Monday, October 22, 2007

Next Guest?

The check out line was long at the Burlington Coat Factory, the discount clothing store, but it moved. Perhaps they're afraid if you wait in line too long, you'll realize the money you're saving isn't worth the time you're spending. And, of course, instead of putting the clothes back where you found them, you'll toss them willy nilly into the Juniors Department, which runs parallel to the line. I have never done this. If I love something enough to get on line with it, I'm taking it home.

When it was my turn a cashier called out, "Next Guest, please!" Guest? When did I stop being a customer? And more importantly, does this mean the cute outfit I picked out will be free? I've been a guest many times and rarely does my host ask me to pay for anything. Hell, chances are good that I'll even be able to borrow a couple of dollars.

Being a guest means I’ve been invited to enjoy a friend's hospitality. Usually, however, my friends don't have to entice me into their homes with a tantalizing window display, and promises of deeply discounted merchandise, although it would be nice.

The artificial shift from customer to guest sounds like just the sort of misguided directive that comes down from on high. Some senior management guy trying to justify his title and salary, believing a shift in terminology will make consumers feel more valued. We feel more valued, we spend more money.

This might be true if it didn't sound like the cashiers were saying "guest" through clenched teeth. One gets the idea that if a cashier goes renegade, continuing to say "next customer," they'll be written up by a toady supervisor and earn the shameful reputation of not being a team player. If the aberrant behavior persists, they’ll be invited to take their less than stellar hosting skills to another establishment.

A word to the wise: a guest expects to be well treated and well fed; an assortment of snacks, perhaps a little coffee and cake. I didn't see any of this at the Burlington Coat Factory. To the contrary. Prominently placed signs warned: "No Food Allowed." Truth be told although a meal and some scintillating dinner conversation would be nice, I'd much prefer to be a customer. The customer is always right.

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