I’m Not Surly, It’s Just My Face

“Oi, you!”

You’d look like that if someone ‘oi’-ed you, too.

That’s how the conversation started this morning. Rude, right? Now, you should know that I’m not easily offended. What I am, is easily angered. And the interaction this morning, with a guy who works near me, raised my ire. This guy is in his early fifties perhaps, and has a tendency to strike up conversations on his way past my shop. This began a couple of months ago, when he greeted me as if we had known each other for years, despite me having never laid eyes on him before that day. I disliked him immediately. See, if there’s one thing I hate, it’s when complete strangers are too familiar too soon. You don’t know me, you are not my friend; you do not get to talk to me as if we have a long standing relationship. Some of you may argue that he was just being friendly, but there is a difference between polite affability, and a straight up invasive personality. Trust me when I say that this guy has a serious case of the latter.

Over the last few months, we have had a series of short conversations. Despite my dislike of this man, I have always been perfectly polite. But his habit of asking personal questions, and making assumptions has continued. On several occasions, and in a few different ways, he has asked me if I have a boyfriend; questions I have always dodged. First of all, none of his business. And second of all, none of his business. Another time, he made an assumption about me having children, which is something I did correct him on. That then followed with the typical “You’ll change your mind” response, which I didn’t deign to acknowledge. He has made comments about wanting to take me to the pub so he can see me when I’m drunk, and comments about how I must be my parent’s favourite child, with no context. Basically, he’s weird.

I could give you plenty of other examples when this guy’s familiarity has made me irritable, but then we’ll be here all day. Today’s comment, however, is where this post began. So, after he called out to me with the aforementioned “OI”, he approached the shop and said, completely apropos of nothing, “What’s the matter with you? I saw you the other day and you looked really surly so I thought I better not come over.”

Now, you might be wondering why that seemingly innocuous comment made me so angry. It’s due to a few things. Firstly, the condescending tone (which I can’t properly convey here, so you’ll have to take my word for it.) Secondly, the way he managed to make it sound as though his not approaching my shop for mundane conversation was a loss for me. I have any number of boring conversations in an 8.5 hour period, man. You are not the highlight of my workday. And thirdly, the assumption that just because I’m not cheery and chirpy every single second of the day, that there must be something the matter with me. Let me be perfectly clear. I do not exist to indulge his (or anyone’s) flawed, archaic ideas of what a woman is supposed to be. And I will not apologise for being a human, with an entire spectrum of human emotions. I am not some Stepford wife, and I am under no obligation to appear perpetually cheerful.

Sure, I could smile all the time, but there are a couple of problems with that. I mean, let’s be perfectly honest here; I would look like a legitimate maniac. The other problem is that after all that smiling, my face would ache. And working in customer service is painful enough as it is. Besides, maybe if I look surly enough, old mate across the way will stop talking to me altogether.

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An Open Letter to Customers; I am Competent, I Promise

Dear customers,

I have been doing my job for two years. I know that that is probably not information you are privy to before approaching my counter. For all you know, it could be my first day. But given the job I do, I think it’s a fairly safe assumption that if it was my first day, or my first week, or even my first month, I wouldn’t be in the shop alone. Suffice to say, yes, I do know what I’m doing. So you really, truly don’t have to ask three times in a row if I can do my job. I promise you I can.

I know a lot of you are disheartened or dubious about being served by me, because I am a girl. It may then interest you to know that my vagina has absolutely no bearing on my ability to do my job. No, for those of you that have asked, I don’t need a man to supervise me and yes, I do everything in my shop all on my own. And I have to say, I really don’t understand what is so surprising about a woman being able to repair shoes, or fix watches.

To that one gentleman (and I use that term loosely) that wanted to know when the manager would be in, so he could ‘speak to the man that does the work, and not just the pretty face who serves the customers’, the manager is in the shop six days out of seven, and her name is Amy. Though she is certain that you thought your backhanded compliment was flattering, she would like to inform you that it wasn’t. She is much, much more than her appearance. Furthermore, she is incredibly offended by your casual dismissal of her based on her gender, and by your misogynistic belief that only men are capable of doing anything useful, whilst women are nothing more than eye candy. She would like to tell you, politely, that you are an asshole, sir.

On another note, customers; when I ask you to come back in fifteen minutes, I promise you it is because it really will take me that long to finish your job. Please do not come back after three minutes and get mad at me when I still have twelve minutes before the work is expected to be finished. And do not hover at the counter and tell me how to do my job. Unless you have had the proper training and are standing on my side of the counter, you know less about my job than me, and thus, are in no position to offer advice or direction. For some of you, I’m sure you’re just trying to help. But if you are so confident in your ability to do my job, then by all means do it yourself at home, and stop wasting my time and testing my patience.

Lastly, and this goes for people in general, I would appreciate it if you would not take your bad mood or bad day out on me. I have done nothing to you (though if I have, I am deeply apologetic and you are entitled to be mad at me). I really am just here to help you with a problem that requires you to approach my counter. I will treat you with respect and a friendly attitude, so I don’t think it’s too much to expect at least the former from you in return.

Sincerely, a somewhat put out customer service assistant/shop manager/woman who knows how to do her job.

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.

Retail Rage

I’ve worked in retail since I was fifteen. That’s eight years of customer service up my sleeve. I’m good at it. I don’t love it, but I’m good at it. Or at the very least, I’m good at not punching the jerks or being an asshat. I smile at rude people. I bid everyone a good day. I’m unfailingly polite in the face of bad tempered assholes who feel it’s necessary to take their bad day out on me. And I’ve been doing this for nearly a third of my life. Today however, I think I reached the end of my patient tether. For the first time in my long and illustrious (well, maybe not) customer service career, I visibly cracked it in front of a customer.

