It’s a mistake for me to show up for work overtired – which, when I’m manic and missing sleep, I do a lot. The first half of my 6-8 hour shift may be fine, sparkly even – jamming with people, flirting, teasing, saying bullshit, listening, affirming. Then, several hours in, I crash and can’t summon the energy to do anything but swipe groceries. I think I usually give people a good smile – but sometimes maybe not even that.
Today Arthur showed up in my line excited to see me. He knew that I always make something happen – and he wanted to be on his toes. He didn’t exactly say, “I love all your bullshit” – but when I translated his words to mean that he didn’t disagree. I said, “Arthur, I can’t do it today – I’m not up to it. I’m too tired – I’m crashing, my lunch is late and maybe my blood sugar has dropped. All I’m good for is swiping groceries.”
But I was saved from uselessness by a happy circumstance. My good friend Tony Godwin, who likes my poetry and has accompanied me some on his wonderful acoustic guitar, came into the line right after Arthur. He wanted to talk about my poetry – and especially a big, ambitious poetry concert I had put on a couple of months ago. I wanted to keep Arthur, my current customer, the focus of attention – so I pivoted the arts theme to him. “Arthur, what’s your creative outlet?” (This question usually gets a positive answer in Asheville, even if you need to coach the person that creative outlets can include gardening, cooking, parenting, dancing, etc.). Arthur didn’t hesitate: “Writing and photography”. Obviously a creative guy – I think this is going to get us somewhere. And there is no one in the line but Tony, who is totally tuned in to this, so we’ve got some time to explore.
“What do you write?” This hit the mother load: Arthur had lots of energy to talk about his writing, which I genuinely found very interesting. He writes stuff to take the energy out of the polarization of right and left in this country, to help people discover/remember our commonalities. On a values basis, this theme is very resonant for me – and I am genuinely interested to see what he’s writing. It’s fun to express this to him, even if he has some trouble believing me.
But, after that very lively interaction – and a shorter one with Tony, who had fewer groceries and by then a couple of people behind him – I went back to mostly swiping groceries. Just swiping groceries is painful work. Where’s the pizzaz, the fun, the creativity? I become a robot and I make my customer into no more than a customer – not a living, breathing, creative individual, different from every other person to come through my line that day. I don’t play with them, I don’t make them laugh, I don’t tell them something wonderful about them. It’s dead.
I think that maybe some of my younger front end colleagues have not yet discovered the satisfactions of really jamming with the customer. I haven’t really worked much with these folks, so I don’t really know, but when Brandon the store manager hired me, he gave me a mandate to find ways to coach, inspire, role model and in any way I can get parts of my approach to customer service to rub off on them. It takes more energy to really show up for the customer – to question, listen, play, flirt, affirm, tease, bullshit – but the rewards are amazing. And you can do some of it when there is a line in front of your register. It doesn’t take any extra time to put a light in your eyes – and “What’s been a highlight of your day?” or “What are you looking forward to today?” take only moments.
One of my younger colleagues is at least some of the time reading this blog. Inspiring others to do this may help my mission. And role modeling – which includes getting more sleep and not being a robot myself.