Monday, January 28, 2019

Four Trendy Enigmas of Retail Engagement

"Take All the Time You Need!"

This one is two enigmas fused together. You're seated at a restaurant with an extensive menu. The waiter shows up 45 seconds later, briskly intent on taking your order. It has not occurred to him that you might be less than ready, even though your head's obviously buried deeply in your menu (which he knows contains 70 gajillion entrees and combo deals), and you haven't made the slightest eye contact to indicate readiness. Despite all cues and all logic, he is blithely confident that of course you're ready to order. Hey, is this not a restaurant? Are you here to eat, or to dick around with your menu?
It takes just hundreds - not thousands - of iterations to train a lab rat's behavior. A certain breed of waiter is impervious to learning.
You ask him for another minute, he indulgently nods and takes off, and you can kiss that mofo goodbye. He will not return before the ice shelves re-advance. Having lost you in his peripheral vision, he's unable to register your angry stares, even your airport arrival terminal full-barreled waving. With your customer status descended to "nonentity", you are quite literally off his radar. It dawns on you that his "Take All the Time You Need!" was less obliging than cackling.
If I understand the psychology, it's something like this: what customers do is they order and they eat and they pay. And they must order to eat and pay. So if you haven't ordered, you're completely outside my workflow; beyond my frame. Just as I don't care where you were and what you did before entering the restaurant, you are similarly beyond my interest in this situation. The play has not yet begun. You are not one of my 25 customers, you are one of the 6,999,999,975 homo sapiens I don't need to pretend to give a fuck about.

Possible workaround: sneak out, then re-enter under disguise and order fast enough to remain solidly in their petri dish.

"Don't Look at the Menu Board"

This one's new-ish. I believe it's completely unremarked-upon, but it's gone viral over the past two years.

You walk into a place with counter or bar service. A large menu board occupies the better portion of a wall, and you stand briefly outside the line of fire to scan it and weigh options. Suddenly your train of thought is interrupted by a worker handing you a printed version of that same menu. They're providing mercy; relieving your pain and gently guiding you to a far better and more civilized experience. Rather than tilting my head 30° upward, wouldn't I prefer to bask in the ease of a 60° downward head tilt?

It inevitably happens the moment I've finally gotten my bearings within the menu board. At that precise moment, I'm guided/subtly commanded to start over, parsing the same data in an entirely different layout/format. With no imaginable benefit. All just because, apparently, the gigantic board - which management put great effort into building and displaying - is an abomination one must not peer at.

The printed version is foisted on you with two unstated but clear intimations: 1. We're doing you a favor, like handing you a towel when you're wet or lighting your cigarette. Isn't this better? 2. This is not optional. You will accept this print version. Only an asshole would refuse. Indeed, if you do decline, workers narrow their eyes and walk away muttering. Sure, asshole, no problem, peer cluelessly up at the board. Enjoy your ungainly slight head tilt! Be a skeevy board-reading rube! Will you be needing to pee into a Pepsi cup, as well? Or have us provide a comfort animal for your visit with us? Let us know what other marginal issues you'll need us to tolerate.
Why did you put that huge board there in the first place? Why have you goaded me into this?

"Do You Need Change?"

I surely don't need to explain.

There is no greater disproof of the free marketer's conviction that business instantly and shrewdly adopts and evolves to serve consumer prefs and needs than the fact that at this late date waiters still ask this most famously irritating of questions. I can only assume it's like direct marketing: a ploy savagely hated by absolute everyone (including its perpetrators), but which is always so dumbfoundingly successful - unrivaled in its success - that, having mixed our signals (i.e. what we say we want versus what we actually do), this is something civilization is stuck with, forever.
In other words, the practice must pay well enough, in the long run, to be worth infuriating slews of customers.

"What Were You Looking For?”

In this posting, I wrote:
One of my pet peeves is when you run into a store, don’t see what you need (you're certain they don’t carry it), and the owner stops you as you exit, indulgently asking what you were looking for. You say “I’m positive you don’t have it”. He kindly replies “Try me”. Figuring you're doing him a favor by informing him of unmet consumer demand, you explain what you were seeking, and he drifts back to his previous task (you're no longer a customer, no longer of interest) indifferently sneering that, no, they don’t have that. Like you’re the asshole.

Apparently dismissed, you silently trod out the door.

3 comments:

Display Name said...

Wow Jim thanks for validating some of my observations. My friend used to work at a bbq place and the manager would get furious if someone came in a full hour before closing and have the nerve to order something more complicated than a pulled pork sandwich and actually expect to dine in. My friend figured it was because the owner would yell at him if everyone wasn't clocked out promptly each night no matter how busy the evening had been. The owner lived lnearby and would show up drunk and curse everyone out after closing if everything wasn't perfect shortly after the place closed. And yes this lead to people clocking out (the manager) or being clocked out and continuing to work. What do you think of that? I made damn sure to order my chinese take out over an hour before closing last night but maybe that bbq place was a rare situation. I don't have the stomach for the bbq place in Lansdale anymore even though their food is creative and very tasty. I go to the mennonite place in souderton instead.

OC Pete said...

Jim, I think you either need to leave New York or learn yoga or meditation. 😜

James Leff said...

Ha, I’m in my 45th year of both practices!

And I’ve encountered all four of these scenarios far from NYC! ;)

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