Sometimes I wonder how people who have never worked in the service industry come to internalize the word “nice”.
The real world teaches us that being nice to someone can be shockingly difficult to do. We all have stressors that set us off at random times. The fuse for some is significantly shorter and more flammable than for others, and it can be less morally disquieting to be rude to a stranger than to someone you care for and interact with on a regular basis. For a certain reason, at a certain moment, we have all put our foot down in direct opposition to somebody else’s bullshit. And we feel justified in the act.
If you have never worked in the service industry before, it’s hard to understand the intricate dance that requires an employee to balance his or her delicate sense of self-worth with a capacity to provide exceptional customer service. People can be incredibly mean.
I spent two summers working in retail sales in high school. At the register one day, I was approached by a woman who wanted to return a garment she had purchased for her daughter. To complete the return I asked for her address, including her zip code. When she answered with a code that included letters, I was a little confused.
The woman was Canadian and in her estimation I should have known that. I’ve never been to Canada. I had no idea their zip codes include letters.
The woman scoffed at my ignorance. She condescendingly informed me that I should “really know better”, as if my extremely vapid 16 year old brain had purposefully blocked out this one insurmountably important detail of Canadian culture. I was then curtly informed that I shouldn’t disrespect the multitude of Canadian shoppers that frequent the Mall of America, because they supply the majority of the revenue to the stores in America’s largest shopping center.
Now, I don’t have solid facts to back up this assertion, but I’m pulling the BS card on crabby Canadian lady. I’m fairly certain that the majority of revenue generated by the Mall of America stems from Americans.
The way I see it, by the time Canadian lady reached my store, she had been thoroughly harassed by the entire MOA experience. Her patience was running thin. Reason would have told her that it’s not necessary or personally offending for a teenage girl to have little knowledge of the inner workings of the Canadian postal system.
But reason be damned; she just didn’t feel like being nice. And as an employee on the receiving end of her unpleasantness, it was my job to be self-deprecating and pretend like I gave two shits about her zip code. And now, 7 years later, I can still recall that particular exchange almost to the word.
Being treated like an unintelligent or lazy scumbag by customers has broken many a service-oriented employee’s heart. It’s not fun to get shouted at for attempting to do your job. Working at a bakery and for American Eagle, I had it relatively easy. I can’t even imagine the soul-crushing experiences of customer service representatives, telemarketers, or sidewalk recruiters.
But dealing with mean people as an employee has taught me to be incredibly patient and understanding as a consumer. (I say this as a generality; I am only human and have admittedly been less than accommodating to people in the past.)
This past December, Santa brought me the best nerd gift I could have asked for: The Sims 3 – Pets. I was totally jazzed until I attempted to install the game on my computer and realized I had been given a faulty code.
Over the span of 3 weeks I tried reaching out to customer service on multiple different occasions. Each time I was informed that my problem had been solved (when it hadn’t been) or that my problem only existed in my head (when it clearly didn’t). Finally, on my fourth attempt, I connected with a friendly man on the East Coast. Patiently I explained my problem over again. And this time I was presented with a new, functioning code – and a 20% off coupon, in case I had been eyeing any additional products. I didn’t demand the discount. It was simply presented to me. And I’d like to think it was because I wasn’t a complete bitch to customer service representative #4.
Last month, my boyfriend and I were flying from Denver home to Minneapolis. Our seats were in the back of the plane, but they weren’t next to each other. Living by the idea that it’s better to ask than to assume, Jaime approached the front counter at our gate and inquired if it was possible to switch seats, mentioning that we’d be fine with something in the exit row (he’s 6’6” after all). The attendant informed us that the seating arrangements were pretty tight at that point, but that we could purchase any available exit row seats for an additional fee. We thanked her anyway and went back to our bags in the waiting area.
A few minutes before we were to board, the same attendant called Jaime up to the gate counter. He returned with two tickets in hand. We had been given new seating assignments: two seats, right next to each other, in an exit row. No additional charge.
Before we got on the plane we approached the front desk one final time and thanked the attendant again, informing her that we really appreciated her generosity. She smiled and told us that it was her pleasure and that she hoped we had a good flight.
This is one of the most important lessons I will teach to my future children: even when you don’t feel like it, being nice is so much rewarding than being mean. Patience is a virtue and only the most truly enlightened employ it in liberal amounts.