Tuesday, June 17, 2008

"Bad Karma on Aisle 4"

Today's Star has something to say about the retrograde state of Customer Service these days. After relating an unpleasant customer service experience, the article winds up with a sigh:
"So now I'm wondering: What has happened to "customer service" in Toronto? Like "affordable housing" and "safe streets," it seems to have become something of an oxymoron.

It's almost as if an airborne contagion has spread through the ventilation shafts at some retail outlets, infecting workers with involuntary scowls and two unshakeable beliefs: 1. The customer is always wrong. 2. The customer is worthy of contempt."

The treatment the writer experienced was unacceptable -- Job One in Retail is to make sure customers get what they want and feel warm and fuzzy, not used and abused, doing it. He/she is right to be pissed off. I've had similar experiences and been almost as pissed off -- except that I know there are sometimes extenuating circumstances.

Summer is always a blast in the retail sector -- people are out and about more, they're on holidays, they're traveling, they're hanging loose and getting silly and often doing it with greater gusto than necessary. A couple of days ago, I had the pleasure of serving one of the customers that makes retail work such a rapturous joy. He came storming into the store (literally, storming), and demanded a $5 lottery ticket in the kind of strident, aggressive manner that a crackhead might demand some rock from his dealer. Since there are umpteen different $5 ticket combinations, I tried to ascertain exactly which one he wanted. Clearly a bad move, because he went off like a bundle of TNT: "Does it say $5? Then that's what I want!! What are you, STUPID or something?"

The diatribe continued: "You must be one of these STUPID BUSH-HATING CANADIAN IDIOTS! This is COMMUNISM! Canada is MARXIST AND COMMUNIST!! CANADIANS are IDIOTS!" the tirade went on and on (I found myself wondering if he was an SDA commenter). Customers gathered interestedly and inevitably someone stepped forward and said "I don't like being called stupid!", then the pushing and shoving began. "TAKE IT OUTSIDE!" I screamed, before it could spiral into violence. (Which would have been okay by me, except I'd have been the one cleaning up the mess.) Naturally, once outside, the pugilistic customer made a beeline for his car and took off in a spray of dust, gravel and expletives.

These little skirmishes don't happen every day, but they happen often enough that they might explain flagging enthusiasm in the customer service sector. Never blame on innate rudeness what can be explained by run-ins with Bad Customers. Of course, it always helps to remember what retail work is for most people: a temporary source of marginal income until a Real Job comes along. Retail clerks might be more inclined to excellence in customer service if they were getting paid an excellent wage. Or at least a living one.