Sometimes a pattern only appears when it is broken.
When I shop at retail stores, clerks usually smile and sometimes comment about the weather, but they do not say very much. Until recently they have rarely said anything about what I buy. Occasionally a clerk at a clothing store might say "I like that color" or a grocery clerk might say "That's on sale. I should get a couple." These comments seemed mostly undirected.
I had not realized until this weekend that there is a new pattern. At both the big supermarket and the friendly speciality grocery, I have heard many comments recently about what I brought up to the register.
"I really like these apples. They are so crisp."
"Ghirardelli brownies! I bet they're good."
"You'll like those enchiladas."
"That's my favorite nut mix. That little bit of coconut makes it so good!"
"You found the Thai mixes. My favorite is the satay. Have you tried it?"
I have not heard so much from clerks since I had a toddler in the shopping cart. Could it be the few gray hairs at my temples that makes me more approachable?
I only thought about this about after shopping at an office supply store. A young clerk was being trained by a manager. As she checked me out, she said cautiously, "That's a really nice binder."
I walked back to my car wondering why she said that. It was just a plain blue plastic binder. Then it struck me. She is being taught to compliment the customer's selections. The idea is to make the customer feel good about buying something from her store. She hadn't gotten the hang of it yet.
Of course, this made me think about the library.
The idea of marketing a good feeling is not a bad idea. We may want to do it in libraries, too, but our comments have to be honest and natural. Any falsehood is quickly spotted.
Also, complimenting someone every time you see will rouse suspicions. People will wonder if we are trying to manipulate them or secretly make fun of them.
There has been much emulation of retail models of customer service in libraries in recent years. It does not always work. I hope I never see a library consultant pressing "feel good comments about what people borrow" onto our public service staff. We should stay honest and friendly and only say "I liked that book" if it is true.
As long as we stay friendly and helpful and real, we will cultivate good feeling.
Update: This is getting more comments than most of my blog posts, and a variety of viewpoints are being expressed. The discussion has brought up several ideas that I was not connecting.
For clarification about my viewpoint, let me say I see nothing wrong with honest, unforced comments by service staff at retail or in the library. I like talking with people and enjoy some of these little convesations, so long as they are tactful. Having clerks forced to comment or being kept from commenting both seem wrong to me. Also, I do not like the idea of being subliminally marketed.