Friday, April 30, 2010

Counter Talk

After a bad Yelp review in which someone complained about staff taking too much time talking to a "friend," I have to wonder if people are unfamiliar with relationship businesses. It's not unusual to spend time talking to customers, because we get to know them. I wonder if that's somehow alien and off-putting to some people. It's not like most people experience this in life, especially in a large population area. Perhaps they don't feel comfortable or have experience interrupting such an exchange and have questions or unmet needs? Perhaps it's just the right now mentality of our younger crowd.

The first time this happened (again, a complaint on Yelp), I blamed the staff, and made it clear that they need to limit time with their friends while they worked. I figured their friends were hanging out and taking up their time, and once or twice this was true. Lately it occurred to me that I might be the blabber mouth. The average customer comes in once a month and mostly wants to shop quickly and leave. I call this shopping like a man, usually raising a clenched fist when I say it. They may feel a bit alienated when staff are chatting with a regular, who comes in at least once a week, who we know by name and who we show genuine interest in, be it gaming or what's happening in their life. This could easily be perceived as a "friend," and I wouldn't deny that some are. 

This familiarity is alien to most retail experiences. I wouldn't expect it or desire it in most of my shopping, and even find it a little off-putting to have some faceless grocery store clerk thank me by name after seeing my credit card at the check stand. "Uh, thank you, uh, (squinting at her chest) Carol." Quaint, but not necessary. My weekend diner waitress recently asked me if I wanted my "usual," and I probably beamed with delight like a small child that she even remembered me, but that's different. Why? Because we have a relationship, a client-customer scenario in which I'm there for more than just a hot meal. But does that put out the other customers? I suppose it would if the exchange lasted long enough and they were waiting patiently with an empty coffee mug.

The point of this post is to defend counter talk, after years of trying to root out the problem. There is likely not a problem, there is a relationship. It is not a bug, it's a feature. Just as customers will complain about our competitors being cold and short with them (read their Yelp reviews, wait, never mind, Yelp is wretched), I have to assume there will be those who complain that we're too chatty. Still, we aim to be attentive to everyone and we don't want to be one of those cliquish stores where only the buddies of the owner feel comfortable. If we're being a bunch of chatty Cathy's, please interrupt us and ask your question. I also don't want to be like Artie Bucco, the restaurant owner in The Sopranos, who thinks everyone is there for his stellar conversation when in fact they wish he would shut the hell up, leave them in peace, and cook his decent, homey food.