Sunday, November 23, 2008

Intimidation as a Marketing Tool

Remember the scene in "Pretty Woman" where Julia Roberts is sneered at (and worse) by the Rodeo Drive sales clerks? I'm sure that sort of thing goes on all over the place. Scranton is far from Beverly Hills in many ways, but I got sneered at in a day spa last week.

You'll be relieved to know that I wasn't dressed in thigh-high patent leather boots and a mini-skirt, and my hair wasn't three feet long, and my eyelids weren't peacock blue from lashes to brow. (Come to think of it, neither were Julia's.) I was dressed in a style best described as Decent Casual, which in my book is one step above jeans. I wasn't dressed expensively, because I never dress expensively. But my jacket was from Lands' End, and if the clerk had been so rude as to pull the neck of my shirt out to read the label, she would have seen Jones New York. (There would be no need to tell her that I bought it at Salvation Army.)

More to the point than my clothes, I think, was my demeanor. I was smiling, friendly, happy to be at the spa, where a friend was treating me to a massage. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think a cheerful, polite customer (or non-customer) deserves a sneer.

The person doing the sneering was a not-terribly-attractive woman with ugly hair and a middle European accent. I assume the accent is what landed her the job. I see this a lot. Somehow Americans got the idea that foreign accents are classy and intimidating. Want to staff your sales force with people who sound like they know more than the customers do? Hire some Brits. Want to make your spa clients feel inferior, perhaps to encourage big tips? (We've all seen it: people whose self-image inflates in direct proportion to the size of the tips they leave.) Put a Russian at the front desk.

As the sneeree, I was more amused than anything else, especially when my friend showed up and I told her the story, complete with accent. We had a good laugh. But it made me realize something. Since I do accents pretty well, I could have given Ugly Hair's right back to her. Next time I will. And won't that be fun.


Anonymous said...

That's just not fair. No one should ever be sneered at. That's kind of why I don't venture out much.

And you live near Scranton? I thought you were south of me for some reason.

Susan said...

I didn't mind, really. It made a good story. But I think intimidation is intentionally used in a lot of fields. Retailing, certainly. Some doctors' offices. Schools. Street gangs. :-)

Helen said...

I wonder if they teach it at business school?

Susan said...

I wouldn't be surprised. I know for a fact that a variation is taught in med schools. I'll write about that another time. Meanvile, I'm vorking on my occent.

Indigo Bunting said...

Oh, dear. A spa should be a very happy, sneerfree place.