September 23, 2009

Counter Culture

In the New York Times:

"Excuse me? Pardon me?

I’m sorry. Didn’t mean to interrupt your text messaging, which is probably what brought that look of scorn to your face, but I was wondering if you could help me.

That’s funny. Maybe I’m imagining this, but each time I open my mouth to ask a question about the clothes you’re selling, your nose scrunches, your eyes roll, and your head darts down to where the register is. I can’t imagine what’s so pressing.

I’m the only customer in here. Is there an urgent cash crisis? A dangerous cashmere spill?

Oh, of course! It’s me, isn’t it? I’m not exactly amusing you with these little queries of mine. My bad. I know my Gap jeans and old sweater are hardly from the mind of Karl Lagerfeld, but that’s why I came in here today. To trade money for goods and services. The way it works is: I ask questions about various products — in this case, the clothes beautifully displayed around us — and you, in your role as service person, answer them, perhaps even leaving your spot behind the desk to physically touch the clothes and aid in my investigation and ultimate purchase of them.

We can even have fun doing it. You can talk to me, ask me questions, too, even joke casually about things we might have in common (I totally agree about Lady Gaga!). You can use those powers of human interaction to assist me in a purchase, maybe even one that’s larger than I had originally intended.

Wouldn’t that be cool? I’ll end up feeling validated, happy that I spent $200 on a pair of jeans I didn’t need, because you made me feel like a million bucks when I came out of the changing room.

Perhaps a friendship will blossom out of it. O.K., friendship is a leap. A camaraderie? Can camaraderie blossom? Like the type that allows me to say, “Thanks so much for your help, man,” or even address you by your first name. That’d be nice. Wouldn’t it be nice, Mark?

I can see this isn’t really your thing. You’ve told me to “feel free to look around.” Maybe you were just trying to put me at ease — a little “my store is your store” attitude. And I understand. A lot of people don’t want your help. They want to browse at their discretion, unencumbered by salespeople.

I am not one of them. I need guidance. Think of me as soft clay, ready to be molded in your image. What do you think, Mark, brown belt or black?

Oh dear. There are those eyes again, barrel-rolling in their sockets like a pair of F-16s at an air show.

But you’re coming out from behind your perch? How exciting! Wow, those are some serious tattoos.

And what boots — I can’t believe you tuck your jeans right into them! I totally underestimated your coolness, Mark. Do you have this jacket in a medium?

Oh, you’re going outside for a cigarette. My God, I didn’t even realize I was interrupting your private time. I’ll just slink out of here quietly. So sorry to have troubled you."

I grew up in southern California and watched it grow to overflowing, with people and houses and freeways and vehicles. And smog and irate drivers and crime. I know there is still lots to beckon people to southern California besides the weather. But in my early twenties I left California for quite a few years and lived in five other states before returning to find it changed even more. For twenty more years I lived in San Diego, worked there, met friends there.

A year and a half ago hubby and I packed a big truck and pulled one car and with adventure in our hearts, moved to Nebraska. One of the first things we noticed was how different the people in Nebraska are. They are NICE, FRIENDLY, POLITE, HELPFUL. As we were unpacking the truck and getting settled, we made several trips to stores for necessary items, and it was actually a shock when people approached us and asked if we were finding everything we were looking for, and when we walked toward a checkout counter we were directed to one that would ring us up immediately. All with a smile on their faces and looking directly into our eyes.

I may be exaggerating a teensy bit, but for the most part we have been welcomed to our new home area by neighbors and shop owners and restaurant staff in a way that seals the deal. We are staying here. We are home. The people make the difference.


Anonymous said...

Oh my, I think you would want to kill yourself in the Middle East ... You cant queue to pay because a line is always ten people wide instead of ten people long. The lady at the cash counter is ALWAYS more interested in texting and occasionally she will just get up, walk away and chat to her friend!

Glad that you are loving your new home ... I love mine too but am definitely one of the people that are happy to wander a shop alone!!

Shadow said...

i know what you're talking about. we get so used to second-grade, unfriendly service, that when one day, we get service as it be, we can hardly believe it... something wrong with this picture. you said you're living where???

Lou said...

