Thursday, July 18, 2013

"Next guest..."

     The meanings of words can get so twisted, you begin to suspect we are already living in the oppressive dystopia that once seemed so scary in science fiction. You start to wonder whether all those smash-the-system revolutionary types might be onto something. Maybe we already are slaves, and don't even know it. 
     "High Yield"? For a savings account that gives 0.35 percent interest? That's 35 cents per year on every $100 forked over to the bank so they can loan it back out at 10 times your return. That's a third of a percent away from 0.0 percent interest, a.k.a. nothing. Given that benchmark, what would a "Low Yield Money Market" look like? Is that where you pay the bank for taking your money? With bank fees, many of us already are.
     A few minutes after I snapped the above, shaking my head at the memory of the quaint 5 percent passbook accounts we had when we were kids, I popped into the Walgreens at Clark and Lake to pick up some personal supplies —deodorant, Cherry Life Savers, nothing earth-shattering.
     Not the most complicated process. Scan the aisles, grab the products, head for the check out. There was a line -- one line, which seemed long, but it fed to five, count 'em, five cashiers, so it wouldn't be too bad. I got in line; it moved quickly.
     "Next guest," said a cashier, as the customer left and a person walked up to make his purchase. "Next guest," another cashier called out. "Next guest..."
     I heard the "guest" locution about half a dozen times before I had the chance to pay for my stuff.
     "Is this something new?" I asked the clerk, who looked at me, amazed, as if the deodorant had spoken. This wasn't in the script. He looked confused.
     "This 'guest' business?" I elaborated, trying to be helpful.
     A pause.
     "Yeah," he finally said. I considered questioning him further but, realized he wasn't going to be a font of information, so took my purchase and hurried out.
     Not to take anything away from The Walgreen Company. A fine Chicago-born institution, the largest drug store chain in the world, based in the benign suburban funzone of Deerfield. The stores are well run, as far as I can tell, with none of the oppressive fascist taint of Walmart or the gigantism-induced queasiness of Costco.  They're trying to make customers feel welcome. I get that.
     But "guests"?  Really? If I am going to be a Walgreens guest, I want to be lounging on the Walgreen family yacht, and I would bet that nobody popping into one of the stores for hygiene products considers himself to be a "guest" either, no matter how well treated. Nor does he want to be.
    I know exactly where this particular bit of nonsense is from -- the Disney total control system, where workers are not "employees" but "cast members." Pretty to think so, though at Disney World the "guest" business at least makes a bit of sense, since you're bedding down there, often, and eating there, which meshes closer to traditional notions of hospitality than rushing in to pick up Q-Tips.
     Walgreens has just started this latest degradation of our language; it should stop it now, before "guest" takes on the shabbiness of "event," a word that car dealers seized upon and ruined, chewing it up like dogs, unwilling to have their automobiles disposed of at anything so low class as a "sale." They have held so many "special sales events" for so many years, the words have been scrubbed of all meaning, with "special" suffering even more abuse at the hands of those trying to put a bright spin on disability, so much that now "special" is freely used as an insult by children on playgrounds all across America.
    Don't let the same thing happen to "guest." Don't let it take on the meaning of "person spending money while being treated indifferently by minimum-wage automatons." Consumers have less and less power as it is. Let's snatch back "guest" and keep it for ourselves, as something special ... well, no, not "special" ... something meaningful, to use to describe the real people in our lives who visit us at our homes for tea on Sunday afternoons. Not that such people exist, but if they ever do appear, we'll want a word to describe them. 



  1. Soooooo glad to finally see corroboration of my continuing annoyance at the " guest" designation at a growing number of retailers. They have been doing it at Macys for years. It has always annoyed me with its fraudulent exaggeration of the relationship between retailer and customer- or, rather, the artificial pretension that there IS some relationship other than the momentary exchsnge of money for product. So, Im not the pnly one to find it offensive.

  2. Nitpick: Walgreens is headquartered in the leafy suburban paradise of Deerfield, not the leafy suburban paradise of Northbrook.

