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Lileks: These amazing sales tips will curl your toes

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS
  • Star Tribune
  • October 4, 2012 - 8:00 PM

The Daily Mail, a British newspaper that does not make everything up, has a hot story.

"Revealed: Target's toe-curling manual for 'amazing' sales assistants."

If you're wondering how their employees can be amazing when they are falling over from curled-toe syndrome, it's an expression for "mortifyingly embarrassing." They say:

"The staff guide to becoming an ideal Target employee has been leaked online, packed full of corporate buzzwords and cringe-worthy customer service tips."

The manual details "the 'service vibe' which can 'make guests feel welcomed and comfortable ... cared for and appreciated ... and even moments that stir up a little spontaneous fun.'"

Like spontaneously putting sample cheese puffs up your nose and faking asphyxiation? I thought it was fun, but the redshirts didn't seem amused.

The manual notes that people can get things from Amazon, but they can have an experience at the store, thanks to the vibe, which is amazing.

Your heart goes out to employees who have to sit through these cheerful manifestos, because after a while you know it's just fashion. It's "amazing" and "vibe" now; it'll be "Total Customer Awareness" or "Whamtacular Shopper Catharsis" next year.

If research proved most people only want a sales associate to show up, bend over and serve as a footstool so you can get something on the top shelf, then training manuals would emphasize avoiding eye contact while being stepped on and bonuses would go to the employee with the most footprints on the back of his shirt.

That said, there's nothing wrong with reminding employees that people do not like to be treated like they're Quasimodo climbing out of an outhouse pit.

How's the toe-curling instruction working so far?

I went to investigate. On a fine October evening, when the crowds had thinned and the staff had the time to amaze my vibe, I decided to see how long it would take, upon entering, for someone to say "Good evening, sir. Unfortunately, we require our guests to wear pants."

The first associate I met did not look at me or make eye contact. Possibly because he was hunched over a shopping cart chiseling off gum, which may not have been the way he preferred to spend his mortal allotment.

To be honest, no one ever says hello when I enter the store, which is why I go there. Otherwise, it's like this:

"Hello! Let me force you into a meaningless social interaction to conform to company policy!"

"Hi there! Let me acknowledge your presence in a cursory distracted fashion, because I was thinking about whether I need eggs."

You know who has a strict greeter policy? Hell. You know there's someone at the front gate, grinning. "Welcome to Hell today! Can I help you find something? The Pit of Eternal Urethra Termites, perhaps? This way."

Halfway into the experiment I was standing at an end of an aisle, staring intently at some Halloween-themed Ziploc bags. A redshirt drifted past, and I could sense him sizing me up for vibe-readjustment: Unlikely the customer is confused because he wants tube socks and sees only bags and napkins. Unlikely his heart cries out for bags devoid of Satanic demon shapes. Probably thinking he still has some from last year. Dude has things under control.

That's how I like it. But if I need help, that's easy. I've perfected the Needful Face, an expression guaranteed to bring a redshirt running: Tilt your head up, bobble it around a little, eyebrows indicating confusion with a dash of dismay, and bang! Someone will appear in seconds.

Can I help you? Yes, do you have "Prometheus" on VHS? The employee might think, "You're in home furnishings, moron, VHS is dead, it's not even out on DVD and it wasn't that good." But chances are he'll hit the walkie-talkie and ask.

I put on the Needful Face, and sure enough a redshirt cruising past asked if I was finding everything. Everything? Well, you seem to be out of pigs, bricks and bazookas, and I can't find the beans.

He could have pointed me at the proper aisle, but he led me there with bouncy cheer. It was almost alarming. You can't be that happy pointing out beans.

All in all, a normal trip. By the way, this works both ways. A toe-curling manual for customers might say, "The person who packed your bag less than perfectly has been doing this for seven hours and hears that Beep! of the scanner in her sleep. Be patient."

They get a vibe from us, too. And somehow, I'm sure, it's not always amazing.

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858

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