Why I don’t like customer service

Customer Service   So, since starting a retail job, I’ve been thinking a lot about customer service. I remember the last time I had a job where I dealt with customers directly, I had a really terrible attitude, so I was eager to start afresh and put into practice many of the things I’d thought to have already or now wanted to learn, particularly to be less judgmental, more generous with my time, and over all more loving. I’ll admit it was easy at first, because I was learning new things, I felt as though I was genuinely helping others, the customers were all nice, and because overall, as a beginning cashier, my duties were fairly light.

As time has gone on however, I’ve started to sense a shift. I’m fighting it for sure, which in itself is a sign of growth, but I’ll be honest in that there are a few things fighting back. For one, I can be super jealous for my time (even though it’s not really my time anyway and I’m getting paid to be there. Sorry God, I’m working on it!) so being in a setting where I do roughly the same thing week after week and find myself picking up the same items left around the store over and over again instead of being free to write or do the other things I’d rather do (apparently the self-employed independently wealthy lifestyle appeals to me) can feel like being an extra cog just spinning around in a pointless, giant machine. Secondly, having more responsibilities means I don’t have as much time to spare to (ironically) help a customer plan out a project or find a product if I’m going to get everything done. Third, when you have people around you who are negative in the work place, even if it’s just a few, it can be really easy to find those attitudes and habits slipping into you (for the record, I really like my coworkers, so nothing bad on them at all here) just because it’s around.

In any case, when I started noticing those first pangs of resentment, I started to question why. I think my first clue was when they started asking us to say “Thank you for shopping at _______” at the end of every transaction, and things have grown from there.

I think, ultimately, the problem is, we think of customers as our “them.”

See, when they started asking us to name drop at the end of every transaction (as if they wouldn’t know where they are?), I got pretty upset. I don’t mind asking if they found everything alright at the beginning of a transaction because if there’s something I could help them find, I really do want to know. That’s exactly why I’m there, but to end the purchase with a scripted response like that, well, it felt really…inhuman. I’d normally finish off by saying some personalized variation of “have a nice day,” swapping out the adjective and measurement of time as suited to each person, or something related to something we’d said. You know, something to logically end a conversation you’ve just had with a human being. To begin and end the transaction with a scripted response though, well, they could be a rock or a cat or the 14th moon of Gatralpa VI and it wouldn’t really matter because no matter who or what you’re talking to, the interaction is the same. And even if you had a nice conversation with them during the purchase, adding that little name drop on the end just makes the whole thing seem hollow. Or rushed, which it usually is. And I know why they set up those rules. It’s to make sure surly cashiers don’t end purchases on a sour note, but if we have to make rules to make sure people who are serving others aren’t rude, doesn’t that point to a bigger issue? Adding a scripted response is just a bandaid, it doesn’t treat the problem itself. No, if anything it makes it worse, because it frees us to settle for less than a servant’s heart in exchange for a set of rules.

Now, you may be thinking how this makes customers into “them,” but what I mean is that the whole attitude of customer service puts up walls that keep us apart. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be boundaries of course, and I think that for some people those rules are a good starting place (who knows, maybe if they thank customers enough for shopping they’ll start to actually be grateful for their shopping), but I think more often those kinds of things put us into robot mode instead of people mode. You know, a fake smile, laughing at everything, the banter or service formulas. We retreat into our own hearts and minds because we’ve reduced human interaction to such a basic and shallow level that we don’t even need to pay attention during. Does that seem like service to you? More importantly, does it scare you? Phrasing it like this, it kind of scares me, and I think maybe it should.

There are other walls too. Anyone who’s ever worked in retail can tell you stories about customers. “They” leave stuff around the store. “They” are rude. “They” ask stupid questions, “they” bring in screaming kids and “they” don’t act like you’re human. But, under a given set of circumstances, couldn’t you do (or more likely, haven’t you done) the same thing? I know I’ve had times where I’ve run into a store to grab one quick thing right before they close. I’ve had trouble finding things, left things in a general area rather than the correct spot and almost certainly been rude at some point. As a customer I’ve probably fallen into the same robot interaction trap cashiers do because my mind’s been on other things. What is it about the fact that they just happen to be doing it in my store with me as the cashier that makes them any different? Sometimes when people talk about customers, it’s like they’re this bumbling sub-human race whose only goal is to wreck the store. “Those people” are humans too though and while yes, some of them might do things we consider rude, it’s their flawed humanity at the root, not their role as customer. By simply bundling them under that label, we allow ourselves a chance for distance, distance that goes too far, I think, when that’s not really the point at all.

