Working with the Cool Kids

English: This is Fred, and he is inside our co...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am a cat with nine lives.  I’ve lived a few of them, and can’t wait to see what the rest bring.  One of them lasted for sixteen years, and in it I was a stay-at-home mom.  I am very proud of it, and wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.  Except I did.

Let me acknowledge that every stay-at-home parent has a different story just like every cashier, or doctor, or educator has a different  story.  My experience was that before I was a SAHM, I hadn’t had a lot of opportunity to establish myself in the world.  I was young, had only worked with my mother in a retail store she owned, and had only been married for two years.  I was twenty-four when I became pregnant with my first of four children, which were born (give or take a few months) every two years.

My husband was a police officer.  He was my window to the world.  His world was dangerous, cynical, and narrow.  I was very thankful to have him to protect me from the big, scary world he told me about.  We were lucky that he made a nice living, but to run a household for six of us on the one income, I needed to be resourceful.  I cooked from scratch, sewed, planned and budgetted.  One day that just wasn’t enough to make ends meet.


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When I decided to dabble in the workplace about twelve years ago, I took a 3-month seasonal position as a cashier.  After that there was a weekend catering gig, an educational assistant, and a magazine vendor changer-outer — not my official title, but that’s a descriptive as I can get.  Then one day I saw a sign for the Barnes and Noble being built into the mall.  I just about jumped right out the window of the car.

Barnes and Noble was the place I went when I managed to eke out a night away from the kids.  It’s the one place I could justify buying new things.  I huffed new-book smell straight from the bag, and hid the receipts until the canceled checks arrived in the mail (remember that?).

I worked for that store even before the books arrived.  We dusted and cleaned and then stacked boxes upon boxes in heaps seven feet tall!  It was magical and exciting.  Then one day they told there were placing me in the café.  I know it was due to my catering experience, but I didn’t even drink coffee.


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Within a year I rose from the lead to the café manager.  I loved my job, but even more than that, I loved the people — both the customers and the staff.  They came from every walk of life.  There were old women with pink crocheted hats.  There were businessmen in suits and ties.  There were young people with piercings and tattoos.  There were gay people and goth people and mean people and pretty people.

And do you know what?  None of them were as scary as I was led to believe.  The world was a friendly place.  And not only did I like the world, I realized the world liked me!  I found I had a knack for making people happy.  Changing each person’s day in a positive way became my goal, for those who visited and those who showed up to work.

Community Action Services and Food Bank in Pro...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These days I work for a food bank.  We distribute food to agencies who feed people who are hungry.  For five years I’ve worked in our Agency Services Department, helping agencies get what they need.

The walls are thin, and a department called Food Rescue inhabited the other side of my wall for many years.  They had a lot of fun.  Sometimes they laughed so hard, I had to plug one of my ears to hear my customer on the phone.  They were the cool kids.  The ones with the quick wit and keen sense of humor.  They came and went, often out of the office for days, on covert missions the likes of which we knew not.

One day I decided it was time to learn more about this great place that employed me.  I ventured out on a ride-along with a couple of Food Rescue staff.  I hadn’t planned to fall in love, but I did.  Head over heels, birds singing, heart-pounding love.  Within a year I managed to land the position I wanted.  I will be executing covert, dangerous food-rescuing missions in hard-to-reach places.  I imagine there will be a cape and super powers involved, although there has been no mention of them yet.

The relationship I established with the world brought me to this place — this yearning to make it smile, to brighten a corner wherever it is, a genuine appreciation for humanity.  I’m obviously still in the honeymoon phase, and I’m not sure I’m a cool kid yet, but I have a good feeling about this.

Peace . . .

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High Standards + Low Expectations = Peace of Mind

Half Full or Half Empty? (LensBaby 8)
(LensBaby 8) (Photo credit: Today is a good day)

I like to think of myself as a realist.  My glass may be half full or half empty.  I’ll let you know after I find out what’s in there.  Wine?  Dang, that glass is half empty.  Fill ‘er up, eh?

As a realist, there are things I understand.  Not everyone is going to like me.  Nothing is perfect — not a job, not a friendship, not a house, not a spouse.  Nothing lasts forever — not possessions, not happiness, not life, and certainly not cake.

For these reasons and more, realists sometimes are mistaken for pessimists.  But as a realist, I also understand that everywhere I go, most people are going to like me.  And my job, friendships, house, and Bubba are really awesome.  In addition, most things will last just long enough to get what you need out of them, including grief, strife, childhood, and life.  Even cake.

Another misconception is that people with low expectations harbor low standards.  While I know what superb results look like, I know there are times I just won’t achieve them.  To avoid stress, it is in my best interest to be realistic.

Perfection is where high standards meet high expectations and can lead to procrastination and eventually paralysis.  The dreaded 3 P’s.  Look it up.

