May I help you…damn it?

Originally posted at the Books Den Blog on

Over the past few weeks I have attended several customer service related training events. In addition to writing, I also work part-time at the library and this has been a topic of conversation for as long as libraries have existed. During the training, I realized that it has been a very long time since I received what I would consider to be good customer service. I frequently shop and eat at restaurants, yet I couldn’t think of a single occasion during which I was pleased with my service during the past couple of years. This got me thinking, as if I needed something else to gripe about, that the people who work in service jobs simply don’t care. They have lost sight of the fact that when we, the customer are in front of them, we are the reason that they receive a paycheck.

It also started me thinking about why good customer service is so hard to find. I can see why workers would feel this way. If I were serving a meal to customers that it would take me eight hours of work to afford, I might feel a twinge of bitterness. Or if I saw people checking out gifts and so forth day in and day out, I might start to feel a little salty when I didn’t even make enough to pay for the gas it took to get to my job. On several occasions I have been made to feel like I was a real burden to the person who was ringing up my order or helping me make an appointment. This made me wonder why I choose to share any of my earnings at all. I call it sharing because it hurts less than saying I’m giving my eye teeth for my grocery order every week. In any case, when I go to a restuarant, I expect the person who is waiting on me to be courteous if nothing else. If I can’t get fast service, they’d better at least be happy to be serving me.

The problem is that people have become too detached from how the whole system is supposed to work. I’m no expert, hell I’m not even a decent amateur economist, but I can see that people aren’t making the connections they need to make between the customer and the business’s bottom line.

For example, some doctor’s office staff don’t seem to understand that even if you are only paying a $15 copay, that is your required contribution to the way their office runs. Your $15 is just as good as another patient’s $50. Why? Because, we’re paying into the health insurance company that sends them the rest of the money for our services later. Please stop treating me like I drank your last cup of coffee and just make my next appointment.
The cashier at your local grocery store probably doesn’t make the connection on a regular basis that the money you are paying for that pack of gum is just as important as the $100 grocery order that is coming up behind you. It’s really kind of sad that I know more about my grocery store worker’s social life than I do my own sister’s. Why? Because, they are constantly talking about who’s going out with who and when and why and why not. Who cares? I say, shut up and bag the damned groceries. Act like you’re there for me when I’m standing in your line and stop being such a turd. I don’t particularly care if you ever have a date. I’m sure that as you bag my Fruit Loops and yogurt, you probably don’t care much about my social life either.

As a writer, it may sometimes be hard to see what role I play in providing good customer service but trust me, I have one. I have always been quite disheartened by the fact that my books are so highly priced that I feel tend to feel bad about trying to sell them. Although I know the stories are entertaining, I also know that sometimes, you just can’t afford the fun things in life. When I am at book signings and other events, I try not to be extremely pushy about the whole sales angle. I hate it when people try to pressure me, so I try not to be a pest either. If I know that they cannot afford the book, I offer alternatives. I encourage people to check the books out of their local library so that the financial burden isn’t as great. Granted, this helps me, too. I may not make a royalty, but I may gain a reader.

I guess the bottom line on all of this disorganized rambling is that we need to think about who we are serving and why. If you have a job just so you can pay the bills, that’s fine. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s more than some people choose to do. But when you are behind the desk or at the register or at the table taking an order, please don’t forget that the person in front of you is actually the reason why you are able to pay your bills. We are all connected in that way. When you are the customer, I’m sure that you expect good service. Well, you should expect it no matter what end of the transaction you are on. Just remember if you’re in the habit of providing mediocre service, somewhere along the way, you might run into a writer who needs material. Do you really want to be that material?

Until next time…

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