Retail employees are not lesser life forms

In the course of a day, how many people do you interact with whose job it is to provide you with some kind of service? The checker at the supermarket, the front desk staff at your dentist’s office, the salesperson at the store where you buy your jeans, the waitstaff at the restaurant… the list goes on and on. That’s a lot of people. I’m one of them.

Over the many, many years that I’ve been in one form of customer service or another, I’ve put up with a lot. A lot of abuse, a lot of corporate nonsense, a lot of workplace drama, and a lot of bullshit. I’m offering up a small list of things to keep in mind when dealing with the people on the other side of the counter, and I’m going to try to keep the swearing and rage under control, because I think those things undermine my point in this case:

  1. We are people. We have feelings, and thoughts, and all sorts of stuff like that. It would be great if you could deal with us like we’re people, not really lifelike-looking cash registers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking to be best friends, but social niceties are always appreciated.
  2. It is so rude to approach someone when you’re on your cell phone. This especially applies to interactions where participation is required by both the customer and the employee. Checking in for your appointment? Get off the phone. Placing your deli order? Get off the phone. I get a lot of customers who are on the phone with me and simultaneously placing their coffee order at the drive-through at Dunkin’ Donuts. That’s, like, multi-layered rudeness.
  3. Don’t make assumptions about our intelligence or education. Seriously. More than half of the people I’ve worked with in customer service jobs have college degrees. The job market sucks. You do what you have to.
  4. The customer is not always right. Sometimes, the customer wants something that is really unreasonable or flat-out impossible. If you’re trying to resolve a problem, make sure you’re being realistic about what the situation actually is, and what the possible outcome could be. Demanding the world generally only results in disappointment for you and frustration for us.
  5. Be polite. This shouldn’t have to be spelled out like this, but trust me, it does. This applies times ten million if you have a complaint. An employee will (or should) always do whatever they can to resolve your issue, but like I said in point #1, we’re people. We will be way more willing to do so much more for you if you are calm, reasonable, and polite. Confrontations aren’t necessary for a vast majority of customer service problems, but walking into the issue screaming and swearing and expecting the worst just starts the whole interaction badly. Assume good intentions on our part, and we’ll assume them on yours.
  6. Know what the person in front of you can and cannot control. For the most part, the person you’re dealing with has absolutely nothing to do with the prices, the product, or the policies. In fact, lots of times, those things frustrate employees as much as they do customers, because they cause unnecessary conflict at the personal level. If you have a complaint with one of those things, please address it to the corporate offices, general manager, or owner. Your complaint will be more effective that way, since the person hearing it can actually do something about it.
  7. Don’t throw or shove things at us. This applies to credit cards, money, empty food containers you want us to put in the trash, and, well, everything. Don’t throw things. You’re not four years old. It happens enough that I had to put it on the list. Enough said. Hand things to other people politely.
  8. If you’re happy with the service we’ve given you, tell us. Better yet, tell our bosses. We so often hear only the negative things that we start to doubt that there are any positives. It’s a little sad, but sometimes a kind word from a customer can totally turn the day around.
  9. If you go somewhere a lot, get to know the people who work there. Don’t do it with the expectation of getting something extra, although that’s certainly not outside of the realm of possibility, but do it because it’ll make both of us a little happier. Plus, if you get to know the people you regularly deal with, if a problem does happen to arise, the resolution will be so much smoother and easier. Not to mention, it’s just nice. I cut all my hair off last week, and tons of my regular customers noticed and told me they liked it. That just made for a bunch of awesome little moments in the middle of some tough days.
  10. Put yourselves in our place for a moment. If you’ve never had to work a customer service job, that’s great. But most people have, and they seem to forget pretty quickly how awful it can be sometimes. I always try to be a good customer, and you know what? I get great service.
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6 responses to “Retail employees are not lesser life forms

  1. I love this. Thank you so much and I will be sharing it on Facebook if you don’t mind!

  2. I love this list so hard. Why some people insist on treating me like dirt on the bottom of their shoe, I’ll never understand.

    “Don’t make assumptions about our intelligence or education. Seriously. More than half of the people I’ve worked with in customer service jobs have college degrees. The job market sucks. You do what you have to.”

    And, shockingly enough, some people just enjoy working in retail! I know a lot of people with advanced degrees who got sick of their professional jobs and just love selling books.

    • I’m one of those who has a degree, and works a customer service job by choice. My schedule is great, I have benefits, I can pay my bills, and (most of the time) I enjoy the work. That doesn’t make it a less valid life decision.

  3. This is so necessary. You’d think it’d be obvious that people are people and should be treated with respect, but I’ve never demoralized and kicked around as much as when I worked as a bagger at a grocery store and a clerk at Baskin Robbins. *shudder*

  4. Can I get an AMEN?! I worked in customer service for YEARS – I still remember what it is like… ~shudder~ humans can really suck sometimes.

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