Smile Project Winner #11: Lena, Walmart, Watertown, New York

 

Hello shoppers…

  

Watertown, New York, July 1st, 2010

 

Same location, 24 hours later

 

People who live so close to Canada have no right to be so happy.

They do. They are.

I was in the Watertown, New York area over the weekend to meet the staff at Service Plus Automotive, a new Buyosphere training client.

Watertown (pop 27,000) is 7 degrees colder than Des Moines, 16% more expensive and doesn’t have AE dip.

Yet all these people do is smile. Nutjobs.

Wherever I went - Stewarts gas station, Taco Bell, Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppe, McDonalds, Microtel – the employees always greeted me with a grin, and a “Hi, how are you?” Even the non-employees were sweet. I accidently cut off a guy as I was trying to navigate the city’s narrow, confusing streets. His response? He smiled, and waved me through.

It got so bad (good) that when I turned on the local AM radio station, I heard Clark Howard, nationally syndiated talk show host, tell a caller, “I’m so very glad and thankful that you have chosen to call me today. Please tell me how I might be able to possibly help you!”

In Iowa, we get Rush Limbaugh: “You’re next on the Rush Limbaugh Show, hello.”

This was confusing to my narrow, uninformed, stereotypical view of northeasterners as cold and distant.

So I visited the capital of cold and distant: Walmart. If I was going to find a frowning and ambivalent employee, it would be here.

Instead I found Lena - the smiling, engaging greeter at the Leray (just outside Watertown) Walmart.

The retail area was full of potential Smile Project winners. But Lena  – as one of the first Walmart greeters who has a) greeted me, and b) meant it, seemed especially worthy.

The worthy got worthier.

“I moved here from Florida,” Lena told me.

Whaaaaaat????

“It’s taken some getting used to,” she admitted, with the first really good understatement of 2011. “My son and daughter-in-law are in the Army and stationed at Fort Drum (nearby), and I wanted to be closer to them. So I came here.”

Okay, I get it. But still…this woman didn’t deserve $25, she deserved sainthood, and a show on OWN.

I gave her the $25, told her why and asked her why she was so happy, in an area plagued with it.

“I guess it’s the only way I know how to be,” Lena said. “I just love greeting and helping people. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t stand here for eight hours a day, doing it.”

I give up. These upstate New Yorkers are crazy (happy). And Lena is their leader.

  

Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am, on 1350, KRNT.       

    

Ways to contact Jonnie:

    

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Click to email Jonnie (jonnie@theunsecretshopper.com)    

Phone: 515-480-4190 

Smile Project Winner #10: Kirby Stolen, Kum and Go

 

Hello shoppers…

Welcome back from a glorious Christmas holiday, blanketed in postcard-perfect snow. (And here come 40 degree highs by Wednesday to get rid of some of that postcard stuff. YESSS!!)

If you’re feeling a little post-holiday rump-dragging sluggish this morning from munching on one too many (insert fav cookie/cake/pie/candy here), I’ve got a present for you: a visit to the Kum and Go at 1301 8th Street in West Des Moines.

The weeble-ey Monday after Christmas...

That’s where the infectious smile and engaging way of Kirby Stolen, Smile Project Winner #10, will pick you up before you’ve drug your keister to the counter to pay for your coffee and newspaper.

The 22 year-old Sioux City native has only worked at this Kum and Go since July, but she’s already taken ownership of her customers’ happiness and satisfaction.

“I just love taking care of people,” she told me last week, after I told her she’d won $25, and a place alongside 9 other winners.

She blew my mind when I came in two days earlier (I’ve been a regular there for about a month) to find her at the counter, holding a caffeine-free diet Pepsi in one hand and a Kit-Kat in the other.

The Jonnie Breakfast!

“I’ve got your breakfast right here!” She said with a huge, knowing smile.

Wow – now that’s service! (and slightly disturbing, to think somebody has me pegged that soon, who isn’t my girlfriend)

I came in Christmas Day, and there was Kirby, working by herself, greeting every patron with a smile and a “Hi!” She thanked everyone who came in for stopping in, and wished them a Merry Christmas as they left.

Wow II.

I asked her why she got stuck with working on Christmas Day.

“I volunteered to work it,” she replied. “I wanted Chris, the manager, to be able to spend today with his family.”

Wow I can’t count that high. 

