I used to be indecisive…

…but now I'm not so sure

who did you say you were?

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Here’s another post from my Guest Blogger, Mother-on-a-Mission.

Mother-on-a-Mission lives in the country. Her mission is to perfect the art of being in two or more places at once.

I’ve written before about how much I enjoy a good latte (not too much foam is the key), so you won’t be surprised to hear that I was in a coffee shop recently. I don’t get out much so this doesn’t happen as often as I would like. It is also the reason why I have probably been slow to pick up on a new development in customer service. On this particular visit to a well known chain, I was surprised to be asked for my first name when I ordered my take-away coffee. Usually customers are just the one-shot-latte-to-go or the double-expresso, but on this occasion, the barista wanted my name, my first name. When I asked why, I learned that this was a new initiative to make the customer’s experience of buying a coffee a more personal one.

Personally, I’m not convinced that having a complete stranger holler your name across a coffee shop above the high decibel hiss of the milk frother does anything to make the experience any more personal than a friendly, but anonymous, exchange of order, money and cup. I like to be polite and friendly when I buy things, and I appreciate the same in return, but I don’t want to become best mates with whoever is serving me. Perhaps that’s a reflection of social attitudes in these cold northerly climes. Or it just shows me to be a curmudgeonly so-and-so. Whichever it is, I admit it made me uncomfortable. I like a genuine smile, a please and thank you and an efficiently produced coffee. I got the efficient coffee, but the rest of it felt fake and insincere.

My barista reassured me that I didn’t have to give my name, so I didn’t, and when I voiced some scepticism about how well the new approach would go down, he told me that most people liked it (so far). I retreated into the anonymity of the one-shot-latte but began to wonder if I was being too quick to write off this attempt to improve customer service. It might not be for me, but I realised others might enjoy the first-name familiarity when ordering their Americano or hot chocolate.

As I thought more, I realised there is one terrific advantage to this development.  The barista doesn’t ask for ID to prove you are who you say you are, so you can be anyone you want.

The next time I was in a branch of the same coffee chain, I decided to be Jo. I’ve always liked the name. It sounds capable and sensible at the same time as a little glamorous. The time after that I was Kate. Then I was Lotte. Next time, I quite fancy Ella. I’ve been careful, so far, to choose names that are easy to spell and say but in due course I’m thinking about moving on to something more challenging, Persephone for example.

And this to my mind is the beauty of coffee shops who want to know your name. I can be anyone. I can choose a name to reflect how I feel at that moment or a name to reflect the person I wish I was; a cool name, a famous name, a popular name, a fun name, an exotic name. I can be them all, sometimes all in the same day.

Does it matter that I’m lying to the people trying to give me the best service they can? I don’t think so. The name is just a different way of labelling the cup so I see no harm in it. However, I see that it might be confusing if I was a regular customer at one shop. Then people might wonder why Alice was calling herself Esther one week and Samantha the next.

A psychologist would no doubt say this points to all sorts of deficiencies in my character or some deep-seated flaw in my sense of self. But the truth is, it does no harm to the barista (far better than dealing with a suspicious customer worried about identity theft), it produces my coffee just as quickly, and it allows me to be whoever I want – for five minutes at least.

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