Way too often over the course of my eighteen or so months working as a customer service employee, I have been greeted with a fair amount of rolling eyes, exasperated sighs, and overall snarky attitudes. In the beginning, I used to take these things to heart. After almost every shift, I would question my demeanor, my work ethic, and how I’m projecting myself to the public. It’s a bit unfortunate for me to say that after awhile, I grew numb to all of the attitude and unpleasant comments muttered under breath. As someone who has been stuck behind a counter, forced to bite my tongue with a fake smile plastered on my face, the number one thing I’ve learned about the general public is that many people have such a strong sense of entitlement, and think they can treat those on the opposite side of the table however they would like. But I’ve also learned a great deal of patience and understanding, and feel an even greater amount of sympathy for those who have to deal with such people – when you’re being yelled at on pretty much a daily basis over the phone, in person, or through email, how can you not? Here are a few things to keep in mind every time you are in a customer service setting.
1. Maintain eye contact
Currently, I work at my school’s testing center, and so many of the people I come into contact with are my age, and are thus enthralled by technology and pretty much anything that moves. Unfortunately for me, that means that while I am talking to students, their eyes are glued to their phones. If not to a cell phone, their eyes tend to wander pretty much anywhere else, avoiding mine. This makes me feel like I’m not being heard, or that I’m not deserving of their attention (ironic, since the customer is the one asking me for help 100% of the time). Looking someone in the eye as they are talking to you, although such a simple action, speaks volumes. Maintaining eye contact shows that you respect the person, that they are your equal, and that you are not above them and what they have to say. The overall take away from here is that the person behind the counter is there to help you – the least you can do is to pretend that you’re listening by looking that person in the eye as they address your issue.
2. NEVER interrupt or try to talk over the person trying to help you
This has to be the one thing that I will never understand – when somebody interrupts me while I’m talking, or when somebody tries to talk over me. This is extremely incorrect etiquette for so many situations for so many reasons. From an ethical perspective, the first thing that I learned at my job was to try and keep every situation as calm as possible – do not raise your voice, and try to keep the customer from becoming upset. When I am trying to convey something as calmly as possible, there should be no reason to try and talk over me. Sometimes, for reasons unbeknownst to me, a person will try to talk over me anyway. This results in escalating voices, which will then agitate both parties, and the entire situation becomes a lot more unpleasant than it needs to be. What’s more, there have been a few occasions where a student or parent has tried to interrupt me while I was trying to address their initial concern. It doesn’t take a professional to know that this kind of behavior is just outright impolite. As children, we were taught (I’m hoping) to wait our turn, whether it was during a game on the playground, using a box of crayons, or having a conversation. The moment a customer service representative has to tell you to wait your turn to speak should be a wake up call that something has gone very wrong. I have never yelled at a customer, but I have had to raise a hand and sternly ask a someone to let me finish what I am trying to say, an action that should never be necessary.
3. Think before you speak/act
More often than not, the information I give to students is not the information they want to receive. I am not only a student assistant, exam administrator, and professional thing counter (oh so much counting), but I am also the bearer of bad news – I wear many hats at my job. I understand that what I have to say may not be what students want to hear, and I understand people’s frustration – they have every right to be. That being said, however, I am simply trying to do my job. There is nothing I can do about policy and procedure, and as much as I would like to give students their way just for my own peace of mind, I cannot, and in those situations, my hands are tied and I am powerless. So before you get the overwhelming urge to scream your obscenities at an otherwise innocent person, ask yourself why you are frustrated, and ask yourself if it is any one person’s fault.
4. The one behind the counter is a person, too.
What I have noticed over the years is that the second someone walks into an establishment and sees someone behind a counter, all of a sudden they are the superior one and the employee is nothing more than a speck of dust as far as anyone is concerned. Like I said before, so many people have such a high sense of entitlement and expect to be given everything under the sun. The important thing to remember is that the one trying to do their job, the one trying to give you the help you want, is a person, too. They have a life outside of work, and aren’t programmed to make wishes come true. These people have other things to worry about that shouldn’t include rude customers. The things you say affect them just like these actions would affect you. The person behind a counter deserves every ounce of respect that you expect to be given yourself.
Getting a job at any age can teach a person so many valuable lessons – having a good work ethic, knowing when it’s appropriate to be professional, knowing the value of a dollar. But working a customer service job, which is something I strongly feel everyone needs to do at some point, will teach lessons far more valuable when used outside of the workplace – patience, compassion, how to treat a person. I have seen far too many people be wrongly disrespected, all due to the stigma that they are the “bad guy” trying to do their job, all due to the notion that they are beneath the public. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect, something that can be learned being the person behind the counter.