Take my last month at work and, for all I know, the next month or more.  We had a software conversion.  They tell me I am a super-user, which means all questions and issues from my department funnel through me.  I work in a customer service position.  Our software conversion is causing issues not only for internal users, but the people we serve.  There are inaccuracies, misunderstandings, and unmet expectations.  There’s that word again.

Taroby screen-inbox
Taroby screen-inbox (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My email and voicemail inboxes are brimming with unanswered messages.  I am not meeting my high standards of customer service.  I am afraid I won’t help my co-workers feel comfortable in the new system.  I have lost management of my time.  My long hours are shrinking my personal time; my real life.

And on one particular day I crashed.  I threw a hissy fit right a my desk.  Papers were thrown.  Tears were spilt.  Someone in the neighboring office may have freaked out.  Just a little.

The biggest problem was the level at which I had placed my expectations.  I expected June to feel normal.  I expected a manageable routine by now.  I expected sleep to come 7 hours at a time.  After five weeks in the new system, I expected to meet my high standards.   When they weren’t, I imploded.  Or exploded as the case may have been.

It is time for a game plan.  And while I don’t completely have that plan figured out, chances are it is going to include lowering my expectations.

The difference between expectations and standards is that you can lower your expectations without sacrificing your self-esteem. I don’t think we can say the same of our standards.  While our circumstances are often out of our control, both of these attributes are not; we can set them deliberately.

I have set my standards sky-high.  Due to circumstances out of my control, I just can’t meet them . . .

 . . . yet.

Accepting Change

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Can we agree that most people have trouble accepting change?  I know I do . . . but then, my issue has more to do with how it is given.

I think we can all agree that no one knows how to count back change anymore.  It’s a lost art for which none of us are willing to fight any longer.  The electronic gadgets tell us how much to give or expect back, and we like it that way.  Furthermore, coins are seen as mere fractions of money, not worth the metal into which they are pressed.  Most of us check the dollars, and toss the coins in a tip jar, penny dish, or the bottom of a bag.

My message today is about the physical handing over of the change.  There are two acceptable ways to hand back the balance of one’s payment.  The coins can be given with one hand and paper bills with the other.  However, this requires both cashier and customer to have both hands empty to begin with.  Most often, our hands are occupied with purchases, purses and receipts.  The drive-thru window makes this most difficult with both individuals reaching through what amounts to a hole in their space.

Usually change is received through a one-handed ordeal for both giver and receiver.  To be correctly accomplished, the coins should be dropped into the receiver’s palm, with the bills set either on top, or in the fingers.

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Never . . . this bears repeating . . . NEVER should the bills be set in the hand with the coins sliding around on top!  This is a recipe for disaster.  The customer must quickly close the hand, hoping to capture the unpredictable coins, or risk them rolling across the counter, bouncing on the floor, or worse — losing them forever under the car at the drive-thru window. Customers waiting behind will be tapping their foot and rolling their eyes at the blundering transaction.  “I’m sorry” and “my fault” rarely help the situation, and I guarantee this dance is repeated daily at all hours of all establishments.

I plead my case with the fervor of one who has watched the counting back of change go the way of the dinosaurs.  The popularity of debit cards is making the passing of such skills swift.  Indeed, I rarely use real cash myself.  Dare I be one of those pompous elitists who takes it upon myself to instruct every cashier I meet on the correct procedure of giving change?  Um . . . no thanks.

Lest you think you are off the hook because you don’t work in retail, please note:  The counter has two sides.  I actually have worked in retail, and for every person who tossed his coins on the counter (were they afraid to touch me?) there was one who dropped skittering coins on top of the bills and left me to play goalie with their payment.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the loss of these coins is leading to the lag in our economy.  How many millions of dollars . . . nay, trillions! . . . could be lost in the gutters near countless hot dog stands, emptied from cashier waste baskets into the landfills, or swept away by cleaning crews?   May I go as far as to say it is your patriotic duty, when acting in the role of a customer and/or a cashier, to hand off currency in a responsible manner?

..~~*~~..

*Bonus points:  Just break out and be one of the pompous elite.  As the coins are undoubtedly about to be dropped on top of your paper currency, say, “Uh-uh-uh!  Let me show you the correct method for handing off change . . . ”

A+ for anyone who does that.

Peace . . .

Here’s a tip for ya . .

I support the opportunity to tip those in service to me.  It gives me a chance to offer immediate feedback.  Whether the server is intelligent enough to take the feedback as an opportunity to improve is always questionable.

There are pros and cons when tips go into one pot that is divided up at the end of the day.  I like the idea that the person who clears my table or makes my drinks will get a portion of a tip I leave at the table.  Unfortunately, a poor server will not make tips that reflect the service the bartender may have given me.  Likewise, customers may tip lower for a meal that did not meet their expectation, and yet was brought to them with exemplary service.