Kirby (who also waits tables at Raul’s Mexican Restaurant, just down the street) says that Kum and Go “really pushes making a relationship with the customer,” and that she and Chris are “working hard to learn customer’s names.” And making a name for themselves, in the process.

Chris told me he’s trying to get this extraordinary woman, promoted. Good call; you never know when some crazy customer service trainer might come along and try to steal Miss Stolen.

But then, who would be there with a smile every morning, ready to hand me my soda and candy bar? :)

 

Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am, on 1350, KRNT.       

    

Ways to contact Jonnie:

    

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Facebook page    

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Twitter page    

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s blog    

Click to email Jonnie (jonnie@theunsecretshopper.com)    

Phone: 515-480-4190

Smile Project Winner #9: Bryan Bjorklund, Cinemark Movies 12, Ames

 

Hello shoppers…

Happy stinkin Columbus Day

I woke up this morning owing my hair a perm and Bryan Bjorklund $25: being in debt is no way to start a Monday.

I’m in arrears to the happy 17 year-old Ames High School senior because a) he smiled at me Saturday night while working the 8:40pm snack bar shift at the Cinemark Movies 12 in Ames, becoming winner #9 in The Smile Project (click here to read about more winners), and b) I didn’t have two tens and a five on me ($25 being part of The Smile Project’s award, along with being showered with blogging accolades) but told Bryan I’d hit a nearby ATM after watching the highly touted David Fincher flick, The Social Network.

Roger Ebert lied and so did I; forgive my terrible customer service, dude. I walked out and forgot all about you, blowing you off like I worked at American TV and Appliance.

(BTW, the performances in the very good but not epic biopic about the inventor of Facebook were solid (especially Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Timberlake) and Trent Reznor’s soundtrack was stunning but Aaron Sorkin’s script played a little too loose with the truth and the subject matter wasn’t quite as interesting as the movie wanted it to be.)

Bryan’s stand-out performance warrants repeated viewings.

The son of a career Navy man offered a quick and easy smile and naturally engaging manner at the snack bar, plus a reasonable explanation for both (not the snack bar – it’s pretty self-explanatory).

“I think kids that move a lot have to make friends faster,” said the 17 year-old, who has already called Hawaii and Maryland home. “You just learn to be happier around people.”

New Buyosphere recruitment philosophy: Hire happy transients. Train skills.

Bryan enjoys band and Boy Scouts, and has a particular affinity for swimming, which he hopes to parlay into a scholarship, albeit to a college smaller than Iowa State.

He’s already cashed in on that grin.

“A lady tipped me $5 because she said that nobody smiles anymore.”

Here’s another tip, Bryan: Keep the smiles coming, and the size of the paydays will keep growing.

Sorry for my bad memory, Bryan. Be happy you’re young. Wait – looks like you already are. :)

Meantime, check’s in the mail, kid and I’m the mailman – see you tonight.

(Note to self: write more notes to self) 

Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am, on 1350, KRNT.       

    

Ways to contact Jonnie:

    

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Facebook page    

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Twitter page    

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s blog    

Click to email Jonnie (jonnie@theunsecretshopper.com)    

Phone: 515-480-4190

Smile Project Winner #8: Manny Patel, Super 8 Motel

 

Hello shoppers…

                                                                    

If you’re a fan of Iowa, Iowa State, University of Northern Iowa and/or Drake football, you probably looked like this on Saturday.

 

If you’re a fan of warm, sunny, dry Iowa weather, you probably looked like this on Sunday.

 

  

 

 

 

If you’re a fan of presents, you’ll probably like what Jonnie’s got for you…

 

I hope it’s okay if I already unwrapped it.

“It” is Manny Patel, the owner of the Super 8 Motel on 5900 Sutton Drive in Des Moines, and the 8th winner in the Smile Project, which was started in May (click this sentence to read more about why, other than what I’m about to tell you) to reward any employee who smiles at me when I encounter them while they work. (Click this sentence to read about other Smile Project winners.)

Manny not only smiled at me when I met him at the Motel’s check-in counter, he also picked up my name off my sign-in info and then used it throughout our conversation, smiling all the while.

I was impressed and told him so, and mentioned how rare it is. He responded with a simple yet powerful explanation for all the glad-handling.

“When you greet people with a smile and their name,” said the Alabama native, “it gives them a welcome feeling that makes them comfortable. That makes a big difference in their stay with us.”

