Service and (s)miles

This week, Christmas came early in my household.

A town about 10 minutes from my house has recently opened a new shopping precinct, so we went to take a look whilst we were driving past.

As we drove in, we see a Target and a Whole Foods NEXT TO EACH OTHER *cue beam of light and angel singing music*. And I’m done – this is where I shall do my shopping between now and eternity.

There is a lot of flack given over here to people who shop at Whole Foods – similar to the kind given to people who shop at Waitrose in England. I happened to be a Waitrose shopper. I used to follow up every time I said I shopped at Waitrose with an almost apologetic ‘there’s one in my town – it’s easy to get to’.

I can’t make that apologetic statement over here because everything is car distance away, and so now I have to actually tell the truth about why I shop at Whole Foods (and previously Waitrose)…. I just plain darn like the experience more.

I’m not talking about the other people shopping there – I know for a fact that regardless of whether you’re in WF or Walmart you will see mums having that moment where they snap at their toddlers tantrumming in the aisles; a bellowing mum is no indication of how posh or not a shop is. It’s the service. The service simply appears to be better when you ‘pay’ for it. And if that means an extra 50 cents for my eggs, or dollar for my sausages – heck, I’ll pay. I don’t care.

American service is a funny old thing. In England, America is heralded as the holy grail of service delivery. Having lived out here for 5 months now, I can tell you, it ain’t!

And it also is.

Let me explain.

These are the types of experiences I’ve had out here:

  • Incredible people skills, pretty rubbish at other stuff – Wonderful, smiley, friendly people who welcome me into store, have a chat about what I’m doing that day, where I’m from etc. Then they completely f**k up my order, haven’t actually listened to what I was there for, deliver a broken television that had been previously used, deliver the wrong television, and who fail to even say sorry when we call to try to sort it…. as an example.
  • Terrible people skills, incredibly helpful – or the American-Brits as I think of them in my head. These guys don’t smile all that much, are polite albeit not friendly – sometimes they even act like I (the customer) am in their way and pretty much ruining their day. But they are damn efficient and if you need anything, they are on it and they get sh*t done. This is how I feel English service is – I’ll be honest, being the anti-social person that I am, I’m not one for small talk but I do like to walk out of a shop with what I went in for and without wanting to kill anyone come the end of it. I like grumpy helpful people.
  • Then you have the mecca – people who are friendly, helpful, and who actually can do their job well.

And this what I pay for when I shop in WF. Food is food, I’m not going to pretend that I shop there because the produce is more organic than anywhere else, or that they only carry a certain brand that I like (which, incidentally, they do – hello Teapigs!) I shop there because I like people who treat me, and more importantly my daughter, nicely.

Doing anything in public with a toddler evokes many reactions.

If you’re in a shopping centre, the people who man the stalls in the middle of the walkways instantly target you as the person who most likely wants to buy the face cream, hair serum, or glow-in-the-dark laces that they are selling – despite the fact that you have a screaming child and twenty shopping bags hanging off a flimsy stroller.

If you’re in a busy walkway and you have a pushchair, you are a nuisance. I’ve had people actually step over BC whilst she has been sat there. I’m trying to train her to grab their foot when they do this, but so far success has been slim to middling.

Depending on whether your child is smiling or crying you either have people beaming or scowling at you.

Planes are the best; on planes, people visibly roll their eyes at you when they see they are sat next to you. Incidentally, there’s no need with BC – she may be a child of satanic behaviour when I’m trying to get her in the car in the morning, but she actually really enjoys airports and flying. And to their credit, I have had eye-rollers admit post-flight how much they were dreading her company but that she had proved them wrong. And I smile wryly knowing that 11 hours of good behaviour for them equals a toddler full of pent up naughtiness for me.

So, what I’m getting at is that you become sensitive to your surroundings when you have a small person in tow. You may not give a flying about what people think, but you become aware that people do think. And this in turn reflects on how they behave.

Call me crazy, but someone who doesn’t snarl at me or my child is always going to be more preferable than someone who does. And anyone that smiles at BC is always going to be onto a winner with me. Couple that with someone who helps me get my shopping done with a) no tears – from me or BC, b) everything intact, and c) in less than five hours, and I will be your customer for life.

And you know what? It also makes me more pleasant. When I have been anywhere and have experienced the other shoppers being less than nice, I would hazard a guess that 9/10 times this is because they are in an environment where they are made to feel less than nice – not because they are not nice people.

So, in the run up to Christmas-time, where shop assistants are pushed to their limits – as someone who used to work in Marks and Spencer*, I get that. I do – and where customers are also pushed to their limits – as a mum of a two-year old, I get that. I do – let’s all spread a little bit of festive spirit and cut everyone a bit of slack.

Let’s smile at the parents who are on the edge of wrapping their child up and leaving it in the store under the tree full of fake presents. Let’s not huff and puff at the person in front of us who has got to the till and remembered that they need something that the shop assistant has to go and get. Let’s be kind to the shop assistant that has just had to go and get whatever said item was, fully aware that there was a queue full of huffing and puffing people eyeballing them.

Because despite the 3,000+ miles that separate us – whether we’re Brits or Yanks (or Australian, my brother lives in Australia so should probably shout out to him, too) – we’re all in the same onslaught that is the festive season. And no-one wants a blue Christmas.

*For my American friends, I have no American equivalent for M&S except that it’s kind of like Macy’s but sells only own brand stuff, and kind of like Target but a bit posher.


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