If possible, without asking, I will always know my server’s name.  When I receive extreme service in one direction or another, I think it is important to let his or her manager know what is happening in the establishment.  I recently filled out one of those surveys from the link at the bottom of my receipt.  I was so very impressed by the young lady who waited on our table, I made sure to plug her once or twice in the survey.

This is one of those establishments where the servers sit down at the table with you in hopes of charming their tips right out of your pocket.  This person performed none of that silliness.  She didn’t even smile in abundance.  What she did offer was very professional service, help in navigating the menu, advice on how to order exactly what we wanted, certainty when we requested a substitution (even though she admitted later she hadn’t known how to enter it in the register), and of course, prompt delivery of our appetizer and meal.  I saw her checking on us out of the corner of her eye while waiting on another table, clearly a multi-tasker!  Oh, and did I mention she called me “Miss?”  Okay, okay . . . I’m a sucker for flattery.  But she did it in a way that I think she calls every woman that, not to gain tips, but because she knows it makes us smile.

Now, take the coffee shop.  I really just don’t understand the concept of the tip jar.  Oh, don’t get me wrong.  I LOVE to tip my barista for a job well done.  But why is the tip jar at the beginning of the process?  For what am I tipping . . . the HOPE of great service?  Is it a bribe to make a good drink?

For instance, this “cappuccino” I am drinking right now is not a bad drink for a latte.  But I didn’t order a latte.  I ordered a cappuccino.  I don’t mind lattes, so I didn’t say anything, but I saw right off that she was making a latte and not a cappuccino.  I heard the person behind me ordering his cappuccino, and she asked him if he liked it dry or wet.  As I am writing this, I am wondering if he had a different cashier, because I wasn’t asked if I liked mine dry or wet.  It wouldn’t matter.  Lattes don’t come in dry or wet.  They are not cappuccinos.

And so I didn’t circle back to place a tip in the jar, like I am often seen doing.  Does the barista think me a bad tipper?  She might if the jar was at the end of the line, so she could get immediate feedback, but as I said, the jar is at the beginning.  Is it possible they have a signal to make a bad drink for a non-tipper?  Yes, of course it is.  Life isn’t easy as a non-confrontational, passive-aggressive customer.  Too bad there isn’t a link to a survey at the bottom of my receipt.

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Not a cappuccino.

Hands Off My Swiper!

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After a recent visit to a local retail store, I launched into a common rant of mine.  I really tried to stifle it, but at last said to my captive automobile audience, “You know I’m trying not to say anything about that transaction, right?”  Which, I realize, negates any claim to stifling it.  He did, and dutifully sat back to listen to me spout off.

First, a disclaimer:  I understand the many reasons why you, my cashier, commit these crimes to my sense of good customer service.  You:

  • think I’m stupid
  • are busy
  • are very familiar with the workings of your area
  • are impatient
  • are on auto-pilot
  • have a long line
  • know I am in a hurry
  • think I don’t understand how a card swiper works because when I was born electricity hadn’t yet been invented

If I have missed any of your flawed motivations, feel free to enlighten me.  I do understand you think you are providing exemplary customer service.  I applaud your misdirected efforts.  I strive only to shed some light on your faulty reasoning.

Now here’s the problem:

  1. See that little credit card-swiper machine?  It is facing ME for a reason.  It is a tool for ME, the customer.
  2. Do not direct me to choose credit.  If I choose debit, feel free to warn me that it might not work, but please do not tell me definitively that it isn’t going to work.  You have been wrong before.  My card works about 99% of the time as a debit card.  For the cards that work 5% of the time, those customers STILL have the right to press debit.  Why?  See point #1.
  3. Do not tell me to hit “yes” when it asks if I accept the total.  I already know you agree with the total.  Computers have been wrong before, items have been incorrectly priced, and customers have been surprised by the total.   It is asking ME if I think the total is correct.  How do I know?  See point #1.
  4. Don’t watch me type in my PIN number.  That makes me feel terribly uncomfortable.  I actually had one cashier say, “Is your PIN really XXXX?”  I interrupted him with a big “SSHHHhhhhssss!”  Yes, and thank you for broadcasting that.  Apparently it was a meaningful number to him.  If you were supposed to know my number, the machine would face you, and I would have to recite the number out loud, but . . . see point #1.
  5. Under no circumstances should you EVER push a button on the swiper machine for me.  That is akin to reaching over the ATM and pushing buttons while I am logged in.  Once I have swiped my card, that machine is linked to my account. Pushing a button on there ought to be ILLEGAL!  If you have any doubts about this reasoning, please refer to my point #1.
  6. Do not read the questions to me unless I tell you I am illiterate or cannot see them.  I know you know them by heart.  This does not impress me.  If you want to impress me, look me in the eye, tell me thank you, pick up the bag and place it in my hand before looking at the next customer.  But that is another post . . .