Indeed, Manny has been making a big difference in his Super 8’s overnight crashers’ experience since he started smiling, greeting, engaging, thanking and following up with them in 1997 (which also happen to be The Five Pillars of Great Customer Service which also also happen to be the foundation of my customer service training program – read more about it by clicking this sentence).

While this is no secret to his loyal patrons (“I’ve learned a lot of names over the years because a lot of people keep coming back here”), what is a mystery is Super 8’s Mystery Shopping program, which is done once a year at every Super 8 location in the country

“We usually score very high,” Manny said with a huge grin that never seems to leave his face, even when he’s not smiling.

Also smiling? Your Super 8 Corporate bosses and your loyal patrons, who know first-hand about your incredible warmth and kindness, Manny.

Now others do, too, on a day when we needed some good news.  

Thank you for the wonderful gift. :)

Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am, on 1350, KRNT.      

   

Ways to contact Jonnie:

   

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Facebook page   

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Twitter page   

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s blog   

Click to email Jonnie (jonnie@theunsecretshopper.com)   

Phone: 515-480-4190    

 

Smile Project Winner #7: Kay Roberts, Cambridge Court Apartments

 

Hello shoppers…

 

…and welcome to the start of the work week.

While we may be less than thrilled at the idea that next weekend is five times further away than the fun-filled one we just finished, there is light at the end of our tunnel – and you lucky blog readers don’t even have to wait till the tunnel ends to get it…

May I present the non-stop smiling face of Kay Roberts, Smile Project winner #7.

 

I met Kay – who has been renting 1, 2 and 3 bedroom dwellings for Cambridge Court Apartments in West Des Moines for about a year – while searching for a new place to call home; I didn’t have to get any further than CCA’s office to feel like I’d found it.

That’s where Kay greeted me yesterday with the sort of ingratiating smile, warmth and genuine desire to please that one normally associates with someone who is paid to sell a house, not rent out a 900 square foot two bedroom apt with cat deposit and optional garage. (Click to see how often Des Moines real estate agents smiled during similar visits.)

When I let the cat out of the bag and told her she’d just won $25 for doing what she likely does naturally and for free, Kay wasn’t buying – at first.

“Is this for real?” she asked.

I let Jackson and Lincoln answer for me.

Kay was equally surprised when I told her I’d only been smiled at seven times by someone in retail, since The Smile Project began four months ago. (Click to find out how it got started.)

“I can’t believe that.”

Tell me about it. (Click to read about previous Smile Project winners.)

What’s equally hard for the world’s unsmilers to understand is the complicated process which Kay uses to ensure that potential renters will see, feel and experience her grin.

“It’s easy. I just smile.”

I hope all retail frowners are taking notes.

Meantime, your endearing smile and contagious joy is enthusiastically noted here, Kay, on display for the blogging minions to see and not just those stopping in, seeking a place to call home.

For them, the garage may cost extra. But Kay’s smile is on the house. :)

     

Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am, on 1350, KRNT.      

   

Ways to contact Jonnie:

   

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Facebook page   

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Twitter page   

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s blog   

Click to email Jonnie (jonnie@theunsecretshopper.com)   

Phone: 515-480-4190    

 

Smile Project Winner #6: Bill Jack, Borders

  

Hello shoppers… 

 

 

 

Did you think that last night – while you were people-gawking at half-price night at the Iowa State Fair or relaxing in your backyard barbecuing while the kids threw around a frisbee or guffawing with friends watching Family Guy – was the last time you’d see a smile for a while, either on your own puss or someone else’s?   

Ohhhhh! It’s SO much fun when I get to give you a happy Monday morning present that blows all of that stuff up! 

May I present the non-bookish smile of book store employee Bill Jack, service manager for Borders at 4100 University Avenue in West Des Moines and Smile Project Winner #6. (Click to find out how the The Smile Project works, and how it got started.) 

 

Stop by Borders and enjoy Bill's "bookish" smile, that's anything but

I had the pleasure of being greeted by Bill’s Pulitzer Prize-winning grin while shopping at Borders for a bathroom/bedroom reader (short chapters for quick potty breaks, extra heavy to fatigue arms for rapid decent into sleep before scary closet monsters emerge). 

If you believe (as I did, until yesterday) that book store employees are mostly quiet, contemplative, unsmiling intellectuals, then you clearly don’t know Jack.

When I told Bill he’d just won $25 for doing something that is relatively rare in retail (only 60% of respondents to The Des Moines Customer Service Survey said they are smiled at while shopping) the Davenport native was pleasantly surprised, and wonderfully humble. (Click this sentence to take The Des Moines Customer Service Survey.) 

