Personalised service? No thanks


I went to Starbucks last week.
I dont visit the “bucks” very often recently, I find their coffee average and overpriced, and their sizes far too big. I prefer independent coffee shops or “proper” Italian coffee chains like Vergnano (the best espresso in London if you ask me. Mr Vergano can you sponsor me? I need money for a play…)

But it was a rare sunny day (it’s been raining for weeks) and I fancied a frappuccino, so I walk into Starbucks and, having learned my American coffee vocabulary ages ago, I confidently order a tall frappuccino light with an extra shot. I pay the ridiculous price asked for this pale version of a “granita al caffe” and I’m about to walk towards the drink corner, when I’m stopped by the guy at the counter. “Hold on, ma’am”
“Yes?”
“What’s your name?”
“Sorry?”
Since this guy is about 17 years old, I’m wearing no make up and I look like a zombie fighting my second cold of the week, I am pretty sure he’s not trying to chat me up. Also, on a second look, the boy is gay.
“Can I have your name?” he repeats. He’s American. Americans are friendly, aren’t they? So I actually give him my name.
“Lara”
“Awsome, Laura,” he says writing my name with an extra U on a plastic cup and passing the cup on to the barista. “Your drink you’ll be ready shortly. Please collect it on the other side.”
So off I walk to the other side where I find a queue of people, your average mix of business folks, tourists and students.

“Michael!” The barista shouts. “Grande caramel latte with double cream!”
No answer.
“Michael! Michael!”
A fat chap in a crumpled suit, shily lifts his hands. “Yeah, it’s me,” he whispers.
Everyone turns. Oh oh oh Michael.. Double cream? Really?
“Rebecca! venti skinny latte soya milk!”
“Houng-cha! Tall chocolate no cream!”
I look at a student sat at a table with laptop and ten books: she looks like somebody who’s been living in Starbucks for the last six months.
“What’s this calling first names business?” I ask her.
“Personslised customer experience.” she says. “They started a couple of months ago. Apparently they want people to feel at home”.

This is bad news. I don’t go to Starbucks to feel at home. In fact Starbucks, like McDonalds, or Subway, are the typical places you go in for a totally quick, efficient and comfortably anonymous experience. Mostly feeling ashamed to be there…
When my turn comes
“Lara, tall frappucino light extra shot!”
I feel slightly violated. It’s my name, who gave you permission to shout it?Only it isn’t because I’m not called Laura, but it still felt wrong.

Anyway, I promise myself never to go to Starbucks again and walk out.
A week goes by. So today, having finished my lessons at the Actors Centre earlier, I opt for some window shopping. Anthropology, one of my favourite stores, has sales on. I see a dress I like and decide to try it on.

At the changing rooms there’s a queue, common enough.
They have provided a big bench for people to sit on while waiting. Nice.
A shop assistant arrives and walks to the first lady in the queue.

“Hello, my name is Sarah, I’m here to help!” She says in a strong American accent.
This is starting to feel spooky. It’s true I haven’t been out much lately but have we been colonised by a group of 17 years old looking androids in American accents?
I’ve never before been introduced to the girl who counts my items at the changing room’s entrance. Usually they look bored, grumpy and uninterested, which is just fine, since I’m not there to have a party with them.

“So sorry about the waiting,” Sarah continues. “Please follow me.”
I notice Sarah is wearing an earpiece with a microphone on one side, like security guards at concerts.

The lady stands up and follows her.

And this, is when it happens:
“What’s your name?” Sarah asks.

AAAAAH!!!! HELP!!!!

Why am I supposed to surrender my personal details in order to try a t-shirt on?!!!

The lady, taken aback, mumbles something.

“Ashley is trying three items!” Sarah shouts. Another shop assistant appears and writes ASHLEY on the door of the changing room with a felt pen before ushering her in.

Two minutes later Ashley pokes her face out and again mumbles something.

“I need blue t-shirt in size 16 for Ashley!” Sarah screams down her microphone.
I’m sure poor Ashley is delighted we all know size 14 is too small for her.
Oh Ashley, Ashley… You should join Michael at Weight Watchers!

The bigger t-shirt arrives. Ashley disappear inside the changing room. But Sarah, prophet of Personslised customer experience, doesn’t give up.
She knocks at the door.

“Ashley? Is everything ok?” She tweets mellifluously.

I decide I don’t like that dress that much after all and try to stand up to leave, but somebody stops me.

“Hello, my name is Sarah, I’m here to help, sorry about the waiting, please follow me. What’s your name?”

It’s too late to run but it’s not too late to lie….
So I give her the name of a fictional character from the soap Guiding Light.

“Harley Cooper”
“Awsome. Harley has one item!”
The dress doesn’t fit me, which is a relief. I’m about to slip back into my jeans when I’m aware of a voice yelling outside my door.
“Harley? Harley is it all ok?”
Oh, yes, of course, Harley is me, I’ve totally forgotten.
“Too big”, I say returning the item.
“Oh, how disapponting Harley, i’m so so sorry. But have a nice day!”

Sarah gives me a smile full of good tidings and erases the name Harley from the door.

Next time I’m asked for my name in a shop I’ll say Annamariadelfiore Vercingetorige The Second.
Now try and fit that onto a plastic cup…

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2 thoughts on “Personalised service? No thanks

  1. Pensa che per anni ho usato proprio il nome Laura per salvaguardare la privacy e per evitare che mi chiedessero lo spelling ogni volta. In biblioteca a NY poi (dove volevano nome e cognome) ero sempre Laura Taylor! 🙂 Adesso invece mi sono abituata, non ci faccio piu’ caso e uso sempre il mio vero nome. E cosi` da Anthropologie (che e’ uno dei miei negozi preferiti) sulla porta del camerino mi e’ capitato piu’ volte di vedere PEOLA!!! hahaha :-))

  2. cara la(u)ra, già sei anni fa a san francisco mi sono rifiutata di andare da “bucks” per chè mi scocciava dare il nome, oppure se proprio ci cascavo dentro, dicevo anche io “taylor”. Ma che scocciatori, altro che servizi personalizzati….

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