On Customer Service, and Building a Rapport

I usually don’t bother trying to make friends, and as a general rule, I have no particular interest in making a super nice first impression. But there are, as with everything, exceptions to that rule. And my major exception is customer service people. It doesn’t matter how grumpy I am, how bad a day I am having, or how much I really want to punch people – as a whole – in the face. I will always make more of an effort to be friendly with my fellow sales assistants.

There is a reason for this, of course. I have worked in customer service for a very long time, and so I completely understand what it’s like to be having a bad day behind the counter and having to maintain a pleasant facade when all you want to do is scream. We customer service people can be incredibly good actors, at times. I must have given at least one or two Oscar worthy performances in my eight or nine odd years of customer service. And so I make it a personal goal to be polite and friendly to anyone that I require a service from. Now admittedly, I am a little less smiley to the ones that have no interest in being good at their jobs on purpose, but other than that, bam.

After working in various shopping plazas over the last five years in particular, I have discovered that being friendly with the surrounding shop workers can be beneficial. First of all, building a rapport with people who work around you is a good way to help pass the time. Once you establish a relationship with people around you, you will find that the conversations begin to come easily. Shopping plaza friendships are unique, in that these are people you see every day, and stop to chat to, without necessarily spending any time together outside your working hours. But they are part of an important working dynamic that can be both fun and helpful, and one that usually involves a kind of ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’ relationship that can work for both parties.

But hoping to establish a give and take relationship with the people you work around is not the only, or the most important reason to be friendly to them. It just generally makes the working environment a more pleasant one. The people you see on a regular basis will get to know you, and you will get to know them, at the very least enough to ask how each others’ day is going. And yet another benefit to building healthy working relationships is that you will generally discover that you can rely on them. I distinctly remember the night a creepy guy was hanging around the shop I was working in a few months back, and the people around me that stuck around to make sure I was alright and safe. There’s a strange kind of camaraderie with shop assistants, especially those who all work in the same area. In my experience at least, even if you don’t often talk to them, they will have your back and watch out for your shop, and I will always do the same.

I am currently managing a new shop, and a couple of shops down from me there is a kiosk that I get my daily chai from. I think it is especially important to be friendly with the people that are handling your food/drink. Not least because they might spit in your cup if you’re an asshat! Ok, so I don’t know if that actually happens, but it’s a legitimate fear of mine, that I might unknowingly drink the bodily fluids of my barista while they laugh about it with their co workers. In the last few weeks, I have become quite friendly with two of the baristas that regularly run the kiosk in question, a delightful young woman named Emma, and a guy whose name I haven’t actually learned yet (and feel too awkward to just ask for after chatting with him for the last few weeks). With both people, I have developed the kind of relationship where we are all comfortable enough to make a joke, or complain about how dead the shop is, or drop the F bomb without fear of offending. It genuinely makes approaching the shop and ordering a beverage less stressful and awkward than it would be if I hadn’t established a kind of rapport with them.

So in short – and I can’t believe these words are about to spill from my fingertips –  sometimes being surrounded by people is not the worst thing in the world. Ugh…just typing it feels dirty.

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