to Safeway Food Stores
Good Morning Safeway Executives!
How are you today? HOW'S IT GOING?,
We'll get right to the point. Will you please consider reconsidering the policy
that makes it mandatory for your employees to
accost customers with fake smiles and forced pleasant remarks? And while you're at it you can go ahead and discontinue the
requirement that requires cashiers to butcher patron's last
names every time they try to pay for a loaf of bread. Despite what
they may have told you back in business school, superior service is not defined as pestering every single customer with
disingenuous niceties and useless platitudes. Here's an idea - How about asking that employees simply be cordial and helpful
when needed and seen and not heard when not? Is it so hard to fathom
a policy that demands that every customer be treated with exactly the same
to people? We're not sure how you obtained your MBA's or your marketing advice, but you obviously paid too
much for them. Or perhaps a consulting firm is playing a cruel joke on you.
Surely if you held a board meeting, and let the group consider for even a
moment a policy so ridiculous, someone in the room would be able to grasp the concept that shoppers do not feel
particularly special or become more likely
to spend money when they hear someone parroting "Hello, it's
very nice to
see you," to every Moe and Sally that walk by? Haven't the numerous cases of customers misinterpreting
your employee's greetings for flirtation been enough to suggest that
this approach of forced friendliness may not be such a good idea?
Ironically, because of your
misguided attempts to be such a "friendly" place to shop, we will usually drive miles out of
our way to avoid stopping at a Safeway. And the funny thing is we have
no real complaint
with anything else about your store - okay selection, reasonable
prices, convenient locations, decent generic brands (that club card things is lame but certainly not unique to
Safeway). But when planning a trip to get groceries, we never
even consider going to Safeway and it's not specifically because we mind
being greeted by an abnormally chipper clerk in every aisle. That's
highly irritating, to be
sure, but it's actually more of a deterrent just to be forced to witness the pain and embarrassment detectable in these
poor employees just beneath the gleam of their plastic smiles.
Now admittedly, we're not corporate executives with years of top dollar training behind us, but let's examine the situation from a layman's
point of view. Safeway pays a pretty fair wage, we
understand, and many
of these poor souls were probably working away pleasantly, stocking
shelves or portioning out animal flesh (and making pretty good money doing
it) when this policy was
suddenly instituted. Now, because of house and car loans taken out
with the expectation that they would continue to love their jobs,
workers are just trying to tough it out,
hoping against any evidence that saner heads will eventually prevail.
And while the stupidity of the policy might be hard for those of you making
decisions over at corporate headquarters to understand, it's abundantly
clear to those in the trenches that most customers are at least mildly annoyed by
behavior and end up looking upon your employees with pity. It is also
painfully obvious to anyone
that shops with you that the workers themselves are not fond of the rules and are only greeting people
because it is required and for fear of
having to find another $13.40 an hour job so they can make their
mortgages. So they continue to force
the pleasantness, even upon people who a drunken donkey could tell
will not be receptive to it. Think about how humiliating that must
be day after day after
day. And it inevitably becomes so rote in their routines that even the
customers who may have been interested in some genuine perkiness at
one time can
that this is all a forced act. And then these folks are subtly alienated as well.
So, as we said, even though we usually go to great lengths
to avoid the situation and try to buy our groceries anywhere else
(often places with sub-par comestibles but that allow the
employees to behave with some semblance of dignity), there are times, like this
morning, when we forget how
aggravating shopping with you can be. And the result was that we had to suffer through
another infuriating visit just because of a spur of the moment
decision to pick up some fruit.
Let's set the scene:
We pull into the local store, which
is tauntingly convenient by the way, since it is the only
grocery store in our neighborhood. We make it to the dairy section
unscathed and are quietly comparing prices on a
couple flavors of yogurt when a sibilant voice hisses nearby.
"How you doin'?" Forgetting where we are, We jerk our heads around
fearing some pervert has crept up from behind but instead find a beaming stock boy.
"Doing fine," we say, and make a hurried selection
and turn away only to run flat into another guy standing
in an apron and piling fruit with a sour expression on his face.
When he sees we are looking at him, a plastic grin immediately stretches ear to ear.
"How's it going this morning?" he wants to know.
"Okay I guess. Excuse us we just need some blueberries."
Out of the corner of our eye we watch his face return to a scowl.
"Top of the Morning!" says a passing cashier.
"And how are we doing today?" nods a bustling butcher.
