The Special Treatment Crisis

Whole Foods insists on giving every customer special treatment. The problem is that if you’re making those special exceptions for everyone, they’re not “special” anymore.

Every Whole Foods customer thinks they are better than every other Whole Foods customer. Every Whole Foods customer feels that they are above the rules and normal procedures and codes of conduct. We have those rules and procedures for a reason- namely, we need them to operate- so when we make exceptions to them so often, we find ourselves unable to function. We can’t go home to our families at 10pm because our closing time is 9:00, but we allow customers to come in at 9:10 and putz around for 45 minutes before we’re allowed to start closing. One of the store higher-ups told me that “We want customers to know and count on the fact that they can come in after our official closing hours.” We throw away half of our batches because even though they’re perfectly good and made recently, every customer wants their order to be from an even newer batch. We allow them to steal from us because we’re so afraid of making them angry and losing their business (note the irony: they’re stealing from us so they’re not actually giving us business in the first place.)

We end up at a loss because we are required to say “yes” to every request but we have limitations that make it physically impossible for the answer to be “yes” sometimes. We want so badly to be able to explain that the answer is no because of our clearly-stated policies, but those policies mean nothing to people who think they are above them. And those people are everyone who shops here. And that is the case because we encourage this mentality by exceptions for them every time.

Remember when you were a kid and you asked an adult to make an exception to a rule for you?  I.e. “Mr. Smith, can I have two ice cream bars?” And the answer was something like “I’m sorry Emma, I can only give each person one ice cream bar because otherwise there won’t be enough for the whole class.” Whole Foods demands that we always say yes to these requests, but it also demands that we have enough for everyone. Because I’m already making the largest possible batches I can, I have a limited amount of everything to go around. Customers are constantly asking me for free extras in their meal, and I literally have to explain to them “I’m sorry, I can’t give you a free triple-helping of the smoky kale because then I won’t have enough for everyone else.” AND THEY DON’T GET IT. They don’t think that reasoning is valid. They don’t give a fuck about whether or not I have enough for everyone else, because they are convinced that they are more important than everyone else. Because we allow and encourage them to think that way.

They will demand that we cut up a piece of grilled salmon and give them some to sample and throw the rest away (as is our policy.) If we did that for everyone, we would throw away all the salmon and sell none of it. But the reality is that this is what almost everyone is demanding every day.

They will ask for two pounds of Javanese Tofu and Bell Pepper salad and ask me to pick out all the bell peppers for them. (Honestly. All the time. I would be so embarrassed to be an adult asking someone to pick the vegetables out of my food for me.) So by the end of the day, it’s bell peppers with a few odd pieces of tofu.I can’t sell that.

They will expect to be served at 2:30 even if they know the lunch pop-up shuts down at 2. I’ve missed meetings and deadlines because of latecomers demanding to be served.

Obviously I think we should truly do our best to take care of people and provide great customer service, but our extreme over-zealousness in this arena has lead to a dystopian shitshow. We are not doing customers a favor by feeding their massive entitlement complexes, because then they get exponentially more upset when we inevitably are truly unable to make an exception for them. (Like today when a customer demanded tuna salad and I explained that we were completely out of both the finished product and the ingredients needed to make it, and she reacted like it was the zombie apocalypse.) We are making it impossible for us to function because there is no “normal” once all of our procedures are out the window. There is a limit to how much we can bend over backwards. Our backs are breaking, individually and collectively, which means we need to start drawing a line. Our company, however, wants to do nothing of the sort.


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