The point is to serve them (like all humans), to better their lives so to speak, which brings me to my last point.

I’ve talked about how customer service can dehumanize people, turn them into dollar signs or stumbling fools, but what it can also do, is put them up on a pedestal. If customers are people, then no, they’re not always right.

Respect for others, discipline, and boundaries are all things that are good for us, things which if not maintained require correction. I’m not saying we should go around calling customers out on everything or be rude or anything–that same love and respect we desire should be at the heart of our own actions–but I sometimes wonder if certain aspects of customer service culture prevent social accountability, a sort of pass for shoppers to be rude or unreasonably angry because “they” are always right. Their actions always excusable because they have the right of way. I’ve been lucky to be free for the most part from squeaky wheel people myself, though there have been a few, and when they come up, I sometimes wonder, just how much better would it be for you if someone told you you’re being rude? If someone questioned your actions? Part of this is because they usually make me angry or sad and the natural instinct is to fight back, but part of it is also because, even though I understand they may have a larger life context that is causing the problem, that doesn’t give them excuse to treat someone else poorly. I don’t believe true service has any place for letting people get away with things. If it did I’d never be corrected at dance, counselors would always simply agree and Jesus would never have rebuked or corrected the flawed thinking of his disciples.

I guess the places I feel have the best customer service are the places I’ve felt least like a customer. I’m more comfortable as a human, not a pot of money, fool or queen. I am still sorting a lot of this out though. I’d really like to know what you think. Are there more walls that you see? Do you think I take things too far? Where have you experienced the best customer service? What do you think marks the worst?

Thanks for sticking with me. I know it’s been a long ride.

Love you!

P.S. While I do recognize a lot of these attitudes in myself, I am not trying to say that all of those in customer service positions do. I’m sure there are many people out there who really do care about their customers as equally I am sure there are many who really don’t. This is just a reflection of some of the things I’ve experienced, not meant to be representative of anyone else at my company or otherwise.

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A closed fist cannot serve

Hey all,

Life updates before the meat of the post, of course.

  1. Got more tea. Eight new kinds all based on different dances: foxtrot, mambo, ceylon waltz, chacha, tangy two-step, tango, electroswing and bolero. The last four are fan-made blends, the first four adagio blends. You can find all of them by searching here. I also got a sample of a blend called sleeping dragon for free with my order. I have yet to try it, but of course it sounds awesome.
  2. I will be taking a break from dancing for about five weeks this summer to be part of the production staff for Leaving Iowa, a show being put on by our church, so look for news on that maybe.
  3. I joined this thing called Storium, which is AWESOME. I highly recommend it if collaborative writing/gaming is your thing. I joined as a beta tester through the Kickstarter campaign, but there will be a public launch hopefully in November. You can find more information here or presumably eventually on their website (not sure how much you can see there right now if you aren’t a tester). Basically it’s like tabletop RPG (role playing game) gaming, but on the internet and a lot less complicated.

Post Meat

So, as is so often the case with me, two seemingly random things collided in my brain recently.

First, I’ve been going through a big nerd stage recently, where I think about magic and video games and anime a lot and want to watch all of the things that give me that gut-wrenching nervous feeling when the fictional people I’m way too emotionally attached to get hurt or challenged and have to overcome it and they all learn valuable lessons and I just want to live in those moments and get overly attached to fictional characters and write or read or game or watch things all the time.

Secondly, in the course of a few short minutes of Facebook stalking, I once again found myself lamenting being myself.

How did this all come together?

Well, as background, part of my excessive nerdiness has included joining Storium (a collaborative storytelling game) and joining a bunch of fantasy themed games, forcing me of course to consider things like character motivation and such. There’s this way of categorizing characters in gaming called alignment. Traditionally there are nine options ranging from lawful good to chaotic evil, but a more simple version would be Open Palm vs. Closed Fist (or some equivalent metaphor). This usually comes up in games where you have some freedom to be a good guy or bad guy, the Closed Fist meaning you’re usually a jerk that everyone fears but obeys, Open Palm meaning you don’t go stealing lunch money but thereby have an army of mathletes and millionaire inventors at your disposal once everyone graduates college. In any case, character motivation has been on my mind, which we’ll circle back to in a minute.

