"We like camping better!" --Raymond Alexander Kukkee

view of the north shore Critter Pond, KOA Canandaigua NY [c] 2009 jcb

Hey, you, whaddaya want?

How's that for a fine and friendly greeting? I'll bet it sounds familiar, though. If you ever have to leave your warm and cozy home to visit the rest of the world, you're sure to hear something akin to this from some disgruntled counter-person. Maybe at McDonald's. More likely, you've suffered similar salutations at a "convenient" store or gas station mini-mart. Those places tend to hire relatives of the owners. In businesses which feature a permanent Help Wanted sign taped to the front door, chances are a frowning clerk awaits you. Pepsid-AC won't solve this problem, either.

My work requires a lot of local travel. I buy my breakfast on the road, and buy cigarettes from whichever gas station is on the way to where I'm headed. If I need a restroom, that's another gas station. I can't stand thermos-coffee, so I pick that up wherever I'm working at the time. So I meet a wild assortment of folks who spend their shifts dealing with dozens of transient customers. I find plenty of smiles and even the occasional friendly eye-contact. The dreary "wish I was somewhere else" personalities, however, seem to hold the majority. Why should this be true? Are there really so many people who simply hate their jobs? (Or do they hate their whole existence? I hope not.)

I'll admit that I do remember holding part-time jobs I didn't like. Most of us have to pay those dues as we find our way to our true callings. I'll also acknowlege that there is no shortage of miserable customers who prey on poor, weary workers. Unpleasantness can be dangerously contagious, though. There-in lies the rub: crabby customers help create crabby clerks, who spread their crabbiness to otherwise happy customers (and so on). The whole process simply isn't healthy!

Part of the blame must rest on miserable managers, who insist their employees repeat scripted lines endlessly. That's got to be depressing. How many times a day could you say "Have a nice day" and mean it? I say, let 'em say it their way, as long as the message stays on-track. The most engaging clerks I've run across express themselves less rigidly, and at least give the impression of being happy to be of service. I have to think that those folks who smile and offer snippets of unscripted thoughts are good for business in the long run.

Which encounter works better for you? First example: surly clerk stares blankly at a spot high on the wall and asks: "Can I help whoever's next?" That sentence is usually followed by zero-eye-contact and something like, "--take yer order?" Contrast that to a mildly pleasant "Hi, you're next. What can I get for you?". The person I quoted first has followed the script, but radiated no warmth at all. The second clerk, who might get fired for deviating from said script, is actually projecting "I'm almost glad you're here." Maybe after you place your order with the second clerk you'll even consider coming back again. I've heard somewhere that repeat customers are good for business. Or maybe that was "crucial for avoiding bankruptcy."

That concludes my rant for this Saturday night. I cannot offer any easy solutions to problems like these. No one can, really. I hope you enjoyed your stay. Please come again. Have a nice day. ...Next? Who's next?

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