Friday, December 27, 2013

Pavlov's Bitch-mas

I'm idling in front of a McDonald's while Greg and Henry play inside.  Oliver is sleeping in his carseat and I'm - oh, so quietly - munching on some popcorn I just picked up while braving Target.

Okay, he's awake.  We can go inside and do a "proper" bloggy-blog now...

Double Cheeseburger
Small Fries

If you're scoring at home, I've just named two places that I'm shunning - Target and McDonald's - and one food I've decided not to eat anymore - cheeseburger.  Two words: gift cards.  And the meat is being phased out.  After the new year.  And our meeting with the nutritionist isn't until February, so we've got time to work it out a bit (so there). 

I have also named one place I recommend people stay away from this time of year - any retail establishment.  I recommend this, not just for the sake of the shopper, but for the sake of the clerks, as well.  December 26th through the new year is known by the Ramenista class as Returns/Gift Card season.  Or, to appropriate the word my dear friend Kate just coined: Bitchmas. 

And there's blame to go around for the high stress of this season.  For every one returns horror story you might have, we cashiers and service managers have at least a hundred more stories of unreasonable, belligerent customers with unrealistic expectations of the world.  I've had my share of situations I wish I could go back and do differently, of policies from Corporate that make our lives unnecessarily stressful, but if I'm going to be perfectly honest... you people are awful. 

Okay, I know, I know - it's not everybody...  It may not even be most.  But it's enough of you.

Some of you are inherently jerks in any situation, some of you are well-meaning but just thoughtless.  But the overarching problem comes from the average customer's social conditioning.  People have been told that low-wage workers are just kids - immature slack-offs.  Disposable.  Otherwise they would have a better job.  And as much as I love Kevin Smith, movies like "Clerks" only reinforce those negative stereotypes.  People are not taught to treat the people in the polo shirts with pinned-on names as fellow adults deserving of respect.

And then there is the original sin of customer service... 

I'm not an inherently violent person, but I would dearly like to punch that person who first said, "The customer is always right," right in the face.  With those five words they entitled the biggest douche-bags of human society and unleashed a torrent of undeserved disrespect upon the American worker.  The "customer is always right" mantra enables any person to be as abusive and disrespectful as they want and then be rewarded for it.  In other words, instead of being accountable for their actions, that policy turns them into another one of Pavlov's Bitches.

These perceptions infuse the customer-clerk relationship.  I cannot defend every jerk behind the counter - and many of them buy into the advertised role and treat their job as just as disposable as they are perceived to be.  But my experience is that the attitude is not the norm, nor is it entirely unfounded when it's there.  Since I spent so many years developing my customer service skills, I get a little extra rankled when I receive legitimately bad customer service.

The best advice I ever had from a manager was, "The customer is not always right, but the customer is always a customer."  I could write way more than any of you guys want to read about what good customer service - and good customer behavior - should look like.  For now, let me just leave you with a few tips for the season...

- Be patient.
- Mind the line.  It's fine to have a conversation as you wait, or to play games on your phone, but be aware of your surroundings and keep the line moving.
- Don't converse with others when you're at the counter - and that goes for cashiers too.  Don't start a conversation you can't drop as soon as you have to interact with another person, and tell the person on the phone that you're at the counter now.  Let them wait or call them back.
- If you don't have the receipt or didn't know the return policy, expect nothing.  My personal policy as a manager was that exceptions should be made for exceptional situations.
- Be contrite and polite, because most stores are trying to find a way to make you happy, especially this time of year.
- Be mindful.  Take a moment to think about what the person behind the counter experiences every day as part of their job.  Consider what amount of control they have over the situation, and if you have to take your matter to the manager or the corporate offices, try to acknowledge that you understand the limits of power of the person in front of you.
 - And if the person behind the counter is being a douche, you don't have to get nasty about it in response.  Nor should you just take it.  Just follow-up with the appropriate higher-up in a calm and assertive manner.  After all, how else are they to learn about the bad behavior - or misinformed behavior - if they never hear about it from the people who are experiencing it?

This time of year is also known as, "And I'd like a tax receipt..." season for those working the donations departments out there.  So, on Greg's behalf, if you're heading to Goodwill or wherever, and especially if you're going to ask for a tax receipt, please do not:

- Donate trash, especially items contaminated with fecal matter.
- Hand over three separate bags with a single shirt in each so you can claim, "three bags of clothes," on your taxes.
- Ask that your receipt can be back-dated if you show up after the new year.
- Ask them to unload the 40 pounds of books right away so you can have the box back.
- Set your donations on the ground for them to lift up again.  They are lifting and carrying and contorting all day.  Just wait your turn and hand it over so they do not have to put more strain on their backs.
- And if you are donating "as is" items or items to be recycled (like your bulky old TV now that you've gotten that new spiffy flatscreen for Christmas), just don't ask for a receipt.

If you really, really wanted something and didn't get exactly what you wanted, remember that it's no one's responsibility to get you anything.  You can take responsibility for that desire and work to get it for yourself.  And try to keep in mind that if you have received something that you ultimately don't like, you have still been given the opportunity to make someone else happy by passing on what you have been given for free.

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