Service Expectations

As a corollary to Banana Lee’s excellent and much commented-on post about the service industry and tipping and whatnot, I wanted to look at the non-waitstaff, non-tipping, customer service experience as well, as after venturing into the service world*, I often think we’re living in the end times of the customer-service industry as a whole.

Though part of that is managing expectations. For instance, the other day I went to New Seasons for some food and drink products, and when I got in the checkout line, the checker was talking to another employee. No big deal, and even though she continued to talk to that person while she rang up my groceries, she did it (the ringing, not the talking) quickly, efficiently, and with nary a wasted step.

But here’s the thing: I was a little miffed by the experience. See, as the self-proclaimed “friendliest store in town,” New Seasons has conditioned me to expect good customer service, which includes a greeting and maybe even some eye contact to let me know that I am not just a cog in the machine, but an *sniff* actual human being. Had I been at Fred Meyer or Safeway or probably any other store, my quick and easy exit would have had me exalting the great gods that miracles really do happen, but because it was New Seasons, I expected better.

Good thing I don’t have to try and figure out their tip.

*mostly corporate — the small-business indy places are usually much better in this regard, though there is the semi-occasional “cooler than thou” dilemma in some of those spots

8 Comments so far

  1. Lady (unregistered) on February 27th, 2007 @ 4:59 pm

    I like a friendly 1:1 encounter at any small shop I visit, but if I can get out any large grocery store quickly with an accurate tab I call it good. I do agree that it is less than customer friendly to have staff talking to other staff during a transaction with a customer. I think this kind of behaviour usually reflects poor management clarification of expecations from staff.

  2. Lisa (unregistered) on February 27th, 2007 @ 6:02 pm

    That’s too bad. I’ve always encountered friendly checkers at New Seasons (Beaverton), but the girl in the tyedie dresses in Produce is a bitch.

  3. dieselboi (unregistered) on February 27th, 2007 @ 6:41 pm

    It is funny that you write “conditioned.” I was angry a few days back due to what I felt as bad customer service. In retrospect, it was more about my expectations than about the service.
    I do experience the chatters at checkout at New Seasons. Sometimes, it has caused an issue – like things being dropped or rung up wrong. I got the apology, but only after I pointed it out. Further, the conversation went on after the mistake. You know me, I have a way of letting you know I am not happy and this checker and a manager saw what was happening and calmly interceded to resolve the issue.

  4. butch (unregistered) on February 27th, 2007 @ 8:57 pm

    New Seasons customer service story: went there last year and arrived at check out with a cart overflowing with groceries. Suddenly realized I left my wallet at home about 40 blocks away. They said no problem, let me call my home from the check stand and had my wife give them my credit card number over the telephone.

  5. Norm! (unregistered) on February 28th, 2007 @ 9:20 am

    Call me soul-less, but I prefer the UScan at FredMeyer. I really don’t want to engage in a conversation (or eye contact) with a checker. We both know why we’re there and I know that they really don’t care if I “have a nice day”. I just want the groceries scanned quickly so I can get the heck out of there. I’m more impressed with knowledgeable floor clerks who can actually help me find what I’m looking for.

    That said, I have always had an enjoyable experience at New Seasons (NE 33rd & Killingsworth). I could see the clerks chatting amongst themselves and unintentially ignoring customers. Their employees seem to be much more casual about openly discussing the store’s operations in front of customers. Wouldn’t it have seemed unnatural if the clerks stopped their conversation and turned to you and said, “Good day, customer! How may we help you today, sir?”

  6. jonashpdx (unregistered) on February 28th, 2007 @ 9:29 am

    unnatural? no, i don’t think that’s the word i’d use…(unless they said “sir” in which case i would be freaked out). i’m all for employees having a workplace in which they’re comfortable and happy enough to be able to chat and such, but at the end of the day, it’s their job to do a service, and like it or not, part of that service is dealing with the customer, hopefully in a friendly and unforced manner. at the same time, as a hopefully good customer, it shouldn’t be unnatural for me to get off my phone and actually interact with my barista/checker/etc rather than blathering on as i see a lot of people do without acknowledging the service at all.

    *though i too like the self-serve at the freddy’s as it’s infinitely faster and hassle-free*

  7. Brandon (unregistered) on February 28th, 2007 @ 10:53 am

    I worked as a floor clerk at New Season’s flagship location when they first opened in 2000. I remember helping a yuppie-ish woman try to hunt down a certain brand of obscure mushrooms. I couldn’t find them, apologized, asked her if there was anything else I could help her with and went back to stocking shelves. Miffed for some reason, she decided to complain to a manager. I was chewed out for “being short” with her. At least back then they took their “friendliest store in town” modus operandi very seriously.

    My short-lived career at New Seasons lasted all of two months.

  8. TKrueg (unregistered) on February 28th, 2007 @ 11:16 am


    Do tell the ‘bitch’ story about the gal in produce. I know her and ‘bitch’ is the last thing many folks would use to describe her. Maybe not the most social person in the world, but…

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