This is a tough admission to make, but I'm breaking up with my supermarket. In the past, our relationship was strong, vital and mutually beneficial. We've been going steady for about 25 years and I have the loyalty card to prove it. Loyalty cards are the retail versions of a ring.
But it's not the same anymore. They've lost respect for me. I'm being taken for granted and being played for a fool. Once I had value; once I was made to feel essential and worthy both of time and attention. Now, apart from occasionally tossing me coupons spit out by an algorithm, my store no longer takes me the least bit seriously. I no longer feel welcome, even though its does now offer me a hand-sanitizing wipe as I enter the store.
Every breakup has two significant markers: There's the moment when the split begins tearing at the seams of the relationship and there's the moment when it's ripped apart entirely. The first represents the underlying cause while the second represents the occasion.
The occasion leading to the breakup surrounds bagging. I'm not a fan of bagging. When I moved back to the U.S. after living in the U.K., one of the aspects of American life that made me want to cheer was the fact that our supermarkets don't force shoppers to do their own heavy lifting.
Instead, professionals packed all those bottles, cans and cartons deftly into bags for you. A good bagger was a skilled employee, knowledgeably able to place the uncrushable and heavier items at the bottom while placing more fragile purchases on top. Bags were balanced, secure and so neatly organized that unpacking them at home was a breeze.
My ex-supermarket has been trying to wean us off baggers for about a year now. They've also been trying to wean us off of cashiers. In a manner that appears Orwellian, they keep over-staffing the self-checkout lines but understaffing the actual checkout lines. Surely this is meant to attract us to the self-check areas.
But I don't want to self-check any more than I want to self-bag. If I wanted to do it all myself, I'd grow my own food in my own yard, raise chickens and tether a goat to a post. In other words, I'd move back to Sicily, circa 1913. This is not what I want to do.
While growing food in my backyard might sound like an attractive idea, I can't see myself growing other products. I don't see harvesting acres of toilet paper, for example, just as I don't envision manufacturing my own floor wax or planting fields of kitty litter.
The other alternative is to order my food online and have it delivered by drones. I don't want to do that either. I want to be able to touch the avocado and rap my knuckles against the cantaloupe. I even enjoy talking to people while I shop.
Perhaps it came as a surprise when I asked a store manager if he could find somebody to help me bag my purchases. He rolled his eyes. This is not recommended by the section of the customer service handbook called "How To Calm Down Your 60-Year-Old Female Consumer."
Customer service used to be an essential part of the retail experience. Now it's an oxymoron. Asking for assistance is inevitably regarded as a complaint: associates say "How may I help you?" with a sigh, not with a smile. What the phrase conveys is "How can I get rid of you, sir or madam, immediately?"
If I dared to call the store's national headquarters, it would be even more frustrating. I'd be trapped inside one of those automated scripts that are designed to prevent us from ever complaining again; it's an exercise in negative reinforcement. After going through the experience once, you'll never do it again.
If you're like me, you'll naturally start screaming "Agent!" into the receiver as soon as the electronic voice asks how it can assist you. I scream "Agentagentagent" until either a human being picks up or I pass out.
Bad customer service diminishes the patron, the shopper, the client, the passenger, and makes everybody's day worse.
This article, unlike my supermarket, has been recorded for quality assurance.
Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut and the author of "If You Lean In, Will Men Just Look Down Your Blouse?" and eight other books. She can be reached at www.ginabarreca.com.