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Friday, December 12, 2008

Greet Every Customer 100%!

These are the words that sprawl across the break-room wall at my Barnes & Noble like a banner: "Greet Every Customer 100%!"

I must've stared at this sign for ten minutes trying to decide what it was supposed to be telling me. What does it mean to greet someone one-hundred percent? Is it possible to greet someone only fifty percent? Or twenty-five percent? Or ten?

Is a 10% greeting like, I don't know, making eye contact with a customer but then ignoring him? That doesn't sound like any kind of greeting at all.

Maybe I make eye contact, then walk over with my hand stretched out in a gesture of hospitality, only to walk straight past him and keep on going in the other direction--would that qualify as a 50% greeting?

Let's say I do shake his hand. While shaking his hand, I say, "Hell!" See, that's "hello" with the "o" chopped off. "Hell" is, what, about 80% of "hello"--if you count each letter of a five-letter word as 20%? Would this then be considered an 80% greeting?

I'd argue that this customer would feel considerably less greeted than if I had made eye contact with him but NOT come over to him at all. Now, I'm in this person's space, vigorously pronouncing "Hell!" to his face. If I were him, I wouldn't feel greeted. I'd feel worried, anxious, possibly terrified.

What if I see a customer from across the store and yell, "Hello! Hello!" until she realizes she is the one I'm hello-ing. What percentage of a greeting would that be? If I were her, I wouldn't feel greeted so much as, again, worried, and possibly paranoid for the rest of my shopping experience that I would eventually get closer to that yelling employee, maybe even have to rely on him for some kind of customer service.

Or maybe "Greet Every Customer 100%" is supposed to read more like, "Greet 100% of customers." This, of course, would require being at the store every minute of every business day, answering every phone call, personally replying to every email--you see the ridiculousness of this scenario.

I'll be a little more realistic and infer that it means to greet every customer who comes into the store while I'm actually scheduled and clocked in. What if I get there in the middle of the work day? Greeting 100% of customers would require me running around the store saying hello to everyone there. Also a ridiculous scenario--and one that, if I were a manager and witnessed this kind of behavior, would cause me to second-guess my wisdom in hiring this person.

Or maybe I'm just supposed to say "Welcome to Barnes & Noble" to every personwho walks in the doors and "Thank you for shopping at Barnes & Noble" to every person who exits, even if this requires interrupting their personal conversations or shouting it at the backs of their heads till they acknowledge my friendliness. (This is roughly the kind of customer service one will experience shopping at a Wal-Mart--albeit by much scarier-looking people in much more hostile, I'm-one-step-away-from-stalking-you-to-your-car tones.)

By the time I reason "Greet Every Customer 100%" down to inferring that I'm expected to greet--and possibly even help--every customer I encounter while working at my respective station, I have to conclude that the intended meaning of the motto is quite different from the motto itself. Not even the worst manager in the world (and I've worked for her, too) would expect me to greet 100% of the customers who walk into the store. See, that is why they always have more than one person working in the store at a given time, and often more than a few.

And if it is, in fact, supposed to mean that every greeting should be a 100% greeting, I would LOVE to hear a manager explain that one. I'm sure it would give me far better blog fodder than anything written here. (Here's an activity you can try with the kids: say "far better blog fodder" five times fast. Careful what you say in front of those kids, now.)

So, here's my question: Why this ridiculous banner, which sounds like something translated from English into Chinese and back into English again? "Greet Every Customer 100%" looks like a sign you'd see surrounded by fish heads and cheap watches in a market. Surely, in the largest, most sophisticated bookselling corporation on the planet, we can do little better on the employee motivation than Soon Go Fatt's Asian Cousine.

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