Almost every year, I’ll walk into the Talbots on Boylston Street, stride up that handsome staircase, make a beeline for the winter sale items and find my Mom a great deal on a birthday outfit. Talbots has been one of her favorite stores for as long a I can remember, and her birthday happens to coincide with the best sales of the year, so everyone wins. Usually, I don’t want to be bothered when selecting her gift. I know my Mom’s taste better than any salesperson, no matter how well-meaning, and after a full morning of walking and shopping, I really was in no mood to chat. Kira was wiped out too, and took the first available seat in the area. A salesperson quickly materialized and asked if Kira needed any help. She politely declined. Then the salesperson noticed me rush by to the jackets.
“Oh I can tell he is on a mission!” she said to Kira. Unamused and unwilling to engage, I ignored the comment. Of course it didn’t end there. “You just let me know if you need any help!”
In a bitchier mood or if I’d had more energy I might have used my standard reply: “Why? Do you really think you have better taste than me?”
On this day, as cold as it was turning, the sun still shined, and while tired I was not quite moody enough. Kira and I had had a delightful lunch on Newbury Street, and our hands were happily fatigued with carrying all our shopping bags. I paused, mustered a small smile, and said I was looking for a skirt and jacket outfit as a gift for my Mom. I might as well let someone else do the work, even if I’d likely have to shoot down three quarters of what was about to be recommended.
“Well we don’t have many matching skirt and jackets…” she began.
“Anything with a jacket is fine – just something that goes well together,” I quickly interrupted. My patience goes just so far. She could tell. She showed me a few options, which I explained were not for my Mom (a circle of half-inch rhinestones running around the neck will never be a good fit for my mother). My answers were curt but polite, swift and determined. She gave me a slight smile.
“I like that you’re so purposeful,” she said. Finally, someone I can work with. “What is your name?” she asked. I told her and she extended her hand, introducing herself as Nicole. Hey, it can’t hurt to have a friend at Talbots. She asked me more about my Mom and requested to see a photo to see what her build was.
‘Please don’t let there be nudes on my phone… please don’t let there be nudes on my phone… God knows what I’ve posted on Instagram lately…‘ were the only thoughts going through my head, but of course there weren’t. I found a few photos from our family Christmas and she said she looked so classy. I agreed. Nicole was winning me over, in spite of me having left my comfort zone long ago (I do NOT show family photos to random retail workers as a general rule). We came up with an outfit and walked to the register.
Nicole was pulling out boxes and tissue paper, about to begin the wrapping process, when she asked, “Do you want me to put this all in the box, or would you like to do it when you get home?”
I was just about to answer that I would do it myself when she replied for me: “I think you should do it yourself.” After all her polite help and beyond-the-normal customer service, I wondered if she was making a joke. “Let me explain,” she said. “I think you’re someone who wants to put your own energy into wrapping this gift. For your Mom. I can do it if you’d like, but…”
“No,” I said, “You’re right. I’ll do it. Thank you.”
It’s rare to have a genuine moment during a retail transaction. In all my years of working on the other side of the counter, I know. We become automatons of polite interaction, masters of fake smiles and fraudulent affection. But something about Nicole felt real to me. Even if it wasn’t, the thankfulness I felt was very much sincere.
That’s the sort of service that yields brand loyalty, and has kept me coming back to Talbots for years. Thank you to Nicole for adding to my Mom’s birthday experience.