Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name: the lost art of "you"

In the same week that my favorite ad columnist, Rob Walker, talks about the Hyatt providing its guests with random acts of kindness and generosity, I found myself waiting in the Student Services line at Red River College's Notre Dame Campus.

I teach at the Princess Street Campus, which means it's like the opposite of Cheers when I go to Notre Dame: nobody knows my name. No one yells "Norm!" (my actual middle name!). And I get treated like any old schmo off the street. Which is exactly what I am, so I shouldn't complain.

However, something happened yesterday that gets me riled up more and more each time it happens - and it seems to be happening more and more: as I stood in a line of 10 people at Student Services, which was moving so slowly that we had actually crossed the time/space continuum, a "gentleman" slid up beside us, and decided he wouldn't wait in line.

The lone Student Services person then uttered the phrase that travels up my spine and explodes in my head, "Can I help someone over here?" Not "you" or even "next in line."

So, the guy who didn't wait in line walked right up, and the student services person waited on him - as though the cutting had not even happened in full view of me and my 10 angry linemates.

"That doesn't seem fair," I said out loud to no one in particular.

No one jumped aboard my angry wagon. I was tempted to yell, "Don't you know who I am?!" but I knew the answer and didn't want any further humiliation.

"The Pharmasave problem"

I first noticed this problem in the shopping world at Pharmasave, where it seems to have caught on with all staff - even the ones working at the post office. This, of course, is based only on anecdotal evidence, but what anecdotes!

Last summer, I stood in line at Pharmasave with my 16-year-old niece, who had come to visit for the summer. I had a major runny nose and sore throat, and I hung onto my $45 box of NeoCitran like a drowning man clings to a life preserver.

Suddenly, my favorite thing happened: all the people at the end of the line ran to the newly opened wicket, and the clerk in my line slapped up the "next wicket" sign and went to lunch without so much batting an eyelid.

"Watch this," I said to my niece.

I put the NeoCitran back on the shelf, walked over to the newly opened wicket, and stood before the clerk and customer who thought that "last in line" meant "first in line," everyone else be damned.

"To be fair, you should ask the next person in line to start the new line," I said. They looked at me like I had leopresy and continued the transaction.

"Shame on you," was my big finish, and my niece and I walked out of the place with our heads held high.

"That was awesome!" said my niece.

I was no further in my quest for NeoCitran, and everyone at the store thought I was insane, but my niece liked me even more, and righteous indignation is a great feeling - like the smell of napalm in the morning.

You you you you you - have made my dreams come true

Every advertiser knows that "you" has a magical power over people: it causes them to feel important (or at least like an individual), like the message has been tailored specifically to them, and to imagine themselves enjoying the very thing that you're trying to sell.

When someone yells, "Hey, you!" in a crowd, everyone turns to look. If someone were to randomly yell, "Next in line!" in a crowd, no one would react, because "that person isn't talking to me."

As any good business knows, the entire brand of the company lies at the hands of its client services staff. Case in point: Are McDonald's staff really "lovin' it?" If not, that's incongruous with the brand image, which - if true - would cause people to interpret McDonald's messages as being "inauthentic."

Visit a McDonald's - any McDonald's - in New York City, and you'll see what I mean.

Red River College bills itself as "More than just an education. New experiences included." Further it says, "...make YOUR college experience a memorable one."

Hey, RRC is talking to ME again! Ahhhhh....I feel better already.

Now can I take someone over here?


  1. Kenton, we miss YOU over here at PSC. LOL!

  2. I miss me too. I mean "you."

    Please, make it end...

  3. I've always felt that the best line up system is the Tim Horton's one, where there is ONE line and the people just go to the next available cash register. Actually I guess that's more based on the bank system.

    But I have a story of when this was done properly. I went to see "Up" the other day at the KP theatre, and of course I pick the slowest moving line in the concession. All of a sudden the line starts moving quicker, and it was because someone opened up another till and just started helping people in my line. Way to KP theatre staff!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.