So-Called Thoughts: Customer service is a two-way street – be kind to shop workers

Last week I bought some nice gloves at Pacific Outfitters during their Camp Fire benefit night. As is my practice, I looked them up on Amazon first, then went and bought them locally. An employee said that that’s the opposite of the usual routine, and I well know that. 

Even before there were so many online shopping choices, back when I worked in retail as a computer specialist, customers would come in and I’d spend hours working with them on a possible purchase. Then, often as not, they’d go buy it at a mall store, robbing me of the pitiful commission.

On top of that, they’d then come back to my store for technical support, because, they’d say, you know how bad the parking is at the mall. But it wasn’t bad enough not to drop $1,500 there based on my earnest sales work. While I was tied up solving their tedious problems, customers would be buying computers from other employees at my store – which of course I would have to later spend my work time supporting. 

Unless you’ve done that kind of work, you can’t imagine the range of indignities and outright torments that the unwashed public visits upon sales folks. Oh, the horrors I could relate. Customers can be rude, imperious and fundamentally abusive, and you can’t call them out on it because you’re a company representative.

Even sensitive, educated hipsters – despite their touchy-feely, caring-sharing, nurturing-holistic bumper stickers – often don’t even treat you as well as they would a spider in the sock drawer, but as some subhuman drone or droid. 

It’s as though normal standards of behavior no longer pertain once they walk in the door –  almost as bad as conversing online.

One time a local writer submitted a piece to the Arcata Eye which repeatedly referred to retail workers as “sales monkeys.” That, I think exemplifies the attitude many of us hold toward those in the retail profession. I sent the piece back asking if a less dehumanizing term could be used, but it was never resubmitted.

So, when wait staff comes over to my restaurant table and asks how we’re doing tonight, I look them in the eye and say, “We’re great now that you’re with us. How are you?” and actually wait for an answer. They often seem startled that someone is treating them like a sentient being. And, unless the service sucks, I always tip 20 percent plus.

So I hope that along with shopping locally, everyone remembers that customer service is a two-way street. Please be kind and patient with retail workers – you just don’t know what the last customer did to them. Likely as not, it may have been something needlessly beastly.


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