The other day, my wife and I were at a major New York electronics store, picking out a new dishwasher. The old one had punked out ten months ago and we were both a little tired of having dishpan hands.
We were fortunate to have had a friendly and knowledgeable salesclerk who guided us to an appropriate replacement model and set us up with a five-year warranty and free delivery. While she was entering our order in the computer system, she pointedly mentioned that I would soon be receiving an emailed customer satisfaction survey and that if I wanted to recognize her good service and keep her off the corporate shit list, I needed to give her a ten on a zero-to-ten rating scale.
"A nine rating," she explained, is a "failing grade."
"What happens if you get a nine?" asked my wife.
"I get reprimanded by management," she replied, adding that a few too many nines lands an employee on the street.
I found this news rather shocking—and highly suspect. I'd been handing out eights and nines to salespeople for years. I always figured that on a zero to ten scale, an eight or nine signifies pretty good service. I normally reserve the tens for clerks who go that extra mile; who wrangle you a special discount or do a little something to truly brighten your day.
I checked around a bit and found the dishwasher saleswoman was being straight with us. This is currently how a growing number of American retailers assess their staffs. It's either hero or zero. Nothing in between. Heaven only knows how many competent salespeople I've already tossed under the bus.
So, from now on, unless the clerk pisses on my shoe or sports a Nazi tattoo, I'm on board with a stack of tens.
But there's something bigger going on here, I think. Something wider-ranging and insidious. Something that's slowly and inexorably poisoning American culture. And that's the notion that the world is made up solely of winners and losers.
It's easy to blame all this on the reality-TV guy in the White House, who won that job by painting himself as the ultimate winner and all others as whiners, nincompoops and schlubs.
But this nasty trend precedes the last election. It precedes the helicopter parents worried about the ruination of their children's lives if they are rejected by the finest preschools. It precedes changes in college and professional sports that have eliminated the possibility of tie games. "Win-win" scenarios have become increasingly rare in all spheres of American life.
I believe this attitude reflects something amiss in our character. An almost genetic rigidity that simply cannot acknowledge shades of gray.
Anyway, this morning I emailed back the dishwasher saleswoman's customer evaluation. Of course, I gave her tens across the board, although I pondered for a moment giving her one nine and mentioning in the comments section that if management punishes her for that grade, they should be ashamed of themselves.
That was before it occurred to me that in a world of only zeros and tens, the only shame is in losing.