punkwalrus (punkwalrus) wrote,

One Person at a Time

I was reading some stuff on "The Smoking Gun" about rude toll booth employees and the complaints they get. It reminded me of all those years in retail I had, plus the jobs I had where I did tech calls through the phone.

The biggest problem with customer service is many people don't give a damn on either side. On one side, you have some poor soul getting paid very little to do a job with is either monotonous or difficult. Then you have some customers with very poor social skills being mean and nasty for no reason. Both sides erode on decent and polite people on the opposite side. And the problem is getting worse.

For example, say you have a cashier who has a neutral behavior. Nothing wrong with that. Then comes along some asshat who is mad about something else, and takes it out on the cashier. This cashier will probably be taking out THEIR frustrations on the next few customers, no matter how nice they are. Those customers will probably be rude to the next few cashiers they meet, and so on and so on. People tend to remember negative experiences far more than positive ones, and the whole thing grinds down on people, and is hard to turn around. In retail we had a saying that if we make one person happy, they may tell 2-4 of their friends, and probably forget about it within a week. If we make the customer mad, they will tell everyone, possibly 10-20 people, and may remember it for weeks, months, even years. Those friends will tell their friends, and one bad incident suddenly sympathetically pisses off dozens. That's not fair, is it?

But it's true. I see it happen all the time. And this has been devolving for so long, people just don't give a damn anymore. It used to be a bank teller was a professional point of contact that you'd remember. Bill the teller. But now Bill has been replaced by someone who can do the job for the least amount of money. So you get the lower end of the labor force. The lower end is usually a mix of inexperienced people (who get better and instantly leave for better pay elsewhere), people with temporary hiring difficulties (like don't speak English very well yet, but then get better, and also leave), and then there are the rest: a sad assortment of lazy and rude people who think the world owes them something and don't give a damn about anything.

Ever work as a retail manager? I have. I was for many years; most of my retail life. I always did good work, and got promoted pretty quickly. I have also tried to hire people from want ads, career fairs, and walk-ins. Often I had to find halfway decent people from a sad crop of the dregs of social ineptitude. I'd say about 90% of my interviews were over within minutes after they started. Now, to be fair, I did work in sales for two of those jobs, and one of the qualifications was... well, salesmanship: a neat and clean appearance, or at least a nice personality. Uh uh. I got people in bad clothes who sometimes stank who had a bad attitude right from the start. Many didn't want to be hired, but were doing it to please someone else.

Manager: Why do you wish to work with our company?
Applicant: My DAD says I have to GET A JOB... [angry slouch]

True response from my annals of bad interviews (he was also wearing a baseball tee-shirt that had the Metallica "Metal Up Yer Ass" logo on it). That one conversation sums up most of the applicants I rejected within five minutes.

Those that I did hire, I gave them some pretty common-sense training. One of them was teaching them about the cycle of misery: those who reinforce the bad experiences will create more, and everyone will seem to suck. Me? I rarely had "bad" customers. Why? Attitude. Very few people wanted to be mean to me. The meaner they were, the nicer I was. It was a sweet form of "you don't control me!" sort of revenge, yes, but it served me well. Some people just want to yell, and they don't know me, so if they call me a fat four-eyed fuck who should die (and some did), I didn't take it personally. I just tried to solve their problem and make them happy so at the very least they'd go away. But 99% of all customers I ever dealt with were nice, friendly, or at least neutral. After every customer, I'd say to myself, "That was a nice person," or "I enjoyed that call, that was easy to fix." I reinforced the positive. When something went bad, I went, "Oh well," and forgot about it (except if it was REALLY bad, and those were rare).

Some see this technique as "selling out" or even "denial" whereas I saw it as "survival" and "taking pride in my work so when some dolt fires me, at least I knew it wasn't my fault." Of course, then again, I care about people in general. I have this suspicion that most people don't give a damn anymore, and it's just becoming a chain reaction of bad experience upon bad experience. I wish I could stop it, but the best I can do is be a friendly customer myself. I say "please" and "thank you" and tip generously for good service. I don't treat ANYBODY as "beneath me," and I am repulsed by people who do this to wait staff, for instance. I hope, in some way, maybe me being nice will carry over to a few other people and maybe they will be nice to one or more people. Or at least stem the tide a bit.

I wish I could prove to people how being nice improves your life. Even if you are in a sea of asshats and morons, sometimes you get a little extra for not being an ass. And you gain a lot of friends who stick with you for a long time. Friends help out other friends. Soon, you are not alone, but in a raft of better people and positive experience in a sea of difficulty. Some people (like my father) see people as "out to get them" and purposely have no friends to they can jealously clutch their faculties or whatever. They have their right to do that, but you know, what's the point of living, then? We're only on this Earth for a short period, so you might as well make the best of your life to contribute to the greater whole.

And you can do that one person at a time.

This entry was originally posted at http://www.punkwalrus.com/blog/archives/00000254.html
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