Teri and I went to Gelson’s the other day to see if they had a particular brand of buttermilk we’ve been using, but has been discontinued at our local store. (Teri is a devote to The Perfect Buttermilk Pancake, and let me tell you, different buttermilks make much different pancakes) For those that don’t live around here, Gelson’s is an upscale grocery store. Not a natural one like Whole Foods, its a regular chain with a nicer look, and more amenities. While we were there, we happened to run into the guy who stocks the dairy case. He was helpful, friendly, and made it easier for us to shop.
Then, because we were hungry and it was past lunch time, we decided to stop by the Deli and pick up a sandwich. That is where we met Lillian. Lillian was standing off to one side of the Deli case, and obviously wore the dress/uniform of an employee. There was quite a crowd around the deli case, the customers were taking their little numbers, the ladies behind the counter were trying to manage the crowd, you know, the standard deli experience.
Lillian was different.
When we glanced her way Lillian smiled at us and asked if we would like to order on the iPad which she was holding. There was a large sign next to her telling us exactly what ingredients (breads, lunch meats, cheeses, condiments, etc.) were offered for making a sandwich, which made the complex task much easier. Lillian herself was knowledgeable, friendly, helpful, and generally made the ordering process pleasant instead of complex and overwhelming. In short she added to our experience while in the store and made our short stay much more welcoming.
So given the choice between dealing with the feeding frenzy in front of the deli case, with the employees removed from the consumer behind a huge glass case, or standing next to a smiling person who is helpful and friendly, you would think most people would choose the person over the counter. Only it didn’t work that way. I watched person after person walk right past Lillian, head right up to the counter, take a number, and enter the crazy, busy deli experience. I don’t know if having an employee in front was new, or that the other shoppers preferred their routine, or what. I hesitate to say what might be the cause, but I can tell you they were missing a chance to talk to a warm friend person, and not a busy harassed lady behind the counter.
In terms of customer service, Lillian was the tops. She made our stay enjoyable by making us feel like we were important and not just another number. Yet for all her gifts, she largely was ignored. I don’t know which is more sad, that an upscale grocery store had to hire a person just to offer a level of service that I think should be standard, or that the regular patrons ignored such service in favor of a less personable approach.
Which begs the question: Who is at fault if a customer consumes a less friendly experience? The store, or the customer?