As further background, we’ll talk about the Facebook thing. I hadn’t been meaning to Facebook stalk, but it came up when I saw an old friend from high school had commented on a mutual friend’s post. I clicked on their profile picture because their thumbnail made them look very different than I remembered, and I was surprised to find that they did in fact look different. They’d only grown prettier with age (already an absolute darling back then) and subsequent stalking through the paths of mutual friends revealed that dang, yes, many of my high school classmates have only gotten more pretty or handsome. Not only that, but they look like adults. Real, full on, fully realized, competent people. I was a little surprised, not because I didn’t think they had it in them, but because enough time has passed for this to come to fruition. I still don’t feel like an adult most of the time, and yet, here they were, getting drinks with friends after work, still maintaining frequent in person contact with their circles of friends, visiting Europe, traveling, moving away to far off places and having successful dating relationships. And here’s me, sitting in typically frumpian Abby clothes, day old eye makeup making me look like a raccoon while I stalk people I haven’t spoke to in years.

I have to admit, my self confidence sunk pretty fast, which was frustrating considering how boldly I had been telling people not to despise their differences less than two months ago for roughly the same problem. It’s hard when these things happen because I know how dumb it is and still can’t help myself. So, naturally, what does one do when faced with perceived failure as a human being? Try to wiggle out of it, of course. I started trying to come up with things I had done that proved that I had somehow done something in the last five years. Not easy when you’re being hard on yourself and nothing you’ve done seems impressive.

Except, I know I’ve grown as a person. I’ve grown by leaps and bounds in fact, especially in the last year, and what’s more, I’m not even held to the standards of this world. Not really, anyway. I knew even as it was happening I was judging myself against the wrong standards, and while it didn’t mean it wasn’t a struggle, I was aware that that fact was and would be what would pull me out of the debasing mire, a sign of growth in itself. By the end of the night I felt better actually, and a little subsequent creeping the following morning didn’t really drag me down so much as make me think. I thought of where I used to be only a few years ago and realized, man, God is seriously making me chill out. It’s incredibly freeing, and the best way I can describe it is like having a fist clasped around your belief set and having someone slowly relax the grip. I’m not saying I don’t believe Jesus is my savior or that I don’t believe in God or anything anymore, because I do, what I am letting go of–ever so slowly–is the idea that I am right or know everything and the facade that makes me look like I do.

See, when you live your life thinking you know how the world works, any change to your worldview rapidly becomes a threat. It’s an attitude that I think a lot of people can get lost in, one of the main reasons we struggle so much to have open discussion as a society, in fact. It’s the attitude that says anyone who thinks or acts differently is inherently “other” or “them” and ultimately, of course, wrong. And not just in a factually correct or incorrect way. It creates an almost inherent wrongness, separating them from  “correct” human beings. It’s an attitude which I think has prevented me in the past from loving many people as much as I should. It’s scary to be challenged, and for me, especially about Christian ideas, I think it was a case where anything that might have loosened the fist instead made me clench tighter. The funny thing about a clenched fist though, is there’s not that much you can do with it. Keep what’s inside from others or konk them over the head, you don’t have that many options. With an open hand however, well, you can do a lot more. Play music, offer water, give a high five or get a hand up. I guess what it means is to be humble enough to love others more than yourself, or more specifically, you being correct. Closed fists create aggression. Open palms create community. Kinda wish I’d figured it out sooner, but hey, I’m no angel.

Oh, and another cool thing? I’ve gotten closer to those I already loved, too, including God. Turns out another thing you can do with a clenched fist is protect what’s inside, even from those trying to help. Letting go frees me to see and learn things I never knew before, not just from other people but also straight from the source. I’ve learned more about God’s character and love and power from letting him change and correct me than I ever could from a static life. He is an infinite God. That means there’s a lot to learn.

Anyway, it all kind of clicked during church while our pastor was talking about human control. I like when life overlaps. I think it’s kind of neat.

Buh-bye!

Recommendations, tea and galimaufry

HEY all!

I’ve missed you!

