Your Job is Customer Service

Today I had an experience at a grocery store that raised my hackles.

Loyal customers at Fairway are used to the brisk New York attitude of the cashiers – but that brisk attitude moves the lines quickly and I’ve never found them to be disrespectful, and the folks on the floor are friendly and helpful.

And my complaint isn’t about Fairway employees. It was about their delivery partner, Instacart. I hadn’t even noticed that they were partnering with Instacart until my attention was brought to it in this negative way. Here’s what happened:

Setting: the checkout line for people with carts – as opposed to people with baskets – and three cashiers are ringing. I get into line and there’s only one person before me and, when I move up to the register two minutes later, there’s no one behind me. The person in front steps up to the cashier and begins placing her items on the belt. The cashier next to her opens and I move up to that one. Meanwhile, in one of those freak line-management situations, suddenly there are ten people waiting in line.

A woman walks past the line toward the register in front of me. The customer at the front of the line points out that there’s a line waiting and she says, resentfully, “I work here. This is my register.”

Odd. I look up and see her at the register next to me, placing her items on the belt, although the customer who was already there is still putting her own groceries on the belt. She’s not wearing anything that indicates she works at Fairway, but she is wearing an Instacart lanyard and it makes me notice the Instacart sign on the register.

The customer who was already at the register asks the Instacart employee not to put her items on the belt until she is finished with her own transaction and explains that she may be a while because she wants delivery. Does the Instacart employee take this opportunity to explain her company’s business model, which could be of interest to the customer? No. Instead she says something along the lines of, “This is my register. I’m not hurting you.” The customer, a little more urgently, repeats her request nearby Fairway supervisor hearing the tone of her voice rushes over and listens as she explains.

Then he takes one of those bars and puts it behind her groceries so the Instacart employee can add her items to the belt. He indicates the bar and explains that it will keep her groceries separated. (Bad move, Fairway supervisor.)

While he deals with the aftermath of his insensitivity, another Instacart employee with a cart bypasses the line and stands behind the original employee. She turns to him and begins explaining, sotto voce, what is going on. She said this and I said that and he put the bar and said this. And then she starts saying that one of these days I’m going to do this and do that and do this other thing to the customers when they get in my way.

Whoa. I pull out my phone and search Instacart to learn more. Do they have a number I can call to complain? I don’t get very far because my cashier, who was already being very considerate to me, notices and becomes extra double super friendly in a low-key way.

Fairway has a problem with their new partner. And Instacart has a problem with their hiring and training. Apparently, customer service isn’t a priority for Instacart.

I’ve heard worse at New York grocery stores, but not in years. There was the cashier at D’Agostino who was eating handfuls of popcorn at her register and who demanded to know what the Tortellini I was buying was and I explained, said, “Gross” spraying popcorn all over me and my food. Another cashier at Food Emporium picked a fight with a customer in the next line over and, when he picked up his bag and started to fume away, said in a voice meant to be overheard, “I just lo-ove pissing off customers.” (The guy made a U-turn for the manager and demanded his money back.) But I haven’t heard something like this since Fresh Direct then Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s moved in on the New York grocery trade and elevated the game.

Here’s my perspective: your job is customer service. If you work at an internet start-up, your job is customer service. If you’re a garbage collection professional, your job is customer service. Work in an office where you never see the company’s customers? Then your colleagues get customer service. Work on a ranch where you see animals all day and never a human being? Guess who your customers are.

With the country in the state it’s in, the only way we can get out of this ridiculous situation that the “you’re doing it wrong” internet, reality TV, and 24-hour news has gotten us into, is to treat each other with the politeness that customers deserve. This is true whether you’re a kid dealing with parents who don’t understand you, parents who don’t understand their kids, or politicians that feel beleaguered and bullied.

Customer service is your job.

Now that I have that off my chest, one piece of good news: the Vuelta D’Espagne is on for the next three weeks and I’m not blogging about it every day. You can catch it on the Olympic channel if you want to find out what’s going on.

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