Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Sales-assistant soulmates

I don't think, in this country, that we are renowned for our customer service. If I am served in a shop by someone who cannot even acknowledge me, so busy are they holding an uninterrupted conversation with a colleague about an out-of-order ex-partner, I am seething but unsurprised. When someone offers me true, USA-style, teeth-and-talent-show salesmanship, it seems so contrived or commission-chasing that I have to beat a retreat to some static display in the furthest corner of the shop, where I can hide from anyone asking me if I need any help at all.

However, I am happy to report that on a Saturday afternoon in Bromley, you can experience delightful customer service from an unexpected corner of the population. The youth. The Saturday girls, the college-holiday boys, the McJobbers, the saving-to-go-travellers. Those who should be the most surly and the least giving of any kind of a shit had become, on Saturday, in Bromley, sincere, sunny... flawlessly nice. It was like the Pleasantville of retail. The Stepford of sales. Like robots who have developed genuine thoughts and feelings. Almost like....wait, is it... yes, almost like human beings.

The girl who served us in Starbucks was 5ft9in and 19ish years of enthusiasm and best intentions – steadfastly reiterating her apology that the dishwasher wasn't working and all drinks would be served in paper cups – with no sign of flagging, despite the late hour (4.30pm). No one could blame a Saturday-afternoon Starbucks employee for having an attitude problem. A sunny dispostion can't be too easy to achieve when eight hours of intensive milk-steaming has laid waste to your eyeliner and tireless table-scrubbing has ended your black nail varnish. Also people treat Starbucks really badly. Customers! Why not just crumble your muffin directly onto the carpet. Why persist in the charade that you are actually trying to get it into your mouth. Also, if you take away the risk of actually eating any of it it, it is far less fattening.

In Marks & Spencer, we spent quite some time with a friendly, funny boy-cashier, all frayed wristbands and fringe just made for sulking behind – except he was not sulking at all. He was patient and good-humoured and actually claimed to be enjoying our very lengthy investigation into whether the garment Ms R wanted to buy had been mislabelled at point of manufacture as it 'didn't look right'.

There is a slim chance, of course, that this was because Ms R is extremely attractive.

But still, these were only two among several other immaculately behaved orderlies. And on the way back to the train station, Ms R and I reflected on the good character of Bromley's shop-employed young people. We wondered whether they all hung out together out of office hours, like a really well-mannered casting of Skins. We wondered if Mr M&S and Miss Mochachocofrappuccino knew each other at all. And then we talked about what a sweet couple they would make. (She would take his name when they married, obviously. It would save her a fortune in biros.)

What if they were working away on their separate floors of the Glades shopping centre (preferably, for cinematographic purposes, one directly over the other, a gilded thread of romantic potential running through the floor and the ceiling, connecting the pair of them. Although this is probably impossible as I think this branch of Marks & Spencer has more than one floor, thus ruining my motion picture directorial debut) totally unaware of each other? Passing each other on the mall escalators, one going up, one going down, him with his head in Kerrang!, hers buried in... well, I guess you'd have to say The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. That or The Belljar. Him walking into Pret A Manger while she has her back turned, picking up cutlery to go with her soup. Her spinning round to leave just as he's facing the sandwiches, choosing his lunch.

How could we bring the two of them together? I thought about this on the train back to Denmark Hill. Ms R is excellent at drama. I felt sure we could have fashioned some kind of Glades security uniform and send her into their respective shops, requesting their presence at a vital health and safety briefing at which they would be the only two attendees. Then, under the pretence of showing them the fire escape, we could somehow trap them outside or on a roof, necessitating their cuddling up together for warmth, if not survival, as Ms R and I perched on some ledge above them sprinkling them with rain from a watering can and blasting them with cold air from a thing that produces cold air.

Or one of us could distract Mr M&S, perhaps with another mislabelled prospective purchase, while the other palmed his mobile phone out of his pocket, or slipped his name tag off his shirt, and then abandoned it on a table in Starbucks, knowing Miss Mochachocofrappuccino's sweetness and devotion to duty would lead her to track down its rightful owner.

We had got to somewhere around Nunhead when I realised I had essentially reinvented one of the subplots of Amelie.

I am wondering if there is any kind of a market for Bromelie.


fourstar said...

Loved this; we're regular visitors to the Glades and I think you're absolutely right. Either staff training has improved or the young people of today are throwing themselves into their work with a hitherto unseen abandon...

P.S. we're SE23, you must be quite close!

Alison Cross said...

Thank God! Someone saying something nice about young people! The media would have us believe that they are all sniffing glue and battering old ladies with their mobile phones.

Love the creation of fictional lives for the real young people!

Yes - there is a market for Bromelie - but would it be made by Tony Curtis? Wait. That's not right, who do I mean?..... RICHARD CURTIS!!!!

Should we just stick with Tony Curtis?

Ali x

The Coffee Lady said...

God, young people and their enthusiasm. I hate it.

pattianne70 said...

Oh goodie. Someone else who makes up scenarios based on random strangers! So glad I found this blog. :)

legend in his own lunchtime said...

They could all have names generated from the word verification field on Comments. This one is called Issi Umen. Whoever comments next can add the the next name for Issi's friend.

SLY said...

I have just discovered your blog and I would like to let you know how much i love it! Has put a big smile on my face during what would normally be a very dull lunch break at work. Thank You.

Miss Jones said...

Thanks very much, SLY. Hope you stick around. x