That was a leap geographically! I have lived all over the US, and I guess I have gotten used to a certain level of non service and in your face conversations. I recently went to my mom's small Texas town, and the constant small talk actually annoyed the heck out of me. I was in Detroit mode, but I know that is NOT for everyone.

Ina in Alaska said...

I once witnessed a strange encounter between the owner of a high end accessories store here in Anchorage and a walk-in customer. The owner for some reason began to follow this particular customer around closely, everywhere she went and the customer was having none of it. The customer was a well dressed 30-ish person and looked perfectly normal to me. Finally the customer loudly told the owner that she felt she was "following" her too closely and left. It was weird. The owner of the store was only trying to help her but she may have been a bit too close... I had never seen her do that before.

In Anchorage the sales folks sound a lot like the ones you describe in NE. While I was just in NJ, I found the shopkeepers there very nice as well, and helpful.

Brian Miller said...

people do make the difference. i dont care what you are selling, if your service is horrible, i will not be back. when it comes to feeling at home in the neighborhood or town, its the same way. when did we take the neighbor out of neighborhood?

4evernite said...

I remember that episode in Pretty Woman. lol. I'm not one to want "the ladies" hanging round me asking if they can help me with something. Makes me feel uneasy. While I know it's their job, I wish they'd just hang back till needed. lol.

Ronda Laveen said...

I love, love, love this post! One of the best I've read. Some how, sales people don't gravitate to our type--I'm a lot like you. I remember, a number of years ago, going into a shop to buy something very nice. I must have looked out of place because the first thing she did when I asked her about a skirt, was flip over the 200 dollar price tag as if to blow me out. Well, she did. With that attitude, I went across the street and spent my 200.

Shadowthorne said...

The last bit of your revelation of your home touched my evil heart. Really. *sniff*

My experiences with shop helpers and relations, you nailed it head on. But usually if I was in a black mood, I'd snapped poison their way, usually reminding that they only live to SERVE me and stop wasting their employer's time. And that usually settle the case.

And they do remember me, the acid guy with a thunder face. :)

cinner said...

I was in a store loojing for a one piece catsuit quite a few years back. I told the salesperson I needed an XSMALL. Had told her I was looking for a friend...and she says would you like to try it on...I felt like saying and just what ankle would that fit on. I should have tried it on, burst every seam and came out of the dressing room saying I love it, I am gonna take it...Where have all the good salespeople gone!

Berni said...

When we went back to UK a few years back we couldn't believe the rotten service a big change from when we were growing up. Usually in Canada it is not too bad. The Japanese have it though they really know how to treat a customer.

BTW every time I come to your blog I get a malicious message from my Virus checker. Something from Ripway. You might want to check it out.

Margie said...

Great post!
Here in Colorado where I live and love, we too have wonderful friendly people.
It's make it a joy to live here.
There is a local restaurtant that my hubby and I eat at that have staff that bend over backwards to make you feel at home.
I have very seldom encountered rude people in the stores ... they are most helpful.

People do make the difference where one lives.


Christina said...

Sorry, there were some errors in my previous post, so let's try it again, then.

Hehe, don't go shopping in Germany. They call it customer service wasteland for a reason! ;)

Anywhoo, the reason I am here:

Thanks for your comment and I am all excited and giddy (!) and let me know where and when you post it and here is a version with a nice white background:

otin said...

I hate having neighbors! I hate when sales people want to make small talk! Yes I am a Jersey Hermit! LOL

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I rarely visit department stores because they are too overwhelming, too many departments that carry similar items, and too impersonal. I prefer small, individual shops where I am recognized and treated like a friend, and in return I am loyal and prefer to support small businesses owned by actual people and not corporations.

I had no idea that there were people in Nebraska who did not become newscasters, though.

A Free Man said...

Ah, customer service. The career choice for the uber hip and surly. I know because I was in the 'industry' for far too long.

Glad you've found a friendly home in the Midwest.

Far Side of Fifty said...

Midwest people are usually friendly, although I have found that some towns have a long way to go. Our daughter used to live in Elkhorn, NE ..we found that area to be very friendly! Great post I really enjoyed it, as I can bitch and complain about non existent customer service also :)