18 December 2008

Guide to Good Customer Service

I've noticed that now that the holidays are nipping at our heels, people are coming into the store demanding better service. The problem is their inability to recognize that sometimes it's their own actions that are hampering their means to getting service with a smile. You want to see a smile on my face? Hows about you try not being an asshole, for a start. Here are some tips on how to make it until Christmas when you've got so much shopping left to do, and so many more assish store clerks to deal with:

The person on the other side of the counter is human, too. They've probably got a to-do list that's a mile long, just like you - it is the holiday season after all, which is why you're in the store all stressed out, looking for deals. However, instead of sitting in an office pretending to look busy while they shop or buy plane tickets on the Internet, the person helping you has to stand on their feet for 8 hours of the day, sans internet, often dealing with high-maintenance customers. Sure, they chose a job in retail, but do you think anyone joins a retail team because it's their dream job? Does that mean they deserve to be treated like crap, or that they're obviously unintelligent?

Next time, just try being nice. You don't have to put yourself in their shoes or anything, just maybe don't be a dick. Don't look at them like they have two heads when they ask for your phone number, zip code, whatever. It's not like they're going to get off their shift and ask you to go out for drinks - the computer won't let them through the system unless they ask. They don't give a crap that you don't want any more phone calls, that you're already in the system, or that you get too many catalogs. All you have to say is, "no thanks," and if you say it with a smile, you may get a high five or something, is all I'm saying.

Calm down. Sometimes the situation is exacerbated because your hysteria is fueling my hysteria. This goes back to the thing about my being human, too. I have emotions, and sometimes I can't control them, either. In my case, I have a super awesome manager who happens to be nice all of the time, but I also have a[n equally awesome] manager who mutters things about customers as they walk away. Like I said, just because we're in retail doesn't mean we're there to make your retail experience sunshine and puppies 100% of the time. And if you simply treat us like someone you might see again (and if you intend on going into a shop more than once, you probably will), maybe you'll be able to respect yourself when you walk out of the store. If you want to take a gander as to whose faces I'm more likely to remember, I'll give you two guesses, and I'll even give you a hint: it's not the people who are really nice to me, as much as I wish it were.

Yes, you do usually get what you want - after a while - and even then, only when we are actually physically able to do it, but at what cost? Maybe you're okay with people groaning when you walk into a store. I know I'm not, but then again maybe that's why you're an asshole to store clerks when I try really hard not to be.

It's not always about you. We didn't deliberately run out of a product because we knew you were coming into the store. Have to wait in line? So do the twelve people ahead of you. Maybe you feel it's deeply personal because you've only got seven shopping days until Christmas, but so does the rest of the community. Happy retailers are more likely to help you as much as they can - except, sometimes, when they encountered a severely pissy customer eight seconds before they were with you (and for those cases, I am truly, truly sorry). Sometimes we're brusque, or rushed, but it's not because you're annoying us at all - sometimes it's simply because someone just spent five minutes of her life screaming at us and berating us because she had fifteen minutes on her meter, and we can't give her the quarters she so desperately needs, because she's not currently in the middle of a cash transaction - she's in the middle of the store yelling at someone.

I'm not saying that being brusque or rushed is acceptable behavior on behalf of the clerk - the message is more along the lines of "don't potentially ruin it for everyone else by being a jerk."

Helpful suggestions...aren't always helpful. You think one of us should be bagging constantly while the other person rings you up? We should have a drawer with "just quarters" that the staff can access without a manager? We really should have a public restroom? Thanks. I mean, really. You're so much more clever than me (I'm a lowly store clerk. With a degree from MIT) and no one has ever said that to me before.

Grousing causes my eye to twitch, and I know my voice sounds flatter, and my smile is less sparkly with you grousers - even when I'm honestly trying to get through the day being nice to everyone, and manage to succeed, you've sucked a piece of my soul. I'm absolutely not saying you shouldn't voice your opinion, especially when it's a valid and thoughtful concern, I'm just saying that your complaint is one in a million of the same complaint - and eventually, yes, it can wear on a person. Congrats, you're the thousandth grousing customer. You get a cold, flat stare!

Complaining is futile, unless you honestly want to fill out a form, send an email, or call our corporate office. And sometimes your ideas are brilliant, and really could help the store - but is the store clerk, or even the manager, the person who can make that change? Never immediately, and usually no.

Also, one more quick thing, because it's come up far too often in the past three days: debit cards are debit cards - the computer, not the clerk, will read the card as a debit card, because it is a debit card and no force in the universe will change that - especially if DEBIT is written on your card in big black letters. However, if you want to use it as a "credit card," please ask - it's always an option if the debit card has a logo on it (mastercard or visa, for instance). And if you don't know the difference, you should feel embarrassed when you snap and gnarl at the clerk that "it's a credit card," because it's not, but I can press a tiny little button so that you can sign instead of entering your PIN1 - it takes all of half a second, and it doesn't require rudeness to work. And there you were being a jerk because you think I'm an idiot for not reading your mind. And, really, who looks more stupid in this situation now that you know what you wouldn't allow me to explain to you at the register?

1"When clerks ask this question, they are really asking you to pick one of two ways they can process your debit – a PIN (personal identification number) based transaction or as a signature-based transaction. One costs the merchant a little more and one takes a little longer to hit your checking account, but fundamentally a debit transaction is a debit transaction." -Debit or Credit? Here's The Answer
And on that note, this writer personally always uses the "credit" option when forking over her debit card. Here's why.

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