Customer Service in the Times of COVID

I work in customer service. Ever since I was fifteen, I have been standing behind one counter or another, serving the general public, and dealing with all the awfulness that comes with it. I do not love my current job, and I certainly have no passion for it. My crowning achievement is that I have so far managed to make it through a 13 year retail career – or perhaps retail sentence is more applicable? – without punching a customer in the face. Which I rather think deserves some kind of award, honestly.

Here’s the thing. Customer service is never an especially thrilling or positive experience. Most of it is boredom, dealing with rude people, and trying hard not to let all the expletives you’re thinking come flying out of your mouth when confronted with jerks. Sure, we get nice customers sometimes, and in my current job (I’m a cobbler, of sorts), I take pride in the work I am doing. But, after five years in the same job, it’s well and truly time for me to move on and find some other hell to suffer in.

What is the tipping point, you may be wondering? Well, lately things seem to have gotten increasingly worse, and I am 100% blaming COVID-19. I live in Australia, and currently live in the only state where face masks are mandatory when leaving the house. Which means, for 8 hours a day, five days a week, I have to not only stand behind a counter dealing with all manner of rude people, but I also have to do it whilst wearing a face covering that limits my breathing, fogs my glasses, and generally just itches and irritates. The state of disaster declared in my home state means that people are confined to their homes, unable to go to school or work in a lot of cases, unable to leave their homes without a mask. It’s not a fun time for anyone right now. And I would be willing to bet money that this myriad of restrictions in place across the country is, in part, responsible for the attitudes of the people I have been serving lately.

I have had, in recent weeks, more horrible customer interactions than I have had in a long time. Almost as if every customer I have served has gotten together and said “hey, let’s go and be as horrible to the girl behind the counter as we possibly can, and see how long it takes to break her.” I don’t know if it is because I am serving less people as a result of the restrictions, and so I am more aware of the bad ones, or whether people are simply taking their own frustrations about the restrictions out on whoever happens to be in front of them. But regardless of the reason, my job has become increasingly unbearable of late, to the point where I have almost quit on the spot more than once. Usually I can brush it off, and then vent to my friends about it afterwards, but in this last week alone I have encountered some truly heinous individuals that have stuck

To those of you who work in customer service, I’m sure you can relate. To those of you who don’t, I beg of you; be nice to your customer service people. We work hard, and we put up with a lot of shit from people, often without the benefit of being able to bite back or defend ourselves. And I understand your frustrations about…well, everything in this strange time I suppose, but none of the things that you are frustrated about have anything to do with me. I am polite to everyone who approaches my counter (at least up until I can’t be anymore) and I would love it if people would offer me the same courtesy. I think a lot of people forget, particularly now that we have become anonymous and featureless behind our masks, that those of us behind the counter are still people. We are not lesser citizens, and we do not deserve the abuse or the sometimes violent attitudes of people who can’t handle their emotions.

Basically what I’m saying is that COVID sucks, customer service people deserve more respect, and, as always, don’t be a dick!

My Sexual Preference is Not a Waste

Image result for eye roll gif

This one is for any same sex attracted person out there who has been on the receiving end of unwanted comments by strangers who think they have the right to cast judgement, and give opinions where they are not wanted.

The other day at work, I served an older male customer. I put a battery in his watch, the same way I do countless times in a day. Apparently he was impressed with how quickly I completed the task, and proceeded to tell me that I was a “good girl” and that “your husband is a lucky man.” Now, I should have just let it go, but, in typical Amy fashion, I bit back at the assumption, and stated that I wasn’t married. The old man laughed, as though this was the funniest thing he had ever heard and responded with “ah well, your boyfriend then.” Again, I should have just shut my mouth but again, my sass won out and I replied with “I don’t have one of those either.”

Now, in a way, the resulting conversation was of my own doing. Had I just shut up and let the man go on with his archaic assumptions, it would have been just another dull interaction with another ignorant customer. But alas, I am argumentative, to a fault. And I wasn’t in the mood for this guy, and his attempts to be funny. So, when he proceeded to go on about how a “pretty girl [like me] should be married”, and how “any man would be lucky to take you out” I snapped and said “Well, I don’t really like men, so it’s a moot point”. And then it really began. I was barraged with comments, questions, further insistence that I should be with a man. Then it got worse.

While all this unsolicited bombardment was going on, a younger man approached, who it turned out was the son of the ignorant twit I was dealing with. And said ignorant twit then turned around and tried to set me up with his son. Let me repeat that; the old man, who by this point was highly aware that I was in no way interested in men, tried to get me to go on a date with his very male son. The son looked a little bewildered as his father went on about how attractive he was, and how we would look nice together, and how “even though you say that’s not your thing, how could you say no?” And finally, he told me that my being attracted to women is a waste. At this, his son ushered him away with a mumbled apology to me and I was left to ponder what I had just experienced. I thought that was the end of it.

