Saturday, November 13, 2010

News from the corporate world #2: Johnny the bagger

Seriously, you have to watch this. The sound isn't essential--it's just goopy music--but it does add to the ambiance, so yes, I recommend you have it on.

In short, though, the story is that a "CSP" (which I think stands for Customer Service Professional*, but the video assumes we're so far indoctrinated that we don't need to be told) gives a talk to a supermarket's workers about "building customer loyalty," as if that means anything to them other than busier, harder work days, by yoking their individuality to the needs of their employer. Or, as she puts it, "Put your personal signature on the job. Think about something you can do for your customer that will make them feel special--a memory that will make them feel special."

Guaranteed, the majority of the people listening to her fantasized about doing her great harm, but tolerated her because they were getting paid for something other than working the floor of a supermarket. The video skips over this, though, to focus on one person whose story we're supposed to find heartwarming. You'll be astounded to discover I don't find it heartwarming.

The one person is "Johnny the bagger," a poor exploited Down syndrome teenager whose entire identity the video kindly subsumes into his job description. I don't know how much experience any of you have had with Down people, but in my experience, a quality a large majority of them share is a sort of earnest eagerness, a boundless capacity to take everyone at face value and try their best to please. So this guy hears this soulless CSP giving her bullshit talk, and he takes it entirely, tragically to heart.

He's sad at first, because he doesn't know how he can live up to the CSP's expectations. "After all," he says, "I'm only a bagger" (and I know, how fucking heartbreaking is that?). But then he comes up with an idea, which is probably something the CSP has never done in her entire blighted life. Every day, after work, he's going to look up interesting quotes, print out bunches of copies of them, and then the next day put them in every customer's bag.

My main reaction to this was "Oh god, he's been tricked into performing unpaid labor," though of course we're supposed to admire his dedication. It gets worse, though: Johnny's "thoughts of the day" become wildly popular, and the lines at his register start piling up to several times the length of the other lines, all because everybody wants these quotes.

At this point my mind spins, trying to deal with seventeen kinds of horror all at once. First, this guy, in addition to working for the company when he's off the clock, has doubled or tripled his workload while he's on the clock. Second, he's unintentionally done the same for whatever innocent bystander is working the register on his line. Third, how starved for genuine human interaction must we be in our society if something as chintzy as a printed out quote on a scrap of paper can make us come back, over and over, obsessively, for more?

I haven't even begun to touch on a lot of the horrifying aspects of this story--like the store manager getting a "lump in (his) throat" (and not for the reason you or I might) on finding out that some lonely woman has taken to coming back to the store every goddamn day for Johnny's quotes. And even though I've summarized most of the action of the video, I highly recommend you click through to see the full glory of the insipid, clip art presentation.

At my job, we have quarterly rah-rah meetings (I've described them glancingly before) at which we're presented with awkwardly recorded messages from our higher-ups about how much money we've made for the company--not ourselves--over the past three months, intercut with whatever shitty song currently in the top 40 best serves the "team building" spirit, and other "inspirational" nonsense. The other day, they played us this video.

One woman I work with cried. I had to fight back tears, too, but my reasons were entirely different.

The video comes from this company called Simple Truths. A quick glance at their book list reveals such other horrors as Laughter Is an Instant Vacation, No Glass Ceiling, Just Blue Sky, Even Eagles Need a Push, and The Richest Man in Town (if you guessed his riches aren't money, you're right!). I'm intimately familiar with the QBQ (which, yes, I still do plan to get back to eventually), but there is so goddamn much of this evil crap.

It's no fucking wonder we're all insane.

PS One of the white men who makes more money than me who "presented," if you know what I mean, at this meeting closed his presentation with a Ronald Reagan quote: "Every new day begins with possibilities. It's up to us to fill it with the things that move us toward progress and peace." Which is funny for a lot of reasons, none of which I feel the need to go into, though I will mention that I wasn't even aware that he had ever opened his mouth without saying something about welfare queens.

