play into the top of Maslow’s hierarchy.

Then I considered why companies allow their front lines to behave this way. I came up with:

1. These jobs are usually short-term, minimum wage.
2. The company handbook could be too thick, with too many rules and regulations governing what you wear and how the displays should look.
3. No training (or minimal, or ineffective) on “How To Greet The Customer Without Shutting Them Down Completely” and “How To Get The Customer To Do What You Want While Making It Seem That It’s Their Doing All Along.”

Basically, a mix of the dozen or so habits of highly effective people, the Tao Te Ching, and indicating with an open palm is what’s called for. But it was a couple of days before Christmas, and the mall was packed with people who weren’t shopping so much as needing a place to be with other people – more on that later, perhaps. And I’m sure those employees were turning off their brains, hoping that would make the time go by faster.

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