Artists know service work. We’ve taken cashier jobs to pay the bills while we worked on our paintings, cleaned offices while we wrote our novels, and delivered pizza to finance the making of our albums. Those of us with a second career in the food service/hospitality industry have bussed tables on our way up the ladder to a career as a party planner or chef, or worked behind somebody else’s counter before opening our own cafe.
But everyone has not worked a service job, and even those of us who have can forget a few details of customer service work, especially during the stress of holiday shopping and events.
Cashiers and wait staff are not responsible for the behavior of other customers.
Bartenders and wait staff can refuse to serve any more alcohol to someone who appears overly intoxicated. Cashiers, floor associates, and other retail employees can summon security if a customer appears to be stealing, harassing other customers, or creating some other kind of public disturbance. Pretty much anyone can also get a manager involved in these situations, and the manager might ask the person causing the issues to leave the establishment.
But that’s about it. The cashier cannot do anything about the person holding up the line because they decided to shop for stocking stuffers from those little shelves that flank the register. Your waiter can’t tell those parents who allow their child to yell “Mommy look at this!” twenty times in fifteen minutes that they need to teach their kid better manners because other people are here for their holiday shopping day breakfast too. And it is not the floor associate’s fault that the shopper who arrived two seconds before you decided to hold every sweater up to his face to see if it was his color, then throw it in a pile. Going online and complaining that the service was slow, the place was noisy, or the shelves were a mess will not teach the people actually responsible for the disruption a lesson. It will just reflect unfairly on the staff.
Customer service workers are not crushed when you throw a fit and then declare that you will never come back.
Recently, I stood on line behind a couple who seemed to be having some trouble finding and purchasing the gifts they wanted for the upcoming holiday. After complaining to each other, then snipping at the clerk for a bit, the man declared, “Never again!” as he stormed out the door.
Most customer service workers know that if they were to respond in this way, their manager would reprimand them, possibly write them up, and maybe even terminate them. But anyone who feels the urge to make the worker’s job more difficult, then declare that they will “never again” come into their workplace can go ahead and assume the worker’s thought is “Good. That means I never have to deal with you again.”
The person is not going to be crushed over losing someone who behaves this way as a customer. The loss of the one huffy individual will be more than made up by the many people who can now enjoy more efficient service, service that will encourage them to come back more, now that the person causing a disruption is out of the way.
The service worker is coping with the same holiday stress as you.
From your perspective, that person is part of the backdrop of your holiday. They’re part of your Christmas shopping trips, your traditional family holiday time brunch or lunch with friends. It’s easy to forget that you are interacting with another human being who is potentially experiencing all the joys and stressors the season brings, right along with you. Their stress is likely even a bit higher.
If the person is working their regular job, they are putting in holiday hours at a job that already requires them to be on their feet all day, obey barked orders from their supervisors, and deal with everyone else’s attitude. People who have taken temporary jobs for the holidays are just other people trying to have the best holiday they can in a culture that requires us to spend at least some money to participate in the festivities.
The impact your tip or gift will have depends on the person’s specific job.
Those of us who remember to treat everyone, even those we all know we could get away with disrespecting, with courtesy and dignity can still mess up a service worker’s day from the opposite direction. The urge to give the person a tip or a small gift is a great one, but be very careful when you do this.
If the person works in a restaurant, cafe, bar, or other establishment in which food and drinks are brought to you, you may absolutely tip them with cash. Give them the biggest tip you can. Service workers who work in fast food restaurants, retail establishments, or anywhere else that tipping is not expected any other time of the year may be forbidden from taking tips or gifts, and it will be the worker who gets in trouble for that, not the customer. In some places, you can even get fired for accepting a gift or a tip.
Whether you’re a fellow service worker, a former service worker, or someone who has never worked in customer service, let’s all look out for each other, this holiday season and beyond.
by Jess Szabo originally published on Artist Cafe Utica www.artistcafeutica.com