Customer Service — R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

Customer service is tough job and is often thankless. I worked as a customer service telephone rep for a few years and it was, well—eye-opening. Frustrated people frequently take out their frustrations on the customer service rep because after all, that’s what they are there for, right?

But as the main goal of customer service is to serve the customer and take care of their complaint or issue, you end up ignoring a lot of insults; it’s just part of the job. You learn quickly not to take it seriously. One of the best bits of advice I got was from an older woman with whom I worked who said, “when someone yells at you and calls you names, just replace your name with the company name in your mind and it won’t feel so personal.”

Example: “YOU <insert company name here> are useless, stupid, lazy, and obviously not smart enough to hold down a REAL job, you <insert company name here>!”

Great advice, and it works. Granted, there are some terrible customer service people out there, but there are a whole lot of excellent ones, too. Things generally work best if, when presented with a problem, both parties get satisfaction by being at the very least civil to each other. Otherwise, things can spiral out of control, and that’s when tempers flare and nothing gets resolved.

That said, an awful lot of people feel that customer service folk are stupid, have less than stellar educations, and are generally a lower species who thrives on abuse. They feel perfectly justified to yell and scream and berate the person on the phone who trying to help them.

Another job that invites abuse and ridicule is waiting on tables. I paid my last two years of college by waitressing at a local restaurant, located conveniently near my dormitory. This is another job tailor-made to put you on the business end of some pretty ugly behavior. When you are a waitress, here are some of the assumptions many people have about you:

  • You are too stupid to have a better job
  • You have no problem cleaning up the ketchup and mustard some kids squirted all over  the floor
  • You are somehow less a person because of your job
  • You don’t mind it when men get handsy with you
  • You don’t mind if customers’ kids run wild and often cause you to drop full trays of food
  • You love taking orders, even the ridiculous ones (“WAITRESS! My water has too many ice cubes in it!!”)
  • You don’t mind picking up a dirty diaper left smack in the middle of a table
  • You will not have the nerve to mess with customers’ food if the customers are rude to you

Now before we go down the dangerous path of messing with peoples’ food because of their behavior, let me say this: I never saw this happen while I worked at the restaurant near my college, nor did I ever attempt to sabotage any customer’s food. Was I ever tempted? You bet I was–but I didn’t. I truly believe that karma can be a bitch who never forgets. (That said, I also think that is insane for someone to be pissy with those who have anything to do with their food. Why tempt fate?) By all means, if something is wrong, bring it to the manager’s attention. And FYI—blaming the waitress for anything that has nothing to do with her bringing you your food is counter-productive and won’t help the situation one iota.

Now on to the forbidden subject: tipping. A tip means that you have had a nice experience at the restaurant, and that your server treated you respectfully, got your food out on time and took good care of you. Problems in the kitchen, the parking lot, the freezer, the bar, the restroom and other customers’ behavior is NOT your server’s fault. If you can’t afford to tip your server, then don’t go out to dinner and splurge, or just go to a fast-food restaurant.

When I was waitressing, a 15% tip was considered the norm for good service; more than that was a bonus. These days a tip is more likely to be 20%, depending on how you felt about the service. The following (all of which I received while waitressing) are NOT considered tips:

  • candy
  • a written compliment on the bill (but no tip)
  • a free ticket to the local <insert boring function here>
  • the ripped-off corner of a $20 bill tucked on the side of a plate (har, har, har–HILARIOUS! Not…)
  • a religious tract
  • a pile of pennies
  • an invitation to have drinks somewhere

Let’s face it, most of us have had our turn in the barrel doing low-paying or menial jobs; it’s part of our work history. Often some retirees return to the workplace for part-time jobs, such as greeters, baggers in grocery stores, telephone reps, or jobs in maintenance. It’s something that gets them out of the house and seeing people and brings in a bit of cash. These types of jobs may not be crucial or lifesaving, but they are necessary.

There’s an old saying in the theater: the most important person in the theater is the one who opens and closes the curtain. Let’s try to show a little respect for all those curtain pullers.

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