So, I know it’s been a billion years since I posted, but that’s because I have been insanely busy (in a good way). This is gonna be a quick run down of what’s been on my plate followed by some recommendations for a couple things. I’ve been thinking about some other things I’d like to post about, but that hasn’t gelled yet, so please be patient with me.

First, I have been super blessed and favored at my job. I got promoted to full time after only a month, essentially became the (figure) head of a department (the part time woman there is kicking my butt so far cause she’s been there longer, but I’m learning!!), and am generally really enjoying working there.

Secondly, cross-stitch is advancing slowly but surely. I am down to finishing Rick’s shirt, his head and neck, the lettering and then a little bit more on Cog. I think I can finish it in maybe three weeks if I try real hard, but we’ll see.

Third, I performed my first ballroom dance routine at a spotlight party at the studio. I no longer have anxiety issues regarding dance (or pretty much anything else, w00t!) and we totally nailed it. I felt like we were both “on” from the very start all the way through to the end, people loved it and I was pleased that all of our hard work (especially my instructor’s) paid off. Also, I looked super pretty thanks to hair and makeup help from my mom and a friend, so that’s always nice. 😉

Fourth, I underwent my first (and hopefully only) surgery. I had a little bitty chunk of me removed for testing and not only were the results good, I also am going to have a pretty gnarly scar to show for it. To be honest, I was super chill for the whole thing, from the moment I found said bitty chunk a couple months ago all the way up through getting released. I think I woke up mid sleep cycle the day of, so mostly I was just super exhausted from when I got up to when I woke up from the three hour nap I took almost immediately after getting home. They also had heated blankets as well as a heater that plugged directly into air pockets in my gown, so I was kind of nest mode the whole time.

Fifthly and perhaps most importantly, an agent has requested a partial of Machine!! I’ve sent her the first three chapters and a synopsis, and since all I sent her originally was a query letter, I’m pretty stoked/optimistic. I also heard back from a representative of a local theatre group regarding my stage play, who said there’s a possibility that I could get them to put it on, so fingers crossed on that as well!

All that being said, my life has been busy in a wonderful, blessed way. Besides those things, the musical I was helping with (sorta, scheduling made it hard for me to do much this year…) went up this weekend (it was PHENOMENAL by the way), dance lessons are going strong performances aside, and I’ve been doing some more writing. The writing group my friend and I want to start had it’s second meeting with 50% growth from last time, as in three people instead of just us two, haha. It’s small, but it’s progress! I’ve also been working on my next book, slowly but surely, and reading more. I forgot how much I love some of my characters, so it’s been really great to reconnect with them and spend some time there. A few days ago I got into this missing fit where I just wanted to read everything I’ve written and remember the times we’ve had and their stories and everything which is kind of weird I guess, but the feelings are there and strong nonetheless. I’ve been watching a lot of Merlin and anime recently as well,  and, to get to my next point, getting into tea.

I’ve always liked tea, but though I knew enough to know the differences in taste between the different teas I was drinking, I couldn’t explain the what or why of it. I also had a fairly limited selection. I liked black teas a lot, so that’s mostly what I drank. Turns out–not surprisingly–there’s a lot more that goes into it than that. I want to learn all about it (spurred by the gift of loose leaf tea my sister gave me. Peppermint + Fennel = DELICIOUS) as my next hobby, and I could not have had a better start. I’ve been building up my collection of teas as a first step, and the results have all been delicious.

First, my bagged teas, most from Bigelow:

  1. Earl Grey
  2. English Breakfast (okay, I’m out of that right now, but I’ve no doubt it’ll be a standard)
  3. Constant Comment
  4. Mango Chamomile
  5. Pomegranate Green
  6. Throat Coat (an herbal tea used for sore throats. It’s super effective)
  7. Peppermint
  8. Oolong

Next, the loose leaf teas from my sister. I haven’t tried most of them because a lot of them have rooibos, which I am totally not a fan of, but the peppermint and fennel one came from her, so I’m not discounting them all. I won’t bother listing them, but I think I still have three or four of them left. One of them was a green tea a friend of mine really enjoyed, so that was good too.

