Monday 27 February 2012

Kindness a U.S. retail calling card

Destin, on Florida's “Emerald Coast:

As a proud Canadian myself I am nevertheless compelled to admit that
when it comes to the U.S. and Americans in general I have, like many
of you, at times been guilty of a certain smug sense of superiority.
But, in total honesty we Canadians have a lot to learn from them.
Yes I know that watching the cable news or late night TV could lead
you to believe that in matters of religion or party politics during an
election year our closest neighbors can seem somewhat crazy. 

However, spending the past few weeks down on the Gulf Coast of  Florida,
 we've found that most of the ordinary Americans we've met from all
backgrounds and at every level of  society exhibit a friendliness, a
largeness and generosity of spirit that prevails in spite of  recent
hard times and negative headlines. Whether it's the check-out counter
at Walmart or Publix, the attendant at a car-wash, or the salesclerks
in clothing and other stores, no matter how late the hour or how small
the purchase, the projected mood is one of eager-to-please cheerfulness
 and a  constant warm readiness to engage in a personal encounter
 however necessarily brief.  Publix grocery store displays a sign and
the staff wear a badge which tells you, “Your satisfaction guaranteed,
 no matter what.  Please enjoy our free carry-out service with absolutely
 no tipping.”  I contrast that with the grocery store where we shop at home
 in Canada– the staff rarely make eye contact and many exhibit a silent
 indifference to the customer. When it comes to the policy of returning goods
 for any reason at home, the onus is often on the customer to convince
 the store that the product is defective. It's the opposite here.  Return policies
 are beyond easy with no questions asked.

On New Year's Eve and deep into Kentucky, we turned off  Interstate 75
for lunch. When we came out our left front snow tire was almost flat,
and the air was audibly escaping.  We drove slowly into the hinterland
and found a tire store nearby that was still open. Although  very
busy, they took us right in and examined our flat.  The puncture was
beyond repair,  and they didn't have a match for it. However, they
found a used tire to suit, then rotated the tires so that it was on
the back.  All in all they provided over a half an hour of service,
giving us an adequate spare tire, and making sure that we'd be back on
the road within the hour and still on schedule.  When it came to
paying, they said, “You don't owe us anything.....just remember
Kentucky.”  Surprised at this “Good Samaritan” experience, we gave the
lad who did the work a good tip and had a safe trip the rest of the

Among other experiences too numerous to mention, there was the waiter
who served a large group of us and, when learning Canadians like
vinegar on french fries, ran across to a grocery store and came back
with a bottle.  Somehow, I can't imagine that happening n Canada, but
it's this kind of attitude that makes customers loyal, retains their
business, and generally improves the mood of the day.

Nobody wants Canadians in any job doing it for nothing. But many of
our businesses need a big shift in proper staff training in how to keep
shoppers happy. Walmart does have a clue, and let's hope with the
 increase of competition by the opening of Target, Marshall's and other U.S. chain stores, our own stores will rise to the occasion allowing Canadian
employees in the service industry to shine, and the stores will
benefit from the challenge.

If  kindness to strangers lies near the soul of  true religion—and I
strongly believe it does – we have  experienced it here.

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