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Opinion >  Column

Front Porch: Readers agree, customer service has crossed to intrusive

Sometimes a column strikes a nerve and my previous column on over-friendly customer service folks inquiring about my plans for the day seems to have jangled several.

More than a dozen readers wrote in response and many more commented via Facebook. It seemed everywhere I went last week, people wanted to weigh in.

The consensus? The vast majority of responders are annoyed as heck. While nobody objected to friendly greetings – “Any plans for tonight?” sparked widespread irritation.

Here’s a sampling of the feedback.

Daniel wrote, “I too have always wondered who thought it would be a good idea to engage their customers in this type of conversation. It sure seems to be the latest effort by many businesses to earn our patronage. I find myself actually avoiding a certain bank and grocery store for this very reason. Hopefully the Powers That Be who dream up this stuff read your column today!”

Nadine opined, “I thought this new habit with salesclerks, bank tellers, grocery store cashiers, waitresses, baristas was only driving ME insane! I am appalled when these perfect strangers ask me what I’m up to today, what am I doing the rest of the day, where do I work, what do I do there, who am I buying this for, am I preparing a special dinner for someone, what are your weekend plans, what did you do over the weekend, etc.”

And Sue responded via Facebook, “Finally someone wrote about this most annoying part of my day! Would they really want us to sit down and tell them about what’s happening in our life?! Stop the madness.”

Even better, readers suggested their own replies for this invasive query.

Ed wrote, “When I am asked what my plans are for the day I usually reply ‘I’m open, why? Did you want to do something later?’ Then I just watch them sweat.”

Florence said, “I find it is easy to look slightly surprised and say, ‘Why do you want to know?’ or ‘Why do you need to know?’ ”

And Elizabeth posted via Facebook, “I tell them I’m headed for a pap smear.”

I’m not sure if I’m brave enough to use that one.

My family weighed in as well.

My brother Jon offered this reply, “Why? Did somebody say something? If some rat talked there’s gonna be trouble. Remember, you didn’t see me here today, right?”

And my oldest son, who works in customer service and strongly disagreed with my column, still supplied this response, “When someone asks what your plans are for the day, tell them, ‘After this, I’m turning myself in.’ ”

How awesome is that?

However, the column was not universally embraced. In fact, I received a note with the subject header “Curmudgeon.” Of course, I assumed I’d mistakenly gotten Doug Clark’s mail. But no, the note was intended for me.

Reader Bob was not pleased with the column. Not at all.

He wrote, “Ms Hval (Not addressed to ‘Cindy’ as I don’t want to be too friendly), I must admit up front I’m not a consistent reader of your column but your Thursday column on people asking about your plans for the day really took me by surprise. Your exasperating experience of grocery shopping after a tough day and having to deal with a friendly checker really disappointed me. Why? Because she/he was making an effort to make Spokane a community of caring people. You came across like some snooty big wig, too busy to have a friendly chat with the low-life checker. I personally want MORE friendly Spokanites and fewer people resting on their 7th grade laurels. Just a note of concern to a city leader??”

Understanding that not every column will resonate with every reader, Bob’s note didn’t offend, but two of his comments puzzled.

One: His assumption that the grocery checker was a “low-life.” That’s a generalization I would never make about this nice, though very chatty young lady.

And two, the day a newspaper columnist is referred to as a “city leader” even WITH question marks included, is a day that fills this journalist with absolute horror.

That said, I can’t deny I’m pleased to discover I’m not the only one that dreads the “What are your plans?” query. However, I have to admit that a short time after the column ran, a Subway employee asked me this very question at the end of a brutally long day, and my mind went totally blank.

I couldn’t even muster the obvious, “Plans? I’m going to take home this dinner to my teenage son and feel like a bad mother for not cooking tonight.”

Instead, I just shook my head and smiled.

If you need me I’ll be resting on my seventh-grade laurels – which is about as comfortable as it sounds.

Contact Cindy Hval at She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” Her previous columns are available online at columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

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