Many of us have worked, or currently work customer service jobs as day jobs, side gigs, or on a temporary basis to finance a project or deal with an emergency. If you’re one of those, here are a few things that will probably resonate with you. If you haven’t, here are a few things you may not realize about the people who assembled your last fast food meal, rung up your groceries this week, or answered the phone the last time you called a business.
A customer service worker who apologizes for things that were not her fault, hurries to give a difficult customer his way, or otherwise reacts to entitled behavior by giving in to it is not truly saying “the customer is always right.”
We have all been waiting at a cash register, in a lobby, or on the floor of a store and seen someone behave in a way that made us wonder, “Why does the staff put up with that? Why don’t they tell them to get lost?”
What we have forgotten, at least momentarily, is that people who behave like this want to be told off, told to get lost, or challenged in some way. It provides them with more fuel for the scene they came there to cause. The staff member who pretends not to notice the behavior, or to give in to it, ruins the person’s bid for attention, and the dramatic story they were likely planning to tell later.
The worker is actually saying, “You don’t know how to behave in public and you’re wasting my time, now get out of my face.” They just know that the fastest way to get the person out of their own face, and out of the faces of all the decent, mature customers in the store is to let them think they “won” or “showed” that lowly customer service worker their superiority.
Messes and disorder in the store are more likely to be the result of the customer service worker doing what they have to do than a lack of motivation, skill, or attention to their job.
Reaching around abandoned boxes, or digging through items that have not been shelved properly, can make shopping especially annoying. It may be tempting to blame the people tasked with stocking and straightening the shelves for being lazy, careless, or just plain bad at their jobs.
But in most cases, the person did not leave the items in disarray to make your shopping unpleasant, or because they just didn’t care enough to finish the job. Retail workers have little control over their day to day tasks. It is not uncommon for a sales associate or cashier to be told to stock or straighten a shelf by one manager, and then told to abandon what they’re doing to move on to another task by a different supervisor, or even the same person. Since they’re in an entry-level position, they risk being written up or even terminated for arguing or ignoring the supervisor’s directions.
The person working as a cashier, greeter, floor associate, receptionist, dish washer, bus person, or other entry level service job may have an extensive professional background and/or be highly educated.
Traditionally, entry level customer service work is done by those who lack the training and experience to get any other type of job. But this is not always the way things work out in reality. An educated and/or experienced and skilled professional may have taken on a second job to make ends meet, earn extra money, or fund a project or vacation. They may have lost the job they wanted, and need to do any honest work that brings in a paycheck.
When I worked at Walmart, I did so with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theater, a Master of Arts degree in Literature and Creative Writing, and ten years work experience as a reporter. There was only one newspaper, one magazine, and one radio station in the town where I lived, and none of them were hiring or working with independent writers at the time. I had been searching for and applying for college teaching jobs, but until I found one and got hired in April of 2015, I needed a paycheck.
My fellow “unskilled” workers included a man who worked as a greeter as his retirement job after decades of experience in the mining industry, and a cashier who was there to work a summer job between terms as a high school teacher and Ph.D student.
Some customer service workers are reprimanded for helping customers while on their break. Look for a name badge rather than just the uniform.
When searching for someone to help you in a store, it may be tempting to approach the first person you see wearing the company uniform and ask them for help. But if the person is away from a desk or counter but sitting down, standing around the side of the building, or walking toward the restrooms or break room, they may be unable to help you according to their workplace policy.
Some corporations set strict rules for when workers are permitted to take their breaks. They are then sent on those breaks by their supervisor, and must take them during the time directed. If the company mandates that all workers take a ten minute break after every four hours on the clock, the workers may be required to leave the floor exactly four hours after clocking in, and remain off the floor for exactly ten minutes.
In addition to behavioral clues, such as the person sitting at a table or against the building outside or rushing toward the back of the store, look for the person’s name badge. In some places, workers are asked to remove their name badge when they are on break or off the clock. If you still can’t tell, ask politely, and graciously accept their answer if it turns out they are on a scheduled break.
Tipping and gifts could cost the person their job.
It is a cashier’s job to scan your purchases, total your bill, take your money, give you the correct change, and if there is no bag person, place your items in a bag in a safe and manageable order. It is not their job to carefully bag everything according to room so that it takes you less time to put your groceries away, to make sure your dog has his own bag, or to shut down their register because you forgot shampoo and need to run over and grab a bottle. But a lot of cashiers do…and yes, they do deserve a tip for going beyond their duties.
But in most places, you are not doing them any favors if you give them one. If the store or restaurant has a “no tipping” policy, management considers it the responsibility of the staff, not the customers, to maintain that policy. You will never be reprimanded for offering a tip, but any cashier or other worker who accepts it risks being terminated. Slipping it to them in secret does not help. There are cameras all over most stores.
If you have worked in customer service, or you currently do, you know all this already…but go ahead and share it to your personal page as a reminder for anyone you encounter at work who may not have had the…experience.