Do you hear "Attention -- Bakery Department -- 2 -- 0 -- 0 -- â€"?
January 20, 2022 1:47 PM   Subscribe

Prompted by yesterday's supermarket discussion in the blue, I'm wondering -- does the Safeway in your area use this robot message when their phone rings? And why? An employee there once cued me to what's going on when...

...their background music is suddenly interrupted by the too-loud, recorded voice which says:
TWO" [or maybe ONE, or ZERO]
"< >"
...followed by sudden resumption of the music. Repeat. And... again.

Said employee explained that this means xx department has a phone call. My question is two parts; is this also the way at your local Safeway; and (bonus) anybody know why their corporate thinks it's a good idea? Not only does this wannabee-affluent chain cost too much, because of this acoustic irritant, I no longer shop there. Even though I kinda like it.

And based on the responses here, I may Write A Letter.
posted by Rash to Grab Bag (23 answers total)
Best answer: Had no idea it was because of a phone call (or what it meant at all), but yeah, all the Safeways I've been to in D.C. do that.
posted by General Malaise at 1:50 PM on January 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

Based on the phone system in our office, it could be announcing the line that the incoming call is "parked on".
posted by sarajane at 1:53 PM on January 20, 2022 [3 favorites]

When I briefly worked at a non-Safeway grocery chain, each department did not have it's own dedicated phone line. Instead, calls to the store's main number would ring at the customer service desk. The employee at customer service would answer the call, transfer it to a new line, put it on hold, then page the store over the intercom for the appropriate department to answer that line.

An employee in that department would pick up any phone in the store, punch in the line's number, and get connected to the caller.

I'm 99% percent sure that's what happening here, except instead of the customer service employee, there's a automated phone tree picking up and paging the store. The number is the line # to be entered when the employee picks up.

It's probably repeating over and over again because there are multiple callers, or it's programmed to repeat it until someone answers.
posted by arcolz at 1:54 PM on January 20, 2022 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Oh I get all that arcolz my bonus question is Why do they disrupt the ideally-pleasant shopping experience with this brutal announcement? There are nicer ways, for example some distinctive chimes, like in a classy old department store.
posted by Rash at 2:03 PM on January 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

So someone can answer the phone. The alternatives I can think of are to give everyone a store cell phone or to send someone physically out to find the person that needs to answer the call. Remember that for many departments the staff might be out stocking shelves, helping another customer, or who knows what.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 2:08 PM on January 20, 2022 [4 favorites]

Oh, the other alternative is the one they use at Home Depot: ring the department phone for a minute and then answer again and ask me who I’m trying to reach. Infuriating.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 2:09 PM on January 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I worked for Safeway, and every Safeway I've been to uses this system. If you hear an announcement for your department, you go over to your department phone and type in "201" or "202" to answer the call. The meat department could pick up the floral department's calls (because there is only a couple lines), hence the announcement to tell which department has a phone call.

If I had to guess, the reason for the announcement is that it can be heard from anywhere in your department. I wouldn't have been able to hear the single phone ringing from the back of the bakery or deli, but I could hear the announcement.
posted by Robocat at 2:10 PM on January 20, 2022 [6 favorites]

Using a robot means you can have fewer staff working the customer service desk? At my store employees that worked customer service were the highest paid non-management positions.

I suspect you'll probably get the most relief by talking directly to the manager of the store. They have the most to directly gain since their bonuses are directly tied to the customer numbers. They should know who's in charge of the intercom system and they may be able to adjust the relative volume of the robo-pages.
posted by arcolz at 2:10 PM on January 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

As soon as you mentioned it, I could hear it in my head. It does not bother me particularly. Everything else in Safeway I find very irritating though, so I don't shop there regularly, even though I could walk to the nearest one.
posted by radioamy at 2:59 PM on January 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

Do you get irritated by this (or even notice) when it's a *person* making a similar announcement over the intercom? When I worked retail for an office supply chain, phones were answered by whoever was free, and if it was a request for a different department, we'd just switch to the intercom and announce "copy center, you have a call on line X; copy center, line X". The music would fade in and out, but that was the point. It was a quick and relatively low-tech store-wide announcement.