*Which has the usual hilarious advantage of rendering the word "professional" even more meaningless, which would be good if it weren't pushing its application in the wrong direction.


miguel said...

This is an awesome post.

ms_xeno said...

Yes. Yes on stilts to all of this.

Yesterday the manager at my temp gig haggled with me over whether I'd REALLY earned that 3/4 hr. of overtime that I'd placed on my timecard.

Uh, yeah, Dude. I did. And if I have zero dignity in haggling over it, how much less do you have in trying to convince me that I must have totally imagined coming in early (at your request) two days this week? Go read the damn paperwork that your overlords make us fill out every damn day. It's all there.


zencomix said...

If he's not getting paid for all the extra work, I do hope that Johnny The Bagger is using his celebrity status to at least get layed.

miguel said...

It just amazes me the gall of managers who try to get even the lowest grunt to take on the firm's goals as their own.

The worst in memory for me was this egregious law firm for which I was a proofreader. These guys were always on the wrong side of everything. I will never forget the time, my manager, a pretty small player in her own right, charged into the tiny office where I labored with 3 other readers (one of whom chain-smoked) and shouted 'We Won!'. The defendant in question was Union Carbide, being sued by victims of the Bhopal disaster.

miguel said...

Should have said the client was Union Carbide.

Anonymous said...

funny how your post made me think of Forrest Gump. corporate america telling us the model citizen, i mean worker, is a retard. (sorry! i know, not the preferred nomenclature). & the model consumer is soul-crushingly desperate for human contact, an emotional retard.

Randal Graves said...

It's no fucking wonder we're all insane.

Heh heh.

We've got a two-part, four-hour customer service training gig (read: 240 minutes of doodling) coming in December, and this would be perfect.

I can't wait to start leaving inspirational phrases in the books I check out.

Miguel, situations like that are why it's good to have a bucket of rotten veggies handy.

Justin said...

Oh, that is sick. Oh, God. I am dieing.

I have to go puke my guts out now.

davidly said...

Not that it should necessarily make one feel any better, but the story is without a doubt apocryphal.

The putting of a "personal signature on the job" in this case most probably involved the conception and creation of the video itself.

DPirate said...

"...but in my experience, a quality a large majority of them share is a sort of earnest eagerness..."

Well, in my experience, a quality a large majority of them share is excessive public masturbation. He should have started doing that for his customers.

Anyway, hilarious post.

Rachel said...

Nice one. Tangentially related: I was in Microcenter yesterday and the person in line ahead of me was checking out his large pile of computer equipment. The lady at the register noted the little bar code stickers which the employees place on any item they've helped you find, so they get their discount or credit or whatever, and said "so NAME helped you with these?" The person responded somewhat huffily "Well, one or two. Then he went and put the sticker on everything." I laughed and asked him what, exactly, was the problem with that. He admitted he didn't know. The conditioning goes deep.

Christopher said...

I wonder where this idea came from that I as a customer want or need anything more from a Bagger then competent Bagging.

I suppose it's not surprising that management would be attracted to the idea that they could make more money without any spending or even any effort whatsoever on their part, but I wonder why the rest of us put up with it.

miguel said...

I wonder why the rest of us put up with it.

It's not like everyone has a choice, particularly if you are low-skilled in a tanking economy.

One of the weirder variants on Johnny the Bagger behavior is this love affair that some youngsters are having with Apple, such that, in addition to spending double on hardware and signing up for the world's shittiest phone service, actually make viral advertisements about things to do with your Iphone, Mac, Ipad and hang out on blogs beating up on anyone who suggests that Apple or Steve Jobs are less than perfect. Off the top of my head, I can't think of any other company that inspires this kind of lunacy. I guess you can see Apple as the ultimate success story in terms of squeezing out uncompensated work. They even get it from their customers.

I guess Amazon, with its 'community' of reviewers has accomplished something similar.

Ethan said...