Today, that same old man walked past my shop. That same old man stopped me while I was working, and once again – as if he didn’t make it clear enough the first time – felt it necessary to reiterate his earlier contention. He said “I still think it’s a waste.” Now this time I just threw my hands up and walked away. Sir, I am sleep deprived and of a generally irritable disposition; I am not in the mood for your shit today. I mean, why is it such a supposed waste? It’s not like your crusty ass would be getting the benefit of it if I liked men anyway! I just grow increasingly tired of hearing the same old shit from jerks who think I care what they think.

So, to all the people who have told me it’s a waste. To all the people who have told me I just “need a good dicking”. To all the people who have asked “How do you know if you’ve never tried?” To all the people who have asked if they can watch me and another girl get it on. To all the people, past and future, who have ever or will ever give me an unsolicited opinion about who I am attracted to, the decisions I make regarding marriage, and the way I choose to live my life. Allow me to offer you an aggressive, and resounding FUCK YOU.

Strangers and Their Small Talk

It’s no secret that I’m not a social person. I have very few friends, and I’m not especially fond of the idea of making new ones. This is largely because I am acutely uncomfortable in new social situations, particularly when I have to maintain conversation with someone I’ve only just met. However this social awkwardness and discomfort is not reserved solely for new people. It also applies to people I already know, and haven’t seen in a few years.

I truly dislike being recognised by people I used to know, or by casual acquaintances. Because with that recognition comes the expectation – nay, obligation – that I engage in a conversation with said person. And given my propensity for feeling anxious in unfamiliar situations, this is a sure fire way to make me feel uncomfortable. Twice this past week, I have been recognised by someone who is familiar to me, though I didn’t have a close relationship with either. The first was a teacher who taught my brothers in either primary school, or early high school. She wasn’t even a teacher who taught me, but nevertheless she recognised my face, and struck up a conversation about how we all (myself and my siblings) were, and what we were doing with our lives.

The second person to recognise me was a cousin of one of my school friends, who I haven’t spoken to in probably two years. She recognised me, and again struck up a friendly conversation. Now, there are two things I should point out in both of these scenarios. The first, is that both of these encounters happened whilst I was at work. And the second is that neither one of these conversations were inherently bad, impolite, or rude. Quite the opposite, in fact. It was simply that I was put into a situation, by way of standing at the counter of the shop that these two people happened to need a service from, where I was unable to simply politely nod and move on, as I would have done had I passed them on the street.

I am one of those people who will, when I am out in public, avoid people that I may potentially end up stuck talking to, unless they are someone that I know well and enjoy talking with. For example, I ran into a good friend of mine in the supermarket the other day, and was more than happy to stop and chat to her for a few minutes. But if I know there’s even the remote possibility that I may have to have a conversation with someone that I don’t really know all that well and/or haven’t seen in a while, I will do anything I can to avoid it. Partly because of the aforementioned awkwardness, but also because I abhor filler conversation. I don’t really want to be subjected to a ten minute tirade about your recent hospital trip, or hear how that person we went to school with is getting married. By the same token, I really have nothing interesting to tell other people either. At the most, I would be content with a “hey, how’re you doing?” and the reciprocal “good thanks!” whilst both of us continued on our way without stopping. I don’t want to feel compelled to continue a mundane conversation, just because someone else is up for a chat.

This is something I encounter a lot at my job. I work in a kiosk, visible to everyone who passes. This seems to encourage people to come and talk to me, or ask me questions that people in proper closed-in shops don’t seem to deal with. I get stopped at least daily to get asked where the Tattslotto shop is in the centre. It’s literally right next to me, clearly signed and visible, and yet people will ask me constantly, often interrupting me to do so. And then there are the customers who, completely unprovoked, will proceed to give me a ten minute story about one thing or another. The tendency of complete strangers to give up personal information to people they don’t know is astounding. I have been told more than once that I come across as distinctly unapproachable, and yet something about being at my counter makes people want to chat to me for significant lengths of time. I am like the bartender in american sitcoms, who acts as some kind of wise man/therapist. It is a job that I never asked for, but rather seems to have been thrust upon me.

I, of course, can’t be rude to these people. After all, a customer wanting to have a chat is hardly the worst thing I might encounter in a day. But it doesn’t mean I want to stand there and make small talk with a stranger, or semi stranger. So if you ever see me down the street, give me a wave and I’ll happily wave back. But if ever you want to strike up a conversation, just remember that I will probably hate every second, and be counting down until it’s polite to make an excuse and sidle away.

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.

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.

image

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.

image
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.