The automated announcement seems like a straightforward solution, and I think arcolz is spot-on about keeping customer service costs down.
posted by enigmango at 3:00 PM on January 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

Yes, this is how Safeways (and many other supermarkets) handle their phone calls. It’s never even crossed my mind to become agitated by it (and certainly not enough to write a letter), and I’m guessing that my response is common enough that corporate headquarters isn’t terrifically concerned about the folks that are upset about it.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 3:33 PM on January 20, 2022 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Yes they do this at my Safeway but it's not one of MY reasons I would rather chew off a body part than step foot in a Safeway ever again.
posted by bleep at 3:44 PM on January 20, 2022 [3 favorites]

I work at a chain that was purchased by Safeway. While some departments do have dedicated lines (Press 2 for the Meat Department. Press 3 for the Deli...), if someone is not near the phone, it will ring back to the customer service desk. Then they'll pick up and announce whatever department to pick up on Line One or Two. It's not a recorded voice though sometimes one particular woman does yell too loud in her announcements.

Edited to say that my store has a basement where the supplies, break room, bathrooms, offices, production rooms, and freezers are, so at any given time we could be on either the upstairs sales floor or down in the production room. We never stay in one place, hence that is why we might not be near the phone.
posted by annieb at 3:57 PM on January 20, 2022

Best answer: I’ve worked at a national grocery chain (not Safeway) for the past 3 years. This is what I know about the in-store audio. The company that does the music has a tablet hooked up via an audio cable to the sound system. There are independent volume controls for music, announcements, and ads. We keep the announcement one fairly high, grocery stores are pretty loud places and we need to hear calls and pages. Phones calls are parked on lines until someone picks up that call from any phone in the store. In my stores, the automated system is for calls where the caller has selected a department from the menu as opposed to speaking with someone directly (other department or customer service).

Why is it so annoying? I wish I knew. There’s something about it that also drives me up the wall, especially when it takes more than one announcement for someone to pick up. I will say that with my company, there has been a problem with probably every single thing in the store at some point or another since I have been there. There are dozens of things that break or go wrong daily. And that’s a good day. There has never been a problem in any of my stores with the phone call announcements in my time there. If it’s not an active problem and there’s no way to save any money by changing it, it will probably never change.

If you are going to write a letter, do your research and get it to someone at a corporate office. Don’t try to address it with a manager or anyone who is actively in a store in any capacity right now. Covid is awful, we are all very short staffed because of it. We all have friends and/or family who are sick right now. So many people have had friends and/or family die this year. And it’s also making customers worse, we get screamed at way too often. Deliveries are a disaster due to manufacturers having supply issues (due to covid), warehouses getting gutted by covid, not having drivers due to covid, and we’re getting snow and ice storms where I am as well. Compared to all of these things, you may be hard pressed to find anyone who takes your complaint seriously.
posted by August Fury at 3:58 PM on January 20, 2022 [12 favorites]

Best answer: Back in my day when we did this by voice rather than robot announcers, some of the "departments" were actually page codes for things like "there's a truck at the loading bay", "money truck's here" (things you did not want everyone in the store to know about, for security reasons) or "get a manager out on the floor because there's potential trouble/trouble in progress". But we had no other way to communicate more than 10 feet, and yes it was jarring even to me when it interrupted the 40-minute loop of KRO-GRRRREAT RADIO! I had to listen to for 7 hours straight.

As to why Safeway is so determined to do this over the overhead PA and not radios or phone-to-phone intercoms like most other stores, it's probably cost. It's unlikely that they care how the customers feel about it.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:06 PM on January 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

On preview, I second everything August Fury just said. I've been in this business for over 30 years and I've never seen anything like this. I work in a store in an affluent area; we routinely have trouble getting people to work here because it's "beneath" the children in the area to work here part time. We have had people leave, get better jobs, retire, lose family members to this disease and not come back. We have Covid running rampant in our store right now (unvaccinated have been getting it bad, but even some vaccinated people are out). We can't get chicken in on a regular basis, and every day I have some woman having a hissy fit because we don't have split chicken breasts.

So yeah, an annoying announcement is pretty low on the ladder of concerns right now.
posted by annieb at 4:09 PM on January 20, 2022 [4 favorites]

To me, the Safeway one is so... normal and irrelevant that it's a non-issue. It's easy to tune out.

