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The Struggle of Working in Customer Service

“Is it really that hard to do your job right?”

These were the last words uttered by an infuriating customer at my retail job. I JOKE.

Retail, like many other customer service industries, is bound to be a challenging job. Gen Y now, more than ever are finding that the time between high school and our next “proper” job is littered with various job opportunities, some which may show us an ugly side of society. Like customer service. Working in this industry may be the the most testing, mentally exhausting experience of your life due to one vital element: customers.

I am yet to stand behind someone my own age at a coffee shop and experience the same level of inferior attitude that can be experienced by a Mr I-Wear-A-Suit-So-Bow-Down-To-My-Ego or a Miss I’m-In-A-Hurry-So-Make-It-Snappy. Having worked in fast food, retail and now as a bartender, I have had my share of difficult individuals who believe refund related persistence pays off (here’s a hot tip, it normally doesn’t).

It’s difficult to pinpoint what can better and worsen such encounters. At times, it feels like you need to be a master in body language to know how to deal with a difficult customer. Take it from me; if you storm into a store demanding attention you’re going to raise some hackles. Now if you’re polite, you are exactly 98.63% more likely to get much better and extensive service. If it is a quiet day, yes I will bring your drinks over to you. Yes, I can call those stores and find that jacket in your size. Yes, I will call my head office and explain the situation in your favour.

Humans have this funny way of emanating their emotions. If you’re naturally quite an uptight person, this can be sensed the minute you walk into a shop.

It can also act as a mirror. Someone who is angry or hot tempered can often bring out these tendencies in those they interact with. I know that being a naturally upbeat person I find people respond to me more positively and have had consistently rude customers change their tune with me after a while. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

I distinctly remember an incident whilst working in a men’s clothing store.  A customer walked in and asked me what our policy was on “2 for 1” deals.

Uh, we don’t.

“I’m sorry sir, as a casual I can’t change or further any of our discounts without a manager present.”

He was not a happy chappy.

“You know I used to work in retail so I know for a fact that you’re lying.”

Well then.

“Let’s try something else. Do you have silk ties? I’m going to a funeral.”

Yes, yes we do have silk ties you black mailing worm.

“Great, I need four.”

Aha! Progress. I gave him the ties and started to ring them up at their full price, $49.95 each. I told him the total price.

“What?! That’s ridiculous, I’ll pay for one at full price but you’re going to have to do something about the rest. I’m not paying that!”

I confess, I really wanted to charge him double at that stage. I explained again that as I was without a manager at that point I couldn’t discount anything for him. So he calmly picked the ties up and threw them at my head. THREW them. At my HEAD.

Then there was the time I worked at another clothing store that at times attracted some odd types. I was verbally abused for refusing to refund a skirt that contained “offensive colours”. What are offensive colours you ask? Red and black apparently. At the same job, I had a customer ask me if we sold a certain talisman to encourage love. When I showed him what we had, he put his face close to mine and said, “no. I mean love in my bed.”

I could go on, I really could. But in my professional customer service-woman opinion *cough* I have noted that every single unpleasant encounter in customer service has been with someone older and presumably more socially experienced than I. I can’t help but think that this is largely due to an inferior attitude. People have bad days, which I understand. But what many people don’t realise is that insulting the person behind the counter because in that moment you think they’re being unreasonable doesn’t end just there. I have seen friends very upset because of how a customer has treated them. A few slow breaths in the back room is often necessary during sale time.

Us customer service workers… We’re people too. We could be your son’s best friend or your daughter’s next babysitter. We might be balancing multiple jobs, maybe even study, too. We’re working for ourselves and our future. There was a time when I would struggle to let these incidents go once I got home. Now, I try and practice extra kindness to those who are rude to me at work. It can go two ways: they’ll realise their error or it’ll really piss them off.

Image Source: Fast Retailing

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