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I have had a rather unusual relationship with the people working at my local bank for several years. I spent so much time there (before the advent of online banking) it was like my second home. I got to know the tellers on a first-name basis and they knew all three kids, what they were doing, where they were living, and where to send all my money so the kids wouldn’t go belly-up.

They lived with me through all of Gill’s foreign schooling, her frustrating job searches, they knew when my dog died…they were family. We were on a first-name basis. But it was a real first-name friends basis. Not what passes for ‘friendly customer relations’ these days.

I walked into the bank last week (something I don’t do much any more, preferring to do business online) and looked around to see a familiar face. There weren’t any. Every teller was new. And young. And dressed for a night at the club. I waited until it was my turn and then I started to introduce myself, waving the cheque I wanted cashed in the air.

“Hi1 I’m Laurie and I want to cash….”

“Certainly, I’d be happy to do that. Just put your access card in the machine and I can help.”

“Why do I have to do that?  I’ve already written the account number and my signature on the back. And I’m a regular customer, have been for over 30 years.”

She glared. “I need your access card,” she intoned, no funny business allowed.

It took me five minutes to dig it out of my purse and pile it on the counter so I could sort it… what with all the old grocery store receipts, kleenexes, keys, makeup, dog treats.

“Ah, success!” I shouted, putting it in the machine. “You see? This is why I wrote all the info on the back of the cheque to speed things up.”

“Yes, well, that worked well, didn’t it?”

“So, Laurie, what can we do for you today?”

“I just told you. I want to cash this cheque.” And I wondered, given the surly tone this conversation was taking, why she felt she knew me well enough to call me by my first name…she, the young whipper-snapper, no doubt working at this, her summer job.

“Fine. I’d be happy to do that, Laurie.” While she typed in some numbers, she looked up and said, chirpiness personified, “And how is your day going so far, Laurie?”

What? What happened to surly? Did she forget she’d gone off-script and she just remembered her place?

“Well considering it’s just 8 a.m., I’ve spent the last five minutes doing inventory in my purse, and I don’t know you from a hole-in-the-wall, and you’re suddenly being perkier than anyone has a right to be at this hour (this from a perky person herself), I’ve had better days.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. Hopefully things will get better for you,” she said, looking emotionally crushed. “What are your plans for the rest of the day?” she persisted.

“Well, I think I’ll go home and take a couple of my daughter’s anti-anxiety meds for starters. Then I have some writing to do…I feel a rant coming on.”

“That sounds like a lovely day. Perhaps you’d like to have a piece of our Customer Appreciation Cake over there…and a cup of coffee? It might help the meds go down better…”

Incredulous, I snorted, “Yes…nothing like a little high fructose fructose and a shot of caffeine to fix me right up.”

“Well, we do like to let our customers know we appreciate their business and want banking here to be a pleasant experience. Now, on a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your interaction with us today?”

I clenched my fists, trying to get out of the bank without letting her know what I really thought. As I turned to go, I heard her trill, “Laurie, you have a great day!” Her thousand-watt smile seared through my jacket, leaving, I felt confident, a scar on my back.

When I told Gill of my latest banking experience, she waxed nostalgic. “Oh, I remember when you used to talk to Lucinda. She did some very shady things for you, Ma! Especially when I was at school in Scotland. Cut through a lot of red tape, she did. I loved her. And the cake they used to serve! I’d go over, have a chat with everyone there and spend a nice morning….a great Koffeeklatch! They knew all about my school, the parakeet, my Scottish boyfriend…I think I may even have introduced him when he visited.I had a real cozy feeling at the bank.”

“Yes, well…” I muttered. “Times have changed. I think I’ve finally been ‘outperkied’. And that’s hard to do at 8 in the morning. I may have to switch banks. And cake at that hour? Maybe they’re all on a sugar high.”

“No, Ma…it’s just their new policy — trying to be your new ‘bestie’…whoever you are!”

“I’m crushed. I liked it when they actually WERE my friends. Now I’m left with the distinct feeling that, if my house was burning down and they drove by, they’d rush over, not to help, but to make sure I’d filled in their latest customer satisfaction survey before I croaked. Then, having lost everything I own in the fire, my loan application would be denied because my access card had been charred and was unusable! Rubbish! Modern Customer Appreciation, Bah!”

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