"Finding everything you need?" asks a poor sap pushing a cart
Feeling pressured and rattled, hectored and harried, we make the
mistake of muttering. "Actually we have been meaning to pick up
"Oh, follow me. It's all the way down at the other end
"No really, we can find it. Just tell us what aisle." But instead
of just directing us, we know he will leave his cart and his work
and walk along by our side the whole way. He even stands there as if
concerned about what brand of spray
we might choose. He does this not because it makes any sense or isn't totally
annoying to all of us. He does this because he has to.
What is the point Safeway? Why would you think this is a good idea?
Did you consult with the Gap about customer service? Can't you see that junior high girls going to a mall to
try on the latest summer swimwear might not necessitate the same
public relations trickery as
some poor schlep forced to step out for some laxatives or tampons? When
a person is returning from a morning workout,
sweaty and hot, and simply trying to pick up the makings for a smoothie, the last thing
they want to do is exchange pleasantries with every single shelf stocker
and fruit glosser on the floor. In any normal place of business,
even the most naturally friendly of employees would ascertain with
one glance that if a person is walking along, hat pulled down, eyes
straight ahead, marching with a distinct purpose, eyes on some
prize at the end of an aisle, then they most likely do not want to exchange platitudes with a
stranger? Any normal person in any situation would be aware of this but your
employees aren't allowed to be normal, are they? Has it occurred to
you that some people just want to get what they need and go home
without having a truncated conversation with each working person
they encounter? People carrying a gallon of vodka and a bottle of
Maalox do not want you to make eye contact with them. And then, as
an added insult on the way out, the cashier botches their name and
breaks off yet another fake and tired smile.
And there's no reason, incidentally,
to answer the question
"what would make anyone think that a person wants to exchange
platitudes" because Safeway employees evidently aren't allowed to think.
This is a corporation that will not allow its 150,000 workers that leeway.
They are not allowed to use personal judgment and greet people on a
case by case basis, leaving those alone who clearly do not wish to
be spoken to. We read that a San Francisco based group of these ill treated workers filed a
union grievance recently complaining that too many of their
customers were misinterpreting their faux friendliness for sexual
come-ons. Safeway's response was to cite its "superior service
initiative" and dispatch an army of undercover shoppers that
eventually wrote up hundreds of employees who didn't meet the minimum standard
of making eye contact and greeting every patron with some syrupy
disingenuous warmth. The dissenters
were forced to attend day long courses preaching the
constant gratuitous greeting or face losing their jobs. In Tucson,
there was a case a few years ago where some lonely degenerate
mistook a young female Safeway employee's sustained pleasantness for the
first ever attraction shown to him by a member of the opposite sex.
He soon began stalking the poor girl around town. We forget the exact
details but we're pretty sure that it didn't end well or we probably
have heard about it.
Can you not grasp the concept that if it is
required that employees address every customer the same then any
special treatment a certain individual might have felt will only be lost?
This behavior doesn't
personalize the experience of stopping off and picking up a shaker
of Tums but rather has the exact opposite effect. It makes it more
of a hassle than it is worth. Everyone we know
objects to your policy and is made uncomfortable and mildly annoyed every time
they stop at one of your stores. And having their family name mispronounced by a clerk
at the end of a visit does nothing to restore a feeling of
community. If you're going to insist on this foolishness, why not make the investment to create robots to do all
the greeting? Then at least the
behavior could be explained on some demented level.
Here, in a last ditch attempt to
convince you, we'll try to put this in terms that your businessmen and
women can understand. By our conservative estimate, we spend about
3000 dollars a year elsewhere that we would have spent at your
stores if this policy was not in place. Multiply that by the old
time tested formula that if one person writes a letter of complaint, there are
probably 100 others who were just as annoyed but didn't take the
trouble to write. Then multiply that by the number of other letters
you receive from patrons that dislike the policy and then times that
by the number of stores. Then figure in the 150,000 disgruntled
employees who we're sure don't shop with you on their days off and
all their friends who are upset by what you've done to them that they are
also boycotting. Now
divide that 14 figure number by the dollar value you think is being
added by people who come to your stores simply to experience the
"friendly atmosphere" and like it when cashiers call
them by name even though they've never met them before. If the result you
come up with is a positive number, than disregard this missive and
Otherwise, just bag the policy Safeway. It isn't
Other links to Safeway related complaints
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