Customer Service does not mean Customer Servant

The holiday season is stressful for everyone. There are expectations to live up to, our own and those placed on us by others. There are schedules to meet. Winter holidays have the added stress of poor weather. Money is tighter, bills are higher. We get short and snappy at our loved ones and those around us. I get it, I really do.

On the other hand, however, there is something to be said for patience, and behaving like…well, like a human being. There seems to be a chasm between people and empathy anymore. Empathy and manners to be more precise. Manners were very important to my mother and her mother before her. Manners are something I have spent a lot of time and effort to instill upon my own children. It grates on my nerves when people behave like they haven’t a clue what manners are anymore. Even more so when it’s adults behaving like total dinks.

Case in point, as you may or may not know, I work as a cashier. The fancy title is “Customer Service Representative”. Doesn’t that sound flashy? Boil it down, my function is primarily cashiering. You bring crafty goodness to my register, I ring them through and apply all appropriate discounts to the items you have chosen. If you have a question about how to use a product or if you are looking for alternative suggestions, I can help with ideas, too. If you call and have a question about our hours, I can answer the call.  I love helping people, I do. I hate dealing with jerks, though.

I get quite a lot of nastiness dumped on me each day. People seem to mistake the role of a Customer Service Associate. The “service” part trips them up. It’s really not the best term for the role. Many people mistake service with servant. And when they do, they tend to treat the associate as less of a person, somehow. “Facilitator” seems more accurate. I facillitate the transaction between a person who wants a product with the store I work for who possesses the product. I am there to help, not to serve. The image people have about people in the service industry is that they are there to serve them, but, it’s inaccurate. We are there to help. When you are expecting someone to help you, you do not treat them like crap. Yes, I can be replaced by a machine or about a hundred people who also would like to work, but, they are not servants either.

One woman had passed through my line on her cell phone the entire time. She put her palm up when I had greeted her to let me know she was too important busy to reciprocate a cordial greeting. She continued to have her rather loud phone conversation as I rang though her items. At the end, I asked her if she had any coupons to apply towards her purchase. With a glare at me for interrupting her conversation, she put her pointer finger across her burgundy colored lips and shushed me. She proceeded to point this finger at her phone, glaring at me for the nerve I had to bother her. I did what I could and gestured at the total for her. She swiped her card and went on her way, so I thought. Twenty minutes later an enraged woman came bursting through the doors and stormed to my supervisor. She was indignant a coupon discount wasn’t applied to her purchase. She wanted my head on a spit because I didn’t apply her phone coupon to the $3.99 rubber stamp she’d purchased. The coupon…that was on the phone…that she was talking on…when I had asked her…nevermind. Yeah, that one.

Yesterday, held another gem of an example of the disconnect between manners and humanity we have rampant in society anymore. A man practically sprinted from the back of the store to my register with a cart loaded with loose canning jars. They rattled and shook ringing out their glass clinking chorus the entire time it took him to get to the register. He plowed right between a couple who were looking at the holiday decoration display, barely missing the lady. He made it to my register and began loading them up onto the counter, flinging them so they slid across the surface like an old timey barkeep sliding a scotch on the rocks to the beleaguered cowpoke at the end of the bar. A few slid off, but I managed to grab them before they hit the floor. He’d snarled at me to get on with it, because as he put it, “I don’t have all day”. Mid-catch, mind you. So I rang up his items, and applied his discounts. Before I had finished, I asked if he’d any coupons today. His response again was that he was too busy and he didn’t have time for it. A “nope” would have been quicker, but, I digress. He handed me his money, and as I was putting it into the till, he’d reached across my counter to grab bags to load his bounty into. I shut the till and tried my best to help him get them into the bags safely. I asked, but, wrapping each was so far out of the question that it was insulting that I’d asked, apparently. He tossed four or so in each bag, snatched his receipt and left.

He came back in immediately after dumping the jars into his trunk. In the hustle and chaos of his check out I had missed giving him his change. (FYI, in these cases, it is procedure to get management to count-down your drawer). I was checking through the next customer and when he came back in, he came up behind me in my little counter cubicle and read me the riot act. I was supposed to, in his mind, stop what I was doing and give him his $2.54 right that second. I remained polite and let him know that I was calling over my supervisor and as soon as I finished up what I was doing I could focus entirely on helping him. I finished up helping the lady I was with, both of us victim to his tirade by now. I apologized to the lady while he was behind me yelling at us both. To say it was unpleasant is a gross understatement. She asked if she could vouch for me. I let her know it was unnecessary, and she went along her way. I turned back to the man behind me and let him know how we handled such situations, again. He wasn’t having it. He threw out every angry description of me he could think of. He called out my competence as a cashier and my mental capabilities. Management had made it over and he hucked his receipt at us and claimed he was too busy to wait on us to repair my error (not in these exact phrases, though) and that he’d be back once he came out of his next stop.

I wish I could say that these two examples were so unusual. They’re not.  They are becoming more and more the norm. This is more and more acceptable. Coming down on a cashier for honest errors or errors that aren’t even theirs to claim! We wonder why kids are such that they haven’t an ounce of empathy or manners and yet, these are the examples they see when they go out to shop, interacting with other people.

We hear the idiom all the time: The customer is always right. To be perfectly blunt, that’s just stupid. It is! Rudeness is wrong. Abuse of your fellow man, even verbally, is wrong. Aggressive  entitlement…is wrong. Every time. Being a schmuck is wrong, every single time.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll go back to work, sure of my abilities, happy to help the next person. I come home satisfied in my efforts each day. the fact that I come home covered in glitter and worn out is a bonus. I don’t make the rules, but, I follow them. I treat people in the image of how I’d like to be treated. Or rather, I treat people how I would like my loved ones to be treated. Because, maybe some kid will see me. And, if they do emulate my behavior, at least they won’t be acting like an asshat.




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