On the other hand, that very long Covid message that Walmarts in our area were using to interrupt the background music with for a while was getting to be a bit much. It seemed like everyone ought to know by, y'know... a lot sooner than they were still running it. But then... I forget that I'm in NW Oregon, and there are a lot of other places out there where people are still dumb enough not to mask, when I rarely see anyone out and about with their mask even under their nose anymore. Now, drive a couple hours east... and that changes, fast.

I seriously don't care about background announcements or music. Those are easy to tune out. Now, the continual "Can I help you find something?" pestering that seems to increase on a scale along with the more-expensive the store... that gets on my nerves REALLY fast. If I have a question, I'll ask. If I don't, leave me alone and let me shop. There are an awful lot of chains that I avoid based on that ONE THING alone. (Yet another unanticipated benefit of covid-times... retail is so understaffed, pestering customers is a low priority.)
posted by stormyteal at 4:27 PM on January 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yes, we get it in Safeways in the Seattle area as well. I don’t shop there that often, though they have a really good meat department and it’s very convenient when coming home from the transit center (when I’m not working from home, that is). Too expensive for everyday shopping.
posted by lhauser at 4:31 PM on January 20, 2022

One reason they'll go over the public address system is so people (probably leaders) from other departments can jump in if the call isn't getting answered by the department being paged. It's a reasonable idea when only one department might be busy at any given time and when team members in other departments have been cross trained or have previously worked in whatever department. In reality I think staffing levels are so tight everywhere that if even one person calls out everybody else is going to be scrambling, and IME more than one person calls out every shift. (I worked at Target, not Safeway, but retail is retail).
posted by fedward at 4:33 PM on January 20, 2022

It's so interesting to read that this bothers people, because I don't think I've ever really noticed it or paid attention to it much. But as I read your title, I heard it in my head as the exact robot voice you're talking about! So clearly it's made its way into my subconscious. I recently started doing some of my shopping with ear buds in playing some gentle comforting tunes because of overwhelm with the world and generally feeling overstimulated/fried, and it's been lovely. Just a friendly suggestion, albeit lateral to your question, so feel free to ignore.
posted by carlypennylane at 7:49 PM on January 20, 2022

I also think chimes or some other distinctive type of sound would make sense and be much less disruptive. I don’t think anyone is confused about WHY this is happening, but more why not have a better form of messaging. 3 chimes for the bakery, 2 chimes for the meat department, repeating a few times even to make sure it’s clear— rather than a surreal grating message. And to those downplaying this kind of issue as laughable, a pretty large proportion of society has sensory issues, and it’s not a frivolous concern when an already overwhelming environment like a supermarket has an added loud grating element. If you don’t experience those issues consider yourselves lucky!
posted by asimplemouse at 10:21 PM on January 20, 2022

Best answer: I used to live in Denver, and my local Safeway did this. It did not bother me but I can now hear it in the exact robot voice.

Like many others in this thread, I worked in a grocery store for about 5 years in high school and college -- it put me through college with no loans back in the late 90s when that was possible. I cashiered, worked at the customer service desk, and did whatever else needed to be done, and let me tell you, when you're hauling boxes of OJ or whatever out of the giant walk-in fridges/freezers in the back of the store, you can hear that an announcement is being made but often can't make out exactly what was being said. I assume this robot voice is at a volume and clear enough that most workers can hear it, no matter what part of the store they're in.
posted by jabes at 6:44 AM on January 21, 2022

Response by poster: Thank you, asimplemouse, for describing why this is too much for me. I never have a good response to those who breezily request that I "just tune it out." Easy for some, maybe (to whom the misophonia fuss is a mystery). What's especially grating to me about these particular announcements (and those in airport terminals as well) is not just the volume, but the repetition, and with this Safeway one especially, it's their tone, and I'm reminded of an old issue in the DC Metro system. People found the recorded voice hectoring passengers to "stand clear of the doors" condescending. Eventually, it was modified.

And thanks to all who responded from different locations, and with details about how other chains handle these announcements -- Safeway corporate's definitely the vector for my letter.
posted by Rash at 9:09 AM on January 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

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