I put down my shopping basket at the supermarket, and the assistant said, looking at the bottle of Sauvignon Blanc:

“I need to see some ID.”

This hasn’t happened in a while; I’m neither Dorian Gray nor Benjamin Button. I replied in as measured a way as possible: “After the day I’ve had, you had better be joking.”

She gave me a grin: “It just makes the job more fun.”

Good for her, I thought (although I did point out that now I took her improvisation to mean she thought I looked old…).

She was perhaps risking a ticking off from the supervisor, but because she had charm and was being genuine, I experienced a much more pleasant interaction which actually took my mind off the day’s earlier hassles, and presumably kept her cheerful during a long shift.

You can’t put this kind of ability in a manual, and you can’t train it. If you made the dialogue I had in the supermarket into a script or taught it as a ‘communication technique’, you’d be inviting customers to commit public order offences.

No, the truth is that some people can improvise with charm, and create human ‘moments of truth’, ‘contact points’ or whatever you want to call them. And others can’t. Hire accordingly.

I heard of one restaurant chain where staff had to tell a joke or do a turn as part of their interview – the idea being that a funny person with a bit of performance flair would create the right tone. This is such a good idea that it is now probably illegal to select people this way.

You wouldn’t hire a striker who didn’t like football, or a veterinary assistant who hated animals, so why would anyone hire a customer-service employee who doesn’t like people?

 

© 2012. Andrew Bass. All Rights Reserved.

 


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