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Is Customer Service Dead?

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I have recently come to the conclusion that I cannot even begin to understand what has happened to today’s work force. In the olden days, most places would greet you with a warm and friendly “hello” when you walked in the door. Associates would do everything they could to assist you and answer any questions you might have. Today, you’re lucky if you can get the person to look up at you as they take your money. You’re luckier still if you get a “Come again;” forget the “Have a nice day.” I wonder, what the heck ever happened to customer service?

So a few years ago, I am standing in line at Subway with my sister waiting to order. The gal behind the counter is standing with a slouch, frowning, as if she has a personal grudge against everyone in the room. She is certainly not what I would call a happy camper. With a tired-looking face, she asks me, “Can I help you?” The way she emphasizes the word “help” makes it sound like, “I would rather be anywhere else doing anything than helping you.”

I order a turkey sub on wheat, which is my traditional Subway sandwich. Looking past me, she asks for my choice of cheese and vegetables and carelessly tosses them on. I begin to wonder if maybe I have wronged this girl in the past and just can’t remember it. I simply can’t fathom why she would be so rude otherwise.

She hands me the sandwich and I respond with a polite, “Thank you,” hoping my courtesy will instill a friendlier mood in her. It doesn’t.

“Do you want to add chips and a drink?” she asks blandly.

I turn to my sister and we debate whether or not to spend the extra money on the combo.

“Yes, no?” she interrupts, annoyed.

For a second, I stand there, baffled. Then, I shake my head and hand her the cash. She grabs it and quickly hands me my change, before stalking to the back room. My sister and I merely stare at each other, perplexed at how an employee could be so inhospitable to a customer. I later regretted not immediately asking for a manager and perhaps demanding at least a partial refund.

More and more frequently, when ordering at a fast food restaurant or even checking out at Dillard’s, I am met with the same attitude by employees. I often feel as if I am being friendlier to the cashier than the other way around. Call me crazy, but isn’t it a part of their job to accommodate? By that, I don’t simply mean performing the function of one’s job, but treating others with the respect they are entitled to as paying customers.

The last time I was at McDonalds, I came across one of the rudest employees I have yet encountered. She didn’t snap at me with a smart-mouthed comment; instead, she said nothing. I’m talking not one syllable.

I am proceeding down the drive-thru lane after paying at the first window. I reach the second and see behind the glass a tall woman with short, curly red hair and glasses. The woman, looking at her computer screen, hands me my drink and my bag of food and wordlessly closes the window. Though I was pretty insulted, I was oddly impressed at how good her peripheral vision must have been to maneuver everything through the window and to me without even glancing in my direction.

Now I’m old enough to know that the world of fast food doesn’t exactly have the highest standard of customer service. Still, I wonder how in the world they get away with being downright rude to customers. Perhaps it is the fault of people such as myself who are in too much shock to demand a phone number for a corporate office to file a complaint. Perhaps, as sad as it sounds, we are simply growing used to such treatment.

Since I earn my living by waiting tables, I can tell you a few things about hospitality. Try earning a fat tip when you’re rude to your guests, don’t look them in the eye, and hardly say two words to them. Let me tell you, it doesn’t happen. So what’s the difference between myself and the lady at McDonalds? Well, for starters, she doesn’t make her paycheck by being nice to me. Second, she doesn’t place any value in showing kindness to a stranger.

Not to make myself out as a saint, but I have had numerous jobs as a minimum wage employee, or “pee-on,” if you will, and I have always greeted customers with a smile. My philosophy is that even if my job sucks, it won’t get any better by being rude to people. In other words, I say make the best of it. You never know, it might come right back to you.

A few years ago, I was working the drive-thru window at Taco Bueno. Believe me, that job can definitely bore the crap at out of you if you let it. However, I refused to become another fast food drone. Instead, I put on a huge grin and forced myself to be genuinely friendly to every car that drove through. A girl and I even came up with a game. Whenever someone pulled up, we would use the word “bueno” as many times as we could while taking their order. The goal was to be as serious as possible. Our game not only entertained us, but the customers as well.

My efforts were rewarded one day when a girl pulled up and after having received her food, she handed me something. As I went to reach for it, she grabbed my hand and said, “This is for you and only you.” I looked and saw a twenty dollar bill in my hand. She smiled and drove away.

Friendliness not only increases the chance of getting tips, but it, along with an upbeat attitude, just makes everything go so much smoother. Try being grumpy or uncooperative when someone looks you in the eye and gives you a genuine smile. Maybe it’s the Southern gal in me, but I think that employees could stand to learn a little something about people skills and the power of a friendly face. It may surprise you how big of a difference it makes.

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About Christy Shuler

  • Jordan Richardson

    Having worked in “customer service” for much longer than I ever would wish on my worst enemy (couple of years), I can say that this is certainly a two way street.

    For starters, people working in customer service are usually paid crap wages. So when you talk about the person at Subway wanting to be anywhere else but there, can you blame them? Who wants to be a sandwich artist for minimum wage putting together other peoples’ food? Nobody but the crazies, that’s who. When I go to these types of “fast food” places where kids are getting paid dick all, I’m happy to just get what I ordered and move on. I don’t go to Subway or McDonald’s for the customer service.

    The people that work in this field put up with endless amounts of shit, day after day, because of a hammering of “the customer is ALWAYS right” type nonsense. Here’s a shocker: the customer isn’t always right. In fact, the customer is barely right. I’ve had customers throw food, shout, swear, stamp their feet like they were three years old, hurl insults, complain, bitch, whine, threaten physical violence, and so forth because I didn’t put enough lettuce on their chicken wrap.

    The fact is that being sociable is dead, being polite is dead, being cordial is dead. These fast food workers, retail workers, and customer service workers put up with an endless barrage of complaints and bullshit all day long for very little money. While you or I might go out of our way to be polite, I don’t blame the fast food worker for not smiling or being a little snippy when I imagine what the first ten customers were probably like.

    So no, customer service isn’t dead. You just have to know where not to look for it, where not to expect it. Is it really that important to get a smile with your chicken nuggets? Probably not. But because the American consumer has been spoiled-ass-rotten while the worker gets fucked over repeatedly by poor wages and an endless amount of bullshit from the “customer,” we as consumers start to feel entitled.

    As to your comment on friendliness getting tips, I don’t think people tip the drive-thru person at McDonald’s or the sandwich artist at Subway. I don’t think anyone sets out to be grumpy, but when you’ve had shit piled on top of you for eight hours and you’re making minimum wage, it’s pretty difficult to simply grin and bare it.

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    “Having worked in “customer service””

    Doesn’t everyone?

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    “Now I’m old enough to know that the world of fast food doesn’t exactly have the highest standard of customer service.”

    Yet you’re naïve enough to use two Subway and McDonalds case studies as the crux of how the entire concept of customer service might be dead. Not for you, though.

    “My sister and I merely stare at each other, perplexed at how an employee could be so inhospitable to a customer. I later regretted not immediately asking for a manager and perhaps demanding at least a partial refund.”

    A refu… wait, a refund? Really?

    “Perhaps, as sad as it sounds, we are simply growing