Web-exclusive Column: If you can’t say anything nice, don’t work in customer service

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By Natalie Goodwin

My day started by going shopping at the grocery store. When I reached the check out, I placed all my purchases up on the belt and the frowning checker proceeded to ring my groceries with no ‘Hello,’ no ‘How are you?’ no nothing. The only thing she uttered the entire time was, “$110.76.”

So was this the total of my bill or the number of times she had ignored a customer completely that week? When I am paying $110 for groceries, which helps pay her salary, I expect a ‘hello’ and most importantly a ‘thank you,’ but from her I got zilch.

My next stop was at the drive-through of a fast food chain to get a drink. I asked at the intercom for a large Sprite. “That’s a large fry?”

“No, not French fries, I need a drink, a large Sprite.” I understood how the misunderstanding could happen; Sprite and Fry do sound alike. I went to the first window as asked and when the window opened, the young man just stuck out his hand for payment; again, no ‘hello,’ no nothing.

I proceeded to the second window where I was handed large fries. OK, well I explained I had asked for a large Sprite, not fries. The look of complete disgust on her face was undeniably clear. She was annoyed. Was she irritated with me for asking that my order be made right? Maybe she was peeved with the young man who took my order. I don’t know, maybe she is just an unpleasant personality.

I spent the rest of the morning running several other errands, and in each place, rudeness was the protuberant characteristic amongst everyone who waited on me. My last stop of the day was the ultimate experience in inauspicious customer service, the DMV.

I inquired at the information desk what I needed to do to get tags on a new car. The woman there said, “Take a number and wait your turn.”

Well, I did. I waited two hours and 15 minutes. When my number was called, and I received the ‘it’s your turn’ text on my phone, I proceeded to the window. I sat down with all my paper work (that I thought I needed) and the lady at the window barked, “This is a Missouri title,” and stared at me like I was wasting her time; like it was inconveniencing her to do her job.

I asked what a Missouri title meant. She snapped back at me with, “Well, what it means is that you needed to get an inspection before you came to me.” I wasn’t communicated that at the information desk. I had called the day before to get details and was on hold for over an hour before I finally disconnected.

I asked where to go to get this done. The ever so agreeable lady told me where it was, the cost and with a smirk finished by saying, “And by the way they closed two minutes ago, you’ll have to get it done another day and then come back.”

I was the one who had over two hours of my day drained and was going to have to do the whole thing over another day.  She was being paid to be there. I, on the other hand, just had my only day off exhausted by errands and discourteous, ill-mannered people. People who were getting paid for their time, but spending my time and filling it with the most unfavorable customer service ever.

By the time I managed to get to the only fun thing I had planned for the day, going to dinner, I was again blessed with a waitress who must have really loathed her job. She grumbled about her hours, her wages, her tips, her boss, her co-workers and even her personal life while waiting on me. Really, must I endure yet another offensive person, a person annoyed to wait on me, when that’s their job?

No, I had enough of unpleasantness for the day.  So on the tip line of my receipt, I wrote: “Here’s your tip, stay out of customer service, or any other position where you have to be around people. With your personality, try collections. People expect bill collectors to be rude.”

Too harsh? I don’t believe so. I have managed to work almost 30 years in retail and still be pleasant. I expect the same courtesy.

Customers are not always right, not always pleasant or even friendly, but when working in a position that deals with people, remember they pay our salaries. It is your job: customer service with a smile.

Contact Natalie Goodwin, reporting correspondent, at ngoodwi1@jccc.edu.

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