  3. Not at all. We cherish accuracy. Fixed now. And thanks.

  4. Disney also calls some of its writers and creative people Imagineers. I think you should call yourself an Imagineer from now on.

  5. Whether it is this or calling employees "associates," I don't see why people get so worked up over it, except that people like to get worked up.Of course it is a bit cheesy. But there is a purpose: to extend and reinforce the notion among both employees and customers that customers are valued, and with "associates" to extend some notion of respect and value to employees. It might be a bit superficial, but they probably think it will contribute to better service and make an impression on customers. It's not like they are scamming you into thinking you're going to sit down to dinner with them.

    1. If you treat me with respect then I don't care what you call me. And until employers are willing to respect their employees and give them decent salaries, save the "associates" malarkey for somewhere else. It reminds me of a place I worked where they told us on Monday that management highly valued all of their employees. On Thursday that same week, they cut benefits including sick days. What message do you think came through loud and clear to the employees?

  6. This is happening at hospitals, we do not have patients but 'clients' or 'customers'. I can only imagine 'guest' is next as most hospital waiting rooms look like hotel lobbies.

  7. @DeJordy -- Why not just value employees and customers? Then you don't have to apply special terms to them. "Worked up" is another word for "thinking," and I think we're allowed to think about what corporate America does, and react. Don't you?

  8. I'm not as bothered by the use of the term "guest". It's a big company and as DeJordy says, they are trying to emphasize to both the employees and customers that they are trying to create an atmosphere where it's not simply a series of business transactions. They're using language to send a message that they provide better service. Just like they use architecture and interior design to create a more welcoming atmosphere.

  9. I used to have a "Blow up Customer" button on my phone at a job I had many years ago. The button was nonfunctional and didn't actually do anything, but it sure was satisfying to press it when a "customer" was being "rude"(to be polite). I could think of a lot of euphemisms for "customer" but "guest" was not one of them I'd use.

  10. ""High Yield"? For a savings account that gives 0.35 percent interest? That's 35 cents per year on every $100 forked over to the bank so they can loan it back out at 10 times your return. That's a third of a percent away from 0.0 percent interest, a.k.a. nothing. Given that benchmark, what would a "Low Yield Money Market" look like? Is that where you pay the bank for taking your money? With bank fees, many of us already are."

    What are your thoughts as to when the inevitable two or three hundred basis point lift in interest rates occurs and the banks start taking a bath on all of these 3.5% thirty years and the borrowers are laughing? Do you know what a bank P&L looks like?

    There is a simple path to avoiding most service fees: Don't bounce checks. Don't go over your credit card limit. Don't make late mortgage or bill payments payments. Don't make phone payments when they charge a fee. Read your contract and understand your obligations. Etc.

  11. Actually, I'd prefer the term "goddess" when directed towards me.

  12. They were doing the same thing with people in line at the casket showroom, which was disturbing on any number of levels.

  13. Hi Neil. Another nit to pick. Normally when bloggers make corrections they make note of it in the body of the original.

  14. @Lexi -- Why? For the official record? So if I fix some typo, I should keep a little permanent footnote so... help me here? I don't see the point of that. This isn't the New York Times, thank God.

  15. They can refer to me as a guest when they start treating me like family.

  16. Another example of corporations giving faux service. Some genius in HQ passed this idea down the food chain. My pet peeve is waiting to purchase and there is only one register open. Customers are backed up to fork over money but we have to WAIT. I guess the other 9 staff working in the store have more important things to do. This used to happen every time I went to Borders, until there was no Borders to go to any longer.

    Is it just me, or does it bug you that employees at Sunset Foods scurry over to empty our grocery carts? Not that I mind the courtesy now and then but come on, I'm not an invalid. How about just being friendly.

  17. Someone mentioned to me the other day that a Jewel employee practically insisted that someone accompany them to their car and help unload the groceries -- insanity.

  18. One of my readers (I sent them hither) suggested that Walgreen's up the ante and begin referring to their customers as "Heroes." Perhaps, Neil, you and I should start referring to our readers as "Heroes"?


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