On any other day, it would have been something I shrugged off. But the last couple of days, I’ve really struggled to keep my cool. Either I’ve reached the end of my retail shelf life, or people are finally starting to drive me mad. Perhaps both. There was nothing overly different about this particular woman, but I’ve dealt with an inordinate amount of jerk customers in the last two days especially, and this encounter was the straw that broke the customer service assistant’s back.

First she complained about the price of a watch battery (despite the fact that we were the best deal in terms of price and time, and we offer a 2 year battery guarantee). I told her that was fine, handed her watch back. She continued to make a big deal about the price, and I reminded her that she was under no obligation to purchase. She umm’d and ahh’d about whether she wanted one. Finally decided she did, and then changed her mind once I already had the back off. Then she needed to know the brand of battery we use, and complained that she didn’t like that brand. Said she missed the days we had a watch maker in town and when I said my colleague is a qualified watch maker by trade, she decided she wanted him to put in her battery instead of me. Because, y’know, that would have made an enormous difference.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. It doesn’t sound that bad. But she was rude and had a bad attitude, and something in me just snapped. I handed my colleague the watch, said ‘well, you’d better do this one because I’m obviously no good at my job’ and then walked straight out of the shop to calm down. I was furious. The truth is, I can’t tell you exactly why this irritated me more than every other person who has underestimated me and my ability to do my job. But I just couldn’t stand in her presence after that, at least without leaping across the counter and headbutting her stupid face.

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I think maybe it’s time to look for a new job. I figure I either make a fortune from my sewing business (probably unlikely), get insanely inspired and write an award winning novel (probably less likely, given my lack of motivation lately) or I find a job that doesn’t require me to deal with other people. Well…not living ones anyway. Perhaps I ought to look into a career as a mortician. Or a thanatologist. Or a grave digger. Or hell, maybe I’ll just live out my fantasy of being a hit woman for hire.

Regardless of what I decide to do, one thing is for certain. If you want to know what hell is like, you don’t need to make a special trip downstairs. All you have to do is ask someone who works in retail.

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You said it, Jesus.

Customer Pet Peeves

I work in retail. Anyone who does, or has worked in retail knows how much customers suck. Now, I work in two different shopping centres, for the same company. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, I work in the busy shopping plaza in the middle of town. We’re pretty much always busy, and there’s always a job to do. On Thursdays and Fridays, I work in a shopping centre a little further out of town. It is a quieter shop, and I have plenty of time to practice my engraving. But there’s one thing the two shops have in common, and that is the customers, and the percentage of customers that really just suck.
There are a few things that come up regularly, and so I’m going to list, in no particular order, my ten customer pet peeves;

1. “But I can get it cheaper in that other shop”. Oh, really? Well, by all means, go there then. I don’t care whether you want to spend your money here or not, but telling me that somewhere else does it cheaper is not going to make me drop the price. I don’t set the cost of things, I just sell them. Don’t take your stingy attitude out on me, son.

2. “Oh, can you actually do that?”. Yes. Just because I’m a girl, it doesn’t mean that I am incapable of doing the job you so clearly think is reserved for men. Bugger off with your sexism.

3. “Can you get this done for me right now? I’m from out of town.” Look buddy, we’re a busy shop. I have twelve pairs of shoes lined up on the back counter that will get precedence here. And if you knew you were only here for a couple of hours, I’m sorry, but why wait until the last hour before you come up to ask? It’s called time management, people.

4. “I have something to pick up, but I don’t have my ticket.” We give you these tickets, and tell you to hold on to them for a reason. On any given day, we can take in up to fifteen odd pairs of shoes, multiple watches and any number of engraving jobs. Without that ticket, how am I to know what belongs to you? I mean, really. You had one job.

5. “No, I don’t think I want to actually discipline my child today.” Do me a favour, and don’t let your child come up to my shop, and touch everything with its gross sticky hands. I have to sell this stuff, and no one is going to want to buy something covered in child grime. I am not a babysitter, and I am not above telling your child off if you refuse to do it.

6. “Don’t break/run off with/ruin my item.” Yes, because we take in jobs with the intention of destroying them. If you were so concerned with someone ruining your item, why even bother bringing it in? We’re professionals, and we handle customer belongings with the utmost care. And even if I did have the slightest desire to steal your crappy Commodore, you already know where I work, so it’s not like I can run away. Pull your head in.

7. “Please, allow me to come in and tell you how I can do your job better than you.” I have all the correct training, and know how to do my job in the best and most professional manner possible. Don’t come to my shop and tell me that you can do a better job than me, or that you will just do it yourself when you get home. If you think you can do a better job, why even bother coming in? Don’t waste my time with your arrogance.

8. ‘Hi, I have these shoes that need to be fixed, how long will that take?” How long is a piece of string? Coming in and giving me no details is about as unhelpful as you can get. I need to see the shoes to determine what is wrong with them, whether they can be fixed, and how long it will take. Information is key.

9. “Do you mind if I sit here and stare at you while you work?” Yes. Yes I do. Working to time constraints and quality standards can be hard enough without you staring over my shoulder, judging me with your judgy eyes. It puts unecessary pressure on me, and makes me nervous. Go find something else to do for ten minutes while I finish. A watched sales assistant never boils…or something.

10. “Wait, are you closed?” No, we just run our business with the chairs up, lights off and till packed away because we like to make things difficult for ourselves. We have homes, and we want to go back to them. Come back tomorrow.

So, there you have it. The above are things that I deal with on a regular basis. I’ve been on both sides of a sales counter, but I make a point to never be a jerk. Please, for my sanity, allow me the same courtesy!

Disclaimer: the views expressed here are in no way affiliated with the views of the company I work for.