Finally, my favorites, the ones I got from Adagio teas. This site came up on my sidebar on Facebook quite some time ago, first peddling Doctor Who teas and then Sherlock. I’ll be honest in that I didn’t pay much mind the first time because I thought, you know, there are a lot of people who are like, JUST PUT A TARDIS ON IT AND YOU’LL MAKE MILLIONS, which is sort of true, but not entirely something I’ll jump at given the choice. I think when it came up again I was considering this tea journey I’m taking, so I clicked the link. I am SO glad that I did. See, this site has normal tea and teaware and such, but you can also make your own blends, named and themed after whatever you like OR get fandom teas. What I mean by this is you can get teas (or groups of teas) based on pretty much any nerd thing you like. There are ones for sci-fi shows, animes, dramas, comedies, hobbies, video games, animals, plays and more. Seriously, I found some fairly obscure fandoms on there. It was great. They also have these super clever, customer requested deals where two tea blends are “shipping” (a term referring to the non-canon romantic pairing of two characters from a fandom) together, where if you buy both you get a discount. It’s probably the smartest marketing move I’ve ever seen (cause really, who loves tea if not nerds? We pretty much love all things English and what’s more English than tea?), but even besides that, the tea is AMAZING.

I got five blends, each of which came in a fairly sizeable pouch. They include:

  1. Hatori tea: Based off of Hatori from Fruits Basket, this might be my new favorite tea of all time. It’s white cucumber, earl grey green, chamomile and apple. Not only does it smell so good I want to live in the bag, it’s got the lightness of white and green teas, the freshness of cucumber and the more grounded flavor of earl grey to keep it balanced. Seriously, I think about it several times a day now. It’s great.
  2. Kyo tea: Based off of Kyo from Fruits Basket, this tea almost reminds me of drinking cappuccino. It has tiger eye, blood orange, cream and orange peels. The site said it tastes good with milk and sugar, but I haven’t tried it yet. I also just found out after looking into the ingredients more that it has caramel and chocolate flavors in it, so no wonder it reminds me of a cappuccino (or at least the approximate mix of one I get).
  3. Tamaki tea: Based on Tamaki Suoh from Ouran High School Host Club, I haven’t actually tried this one yet. It has mango, blood orange, peach and orange peels, so I’m thinking it’s going to be fairly fruity (obviously) with a heavier rather than lighter citrus flavor. I’m hoping it’s not too heavy, but we’ll see. I found out there are hibiscus flowers in it, which I am not a fan of, but I guess we’ll just see.
  4. Soubi tea: Based on Soubi from Loveless,  this tea has white tropics, pomegranate green, mango green and marigold flowers. I haven’t tried this one either, but it sounded pretty good. Looking at a more in depth list it has coconut flavor too, so we’ll see how that works. I didn’t think I’d ever want coconut in my tea, but I thought the same about chocolate and I liked the Kyo tea just fine.
  5. Zelda tea: A fruity tea, this one has strawberry, gingseng green, lemon grass, mango and lemon verbena. I don’t know that I brewed it right to bring out the flavors well, and most of the time I was drinking it it was already cold, so I didn’t think of it as a standout, but I think that might change if I’m better with brewing.

That’s all of the teas I bought the first time, but I was so impressed I’ve already got a wishlist started for more. For one thing, I want the utiliTEA tea kettle they have, which you can use to set your water temp to the appropriate temp for specific teas (the one we have now basically just goes to rolling boil until the water all evaporates with no indication of anything in between unless you touch the sides. This is bound to burn white and green teas). I’m psyched for that, which will be my next purchase. After that, I want to get Haruhi tea (Ouran High School Host Club), maybe some Yuki tea (Fruits Basket), DEFINITELY FOXTROT TEA,  possibly Playwright tea, and then maybe some other fandom or a tea to gift to a friend (you can get free shipping on larger orders, so I try to order in groups of five). Unless I need more Hatori tea, which is definitely possible.

I’m also looking into buying 19 Lessons on Tea: Become an Expert on Buying, Brewing, and Drinking the Best Tea by 27Press, which is essentially what the title says. I’m excited to learn about the differences between different types of tea and also about pairing teas with food, which sounds super fascinating. I may also search for a book on the history of tea, because that’s a huge deal too, world history wise. Ideally I’d like to find a guide on tea flavors so that I could know what I’m buying on Adagio (half the time I read the description and am pretty much not helped at all because I don’t know what the ingredients are), but that’s proven slightly harder to find.

Anyway, at approximately 16 teas and counting, I’m certainly off to a great start.

Thanks for reading!