Thanks people!

ms xeno, I second your "shit." A whole load of shit, in fact. Your mention of your overlord's overlord brings up some interesting stuff for me, by the way, which I may be writing about soon. Rather than going further into it now, I'll just say thanks for calling it to my mind.

miguel--Holy shit! "We won!" Atrocious. It's as if your manager was deliberately trying to help you and your group feel solidarity with the Bhopal victims. And, again, "a pretty small player in her own right," this is interesting stuff.

anonymous, yeah, "retard" is perhaps not the most felicitous word, but from the perspective you're analyzing here it makes perfect sense.

davidly, yes, since you mention it you're probably right that the story is wholly fictional. But yeesh, the minds that make this shit up, and the minds that buy it. Depressing.

Rachel, obviously, the problem is dishonesty. That evil worker was lying to the company that provides his employment. Unforgivable. I think the best thing that ever happened to me back when I was a bank teller was when someone came up to my window and said "I'm only here to open an account, and I know I could go straight to a banker, but I wanted to make sure someone got referral credit for it."

Christopher, in this case I think the reason people "put up with it" is the crushing isolation most of us feel in our society. The conditioning Rachel mentions plays into it as well. Have I mentioned that I find all this pretty deeply depressing?

Ethan said...

miguel, sorry, cross-posted. Excellent points.

Tangentially, the thing about Apple devotees who hang out on blogs beating up on anyone who suggests that Apple or Steve Jobs are less than perfect really rings true for me. Recently I tried to find a good substitute for shitty itunes that would work well on my shitty mac, and it was nigh impossible, not least because any time I found a forum where somebody asked about alternatives, every response would be "Why, what's wrong with itunes? It's pretty perfect!" Even when the original poster would respond with something like "It just doesn't suit my needs, I'm interested in alternatives" they would get responses like "Well, why don't you say exactly why it doesn't suit your needs, I'm sure itunes can accommodate them in ways you don't even suspect!!!" Fuckers.

miguel said...

I think what it comes down to is that people want to be creative, to feel they have an impact and to be recognized for their gifts and that this need is more compelling than money. They are indifferent to whether or not their extra effort helps the company.

gihoul said...

It's as if your manager was deliberately trying to help you and your group feel solidarity with the Bhopal victims.

It was nothing nearly as benign as that. 'We' meant the firm and Union Carbide, who 'we' were representing in the dispute. While Union Carbide lost in various forums, in the actual case we were working on, they got what they wanted. I really didn't express myself well in my first comment and still may not be.

The short version is the good guys lost and 'We' (the lucky employees of a truly disgusting law firm) won.

miguel said...

oops. seems I entered the captcha text for my name to in my last comment. Gihoul has a nice ring to it, though.

Anonymous said...

OMG, spam at 9:52 is perfect!

Ethan said...

Oh man, anonymous, you cross-posted with me deleting it. I would have left it for you! But here, let me copy and paste it from my email notification, because yeah, it was perfect.

Coach Outlet Online said...
I also think the "csp" stands for Customer Service Professional,and it is very important,becase of...To the customer's first impressions are important.

miguel, "gihoul" is great. On the substance of your post, I should clarify that I meant that it seemed your boss was trying to promote solidarity by being a living example of how awful identifying with the company, rather than its victims, is. You expressed yourself perfectly in the beginning.

JRB said...

Wow, Ethan. We need to get your writing in front of everyone who earns a paycheck.

Maybe you could work on printing some of it out as a supplement each pay period.

miguel said...

Wow, Ethan. We need to get your writing in front of everyone who earns a paycheck.

I second that. I love that you write about work -- it's done too rarely -- and that you do it so well.

Ethan said...

Thank you both! I'm glad you like it, because I'm planning on writing more about work than I have been.

JR, your joke is more appropriate and hilarious than you probably even think.

JRB said...


You are very welcome.

Hattie said...

Nice blog you've got here. I could not watch the video, though. I hate heartwarming crap.

Anonymous said...

It's Johnny the Bagger®, not Johnny the Bagger.