“It’s just the way I am, I guess,” Bill said. “I like to greet people with a smile because it makes them smile, and that makes me feel like I’m doing my job.” 

Bill has been doing his job at Borders for just under a year, and his philosophy about working there may have something to do with his Sharin o’ The Grin.  

“I’m happier at work than away from it,” he admitted. 

We’ll try to keep that a secret from your bosses at Borders, dude, just in case you’d ever want to negotiate a raise. 

As for keeping the rest of your feel – good smilin’ story buried in the discount stack, Mr. Jack? Too late – it’s now on everybody’s Monday best seller list. :) 

   

Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am, on 1350, KRNT.    

 

Ways to contact Jonnie:

 

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Facebook page 

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Twitter page 

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s blog 

Click to email Jonnie (jonnie@theunsecretshopper.com

Phone: 515-480-4190  

 

The Smile Project Winner #5: Meet Jim Kidd

  

Hello shoppers… 

 

"Welcome to raTget"

(Click picture to find out what “raTget” means.) 

 

A tourist’s trip to London usually involves a visit to Buckingham Palace, where attempts are made, sometimes successfully, to get one of the otherwise stoic Palace guards to laugh. (Click inside these parenthesis to read a clean but funny top 10 list of “Things You Don’t Want To Hear At A Tattoo Parlor,” that will make you laugh.) 

A shopper’s trip to Hy-Vee Convenience Store on Mills Civic Parkway usually involves a visit to the check-out counter, where any attempt to get the jovial Jim Kidd to frown will be an utter waste of time. 

Stop in and try it. I (fresh-baked) double dutch (cookies) dare ya. 

It will be particularly difficult now that Jim has been officially declared winner #5 in The Smile Project.  

As soon as I stumbled through the entrance to the Hy-Vee Gas Station at 665 South 51st Street in West Des Moines on Monday afternoon, temporarily blinded by the twinkle reflecting off Jim’s constantly exposed toofers, I figured we’d have a winning grin. 

All Jimmy had to do was keep his chortles super – charged, until I grabbed a snack and sashayed towards the counter…  

47 seconds and a counter-clockwise jaunt around the convenience store later, Kit-Kat and Diet Caffeine-Free Diet Pepsi firmly in hand, Whoomp! There it was! The big ole grin of big ole Jim!   

As he smilingly scanned my Kit-Kat bar, Jim said, with a voice that must be what Santa Claus sounds like if he ever stayed long enough to chat on Christmas Eve, “These are really fresh. I just put them out.”  

He could have told me they’d been air-dropped out of a helicopter that left Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory earlier that morning, and I’d have believed him.  

I quickly whipped a twenty and a fiver out of my wallet’s secret IN CASE OF SMILE compartment (To paraphrase Foghorn Leghorn, fortunately I keep my money numbered, for just such an emergency.), put the cash on the counter, and told Jim why I appeared to be overpaying for my candy bar and soda by $21.89. 

“You gotta be kiddin,” Jim Kidd(ingly) said through a smile that did the seemingly impossible, and actually increased in size. 

He turned and looked behind him at store manager Mike Barger, who was watching and listening in, wearing a pretty good-sized grin of his own. 

“Is this legal?” Jim asked the boss. 

“Sure it is,” Mike smartly replied, without feeling compelled to crack open the Hy-Vee manual, under Weird Blogger: Contests.  

I asked Jim what his title was. Before he could answer, Mike chimed in: “Chief smiler!” 

That’s a management position, Michael. Jim, I’m thinking that’s at least a 40% pay hike. How about you?? 

Jim told me he’d managed quite well in previous customer service positions, but that “this” – meaning “this greet for show, smile for dough” dealio – was something new. “Nothing like this has ever happened to me before,” he explained. 

It hasn’t happened to anyone, Jim, other than the smiling 4. (Click this sentence to read about winner #1.) (Click this sentence to read about winner #2.) (Click this sentence to read about winner #3.) (Click this sentence to read about winner #4.

Now watch, and enjoy, winner #5. 

 

    

Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am, on 1350, KRNT.     

  

Ways to contact Jonnie:

  

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Facebook page  

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Twitter page  

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s blog  

Email Jonnie at: jonnie@theunsecretshopper.com   

Phone Jonnie at: 515-480-4190