Friday, August 18, 2006

Can I help you?

In her comment to the last post, Lisa Marie brings up an interesting aspect that I neglected to mention: people in service positions do not have much choice about being Nice to people who speak with them. I hadn't thought much about that in this context, but I realize it's relevant, and I realize that, when I talk to someone working behind a counter, for example, I leave it up to him or her about how chatty he or she wants to be. I try to be pleasant, and I'll offer an opening gambit, perhaps, but my sense (in part from having worked such jobs) is that chattiness can (a) intrude on his or her space, i.e., not be particularly welcome right this minute, and (b) slow the person down in terms of taking care of all of the people behind me, i.e., doing the job for which the person is being paid. On the other hand, I do remember my pleases and thank yous, which goes much farther than you'd think, except that you might remember that so many people don't, in fact, remember please and thank you, especially when dealing with The Help.

When I've had service positions, I found that the day went faster, in general, if I tried to engage the customers in some way--not necessarily become BFF or something, but just . . . connect. Some people are in a hurry; some don't really need more than that one thing; some don't talk to The Help. A surprising number of people respond, though, which I found interesting. The best version of that: 20 years ago, I was trying to earn extra money the summer before I left for grad school, so, in addition to my full time job, I worked part time at a gourmet food store. Because of the hours I worked, I often dealt with people who were grabbing what was basically gourmet take-out from the prepared-foods section of our store (we made a lot of stuff in the upstairs kitchen, though I had no hand in the making). If someone didn't know quite what s/he wanted, I'd tried to tell them about what we had, offer samples, etc.; I'd also ask people what they had for lunch, especially if it was clear that someone was grabbing something for dinner. I was doing my usual thing one night with some guy, while one of the owners/bosses was there; I helped the guy figure out what to get, and moved on to the next customer. A few minutes later, the guy is back at my counter: he'd grabbed a bouquet of flowers while checking out at the register, and he came back to give them to me--in front of the boss, no less. He wasn't even hitting on me, and I never saw him again.

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