MPR News  for Headlines, Weather, and Stories Dale Connelly Reporting Home
Dale Connelly Reporting
Dale Connelly Reporting
Return to Dale Connelly Reporting show index

There's more from Dale Connelly at The Morning Show


by Brick Walters, 3/10/00

Dc: Congress seems intent on changing a Social Security law that currently discourages some retired people from working. Under the existing law, seniors aged 65 through 69 are penalized for each dollar they earn over an annual amount of $17,000. The House has already voted to drop this restriction. The Senate is inclined to follow.
This is good news for older people who want to work, but it could prove to be troubling for modern families who are unaccustomed to customer service. Brick Walters reports.

Brick: Samantha Cummings and her two children, Amy and Billy, enjoy an occasional trip to the HandyMart hardware warehouse.

(sfx: large retail establishment)

Samantha: A lot of times, on a dreary day we come over here to look at things. We test the screen doors. We sit on the riding mowers. Sometimes we watch them mix paint. It's not great entertainment, but with a three and four year old, it's a lot better than what's on television.

Brick: But the little family was taken aback one day when they ran into the HandyMart's official greeter Hugh Turner.

Hugh: (older fellow) I'm a retired gentleman. Sixty eight. I remember a time when service meant service, you know? So when I see 'em comin', I'm sure to get out there and shake their hands and ask if there's anything I can do for them, and try to direct 'em around the store.

Brick: And how do they respond to that?

Hugh: They seem stunned at first. Suspicious. But I give 'em a store map and talk to 'em a bit. They settle down. Usually.

Brick: I heard you were stalking the customers.

Hank: I keep tabs on 'em, if that's what you mean. To see if they found what they were looking for, try to help solve their problem. That's all.

Brick: It's a level of service Samantha Cummings is not used to. She says it gives her children "the creeps."

Samantha: They say "Mommy, mommy, who's that strange old man? And why is he following us?" I try to explain that he works at the store and he's being helpful, but they don't understand why someone who works in a store would … do that." It frightens them.

Brick: Samantha took her concern to the HandyMart's assistant manager, Alan Anderson.

Alan: I said "whoah." I'm like … this is NOT what I'm here to do. I don't get paid enough to deal with stuff like this. Ignore the dude is what I told 'em.
It's what I tell everybody.

Samantha: And when I saw how uninterested he was in addressing this problem … I immediately relaxed. And so did the kids. We felt like we were back in the HandyMart we knew.

(sfx: large retail cross fade with fast food bg)

Brick: And as potential Social Security rules changes allow more seniors to move into low paying jobs throughout the economy, they're bringing with them their own expectations of customer service. As a result, discomfort is growing on both sides of the counter, and employers are stepping up their efforts to face the changes. Ron Friar runs a MegaBurger outlet near a local high school.

Ron: Mabel is a great employee. We like her a lot. Learns quick. We did have to do some training. I had Tiffany teach her to scowl. And she picked it up right away, huh, Tiff?

Tiffany: She does OK. I guess.

Mabel: (brightly) I was too cheerful at first. It was confusing for the customers!

Tiffany: (dull) What's that? How's that go?

Mabel: Sorry. (dull) I was confusing the customers. Here's your change, dude.

Tiffany: Don't look 'em in the eye!

Mabel: Oops. Sorry.

Brick: Will these senior citizens re-entering the work force be able to provide a more modern style of customer service? Results are mixed. For Hugh Turner, the effort is exhausting.

(sfx: large retail bed up)

Hugh: I grew up believing it took fewer muscles to smile than it does to frown. So I give service with a smile. It's easier.

Brick: But the customers don't like it, do they.

Hugh: You should see em avoid me when they come in the door.
So I try to look glum and sullen, you know? To prove to them I work there, but after an hour or so, my face gets tired. So I'm thinking of retiring again. This is wearing me down.

Brick: Out in the field, I'm Brick Walters.

(sfx: large retail bed out)

Dale Connelly Reporting Home


Minnesota Public Radio Home     Search     Email  
© Copyright 2000 | Terms of Use  |  Privacy