“Can I help you?”
I was inconveniencing her. No-one else was there so she had no choice but to serve me, and her tone let me know it.
Was she sad? Down? Did I catch her on a bad day?
I got the sense this was more than an off day. She looked tired, like she’d been tired for a long time.
I was new to the neighbourhood. This was my first time in her bakery.
I replied in a friendly tone.
“Yes. May I have six bagels and two sugar cookies, please?”
No reply. No expression. She started packing my order.
Maybe she’d just had a grumpy customer and that put her off.
I asked another question keeping a bright lilt to my voice.
“Are your butter tarts plain or do they have raisins?”
She replied with that tone teenagers use when their parents ask a simple question. The tone that says, “Are you kidding me? Are you the stupidest person to walk the planet?”
So I asked again.
…so, yes they’re plain? …or yes, there’s raisins?
“Both”, she replied to my quizzical expression.
She added the tarts to my order, took my money and I wished her a good day. (Isn’t that what she’s supposed to say?)
She does want people to shop there, doesn’t she?
As I walked home, I wondered how she came to this moment.
Did time erode her dream of a friendly neighbourhood bakery?
Did she unwillingly inherit the bakery?
Was she simply expected to take it over from her father squashing her own dreams?
Did she have to take it over after her husband’s sudden passing?
Or maybe it was because I was a stranger; a first-time customer to her shop? An odd reason I admit, but possible I supposed.
Whatever her story, I decided to give her another chance. She was likely just having a bad day.
Same thing the next time.
Now I was determined to make her like me.
I would go in once or twice a week and be friendly and cheerful.
I would become a regular. “The Happy Lady”
Maybe I could bring a bright spot she could look forward to.
Let the game begin.
Over the next couple of months, she lightened up – a bit. She even smiled a few times.
I’d come home and report to my daughter that “the snarky bakery lady” said hello to me, or was actually friendly today.
“I don’t know why you’re bothering. Her food isn’t even good.”
She was right.
There were two other better bagel places on the street.
I’d certainly had better butter tarts. (My dad was a butter tart connoisseur. Hers wouldn’t have even ranked a 5 out of 10 on his BT scale.)
Even her sandwiches were mediocre, including a simple lettuce, tomato and cheese. I’m not kidding.
So, although my visits became less frequent, I was still determined.
Then one day, something was different.
A friendly lady with disgustingly long fingernails was behind the counter. Yes. She had been hired to serve the customers. Thankfully she used tongs or those little baggies over her hands to pick up the food.
The challenge was over.
I hoped the long-nailed lady would ease the bakery lady’s stress.
They serve delicious sandwiches and oodles of goodies. Their tables are almost always full with locals sipping coffee and working on their laptops or chatting with friends.
Meanwhile the old bakery’s tables in their large eat-in restaurant continue to remain mostly vacant.
I still go there from time to time, still hoping to break through the cold exterior of the owner. (They do make good rum balls.) The long-nailed friendly lady happily serves me.
Your success is a mix of many ingredients including how your customers perceive you and the stories they share.
The stories of your good work give customers reasons to know, like and trust you. They will be the stories they share with their friends.
If I can help you in your quest to share your stories, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
So, would you have done what I did? Do you frequent or avoid certain businesses? Why? I’d love to know. Share below.