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Cross-Contamination? Huh?

I appreciate good customer service. Let me repeat, I appreciate good customer service! After a great meal at a restaurant, it wouldn’t be out of character for me to go back to the kitchen and tell the chef and his crew that the food was amazing. I have been escorted out of a couple of restaurants after doing that, but I digress.

I frequent two nationally known business chains where we live in Florida: Wells Fargo and Whole Foods. I have no choice in regards to the first company. Shady business practices and billions in fines notwithstanding, Wells Fargo is the only bank that has branches in our part of Florida as well as in most cities across the country. We travel a lot and it’s important we have a bank with lots of locations.

As to the second business, we have several grocery store options where we live, but I happen to like Whole Foods.

I have to say, I’m dubious about both company’s customer service training. I can picture how it must go at a Wells Fargo Teller Training session:

Trainer: OK, so when a new customer approaches the counter, put on your smiley face and in your most fake-cheerful voice say, “Hi! Welcome to Wells Fargo! How has your day been going so far?

Trainee: Um, so we have to say that to every single customer, no matter what?

Trainer: Yes! And then you follow that question with this: “So, do you have any exciting plans for the rest of your day?”

Trainee: OK, but what if the customer responds to the first question by saying, “Well, my day has not been going well. My wife told me she wants a divorce; my mom died of cancer yesterday and my company is laying off 80% of its workers this week.”

Trainer: Just ask the questions.

I do most of the cooking in our home, and I like using fresh ingredients. Typically, I’ll head to Whole Foods in the late afternoon to buy provisions for dinner. The other day I picked out four chicken cutlets, some fresh organic vegetables and some shitake mushrooms. The chicken was packaged in shrink wrap and then placed inside a hermetically sealed hard plastic shell. I doubt the World’s Strongest Man could have opened that package with his bare hands. In fact, when I got home, I had to use a SAWZALL to open it.

Anyway, when I got to the checkout register, the youthful employee smiled and said, “Would you like your meat bagged separately?”

The question caught me off guard, and I said, “Why would anybody want their meat bagged separately?” I wasn’t trying to be rude; I was just curious.

She said, “Well, sir, many customers are worried about cross-contamination and like to have their meats placed in a separate bag.”

At that point I showed her the package of chicken cutlets I had picked out. “So, you’re suggesting that it’s possible that the chicken in this plastic shell could potentially cross-contaminate the rest of my groceries?”

The checkout girl looked a little sheepish and said, “Well, sir, we are trained to ask that question of every customer.”

Most of the other meat or seafood products that I buy at Whole Foods are first placed in a plastic bag, sealed with a zip tie and then wrapped in thick brown butcher paper and taped shut. Am I nuts, or is cross-contamination such a serious problem that all our meat products need to be placed in separate bags?

Clearly, these two companies could learn something about customer service training…from me! Instead of teaching people to use gratuitous, cookie-cutter greetings or ask silly questions, why not teach people to use intuitive interpersonal skills to handle the variety of customers they see each day?

After leaving Whole Foods, I had to stop at the bank to make a couple deposits. I approached the teller, who had a big smile on her face. She said, “Welcome to Wells Fargo! How’s your day going so far?” Before I even had a chance to answer, she said, “So, do you have any exciting plans for the rest of your day?”

“Yes,” I said. “I plan to spend the rest of my day trying to open a package of chicken cutlets.”

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