Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sometimes, Bad Customers Beget Bad Service


Like most average American teenagers, my brother and I have worked in the service industry at some point during our school years.  I worked front of house in restaurants (surprise!) and he had his turn in America's second largest retailer company, Target.  It's like Walmart, except you can pronounce the brand name with a false French accent - "Tarr-shay" - and attract a demographic of self-entitled maniacs.

My father was all about teaching us the value of working from the bottom up.  When we were adolescents, he had each of his five children work on the assembly-line of one of his factories in China.  To anyone with no experience with factories in China, this process sounds borderline child-abuse, but I can assure you it isn't (note: we were the only younglings working in his factory.  He doesn't hire kids!).  It was monotonous at worst, and it gave us an understanding of both life and business that has helped shaped who we are today. So, you might think, when we were a bit older and my pops asked my brother to try his hand at customer service at a nice suburban retail store like Target, it would be a cakewalk.  

Wrong.

The horror stories were endless.  A few months into working at a particular New Jersey location, he was quickly promoted from Clerk to Manager, but his usual relaxed demeanor started becoming laced with expletives about the general idiocy he had to deal with.  There are three stories that stand out the most in my memory of his experience:

Once, he was the last to close-up shop, only to find out that the men's bathroom was covered in poop. I mean, POOP. EVERYWHERE. "It was Armageddon," he painfully recalls.  "Have you ever walked into a room and just knew something evil had happened?  That's what this was like." Someone had come in and pooped all over the sinks, proceeded by poop hand and footprint smearings on the walls, mirrors, floor, stall handles... There was blood and feces in the urinal, and urine anywhere there wasn't poo. Admittedly, this story is less relevant to this post, but it's too hysterical not to share.

Another time, he seemed more irate than the poop incident when he told us a long detailed story of a particularly obnoxious customer who was demanding more than what was fair, impatiently berating him with tones of condescension.  I'll never forget what he said, "Why do people act like that?  I'm happy to go the extra mile to fix a customer complaint when the customer is civilized about it.  But when you act like a complete bitch, I will give you the minimal of what is required to resolve the situation." [paraphrased]

And he's absolutely right.  What do you expect to achieve when you treat someone like a wall for poop smudging?  This post was originally inspired by Matt Walsh's commentary on bad service, where he said the following,
They think their hallowed "customer" status somehow gives them the right to treat everyone with a uniform and a name tag like garbage. They think their past encounters with sub-par service makes it acceptable for them to fly off the handle about ketchup every once in a while. They think the rules of basic decency and respect come second when they are The Customer. And they're wrong.
Do you ever wonder why we have so many atrocious politicians in Washington? Well, you shouldn't wonder. Just look in the mirror. Bad politicians are generally bad because they can't handle power. It goes right to their head and they become narcissistic, petty, controlling sociopaths. But at least it's a lot of power so the temptation to be corrupted by it is almost understandable. You, on the other hand, become a maniacal tyrant when society hands you temporary and meaningless power over 17-year-old fast food cashiers. I shudder to think what you'd do if you had an army at your disposal.
The third story concerns his experiences as a manager and dealing with difficult, unmotivated employees.  Perhaps I'll get into that another time, after I get his permission to share the story.  Just know, we're all humanbeans.  You're going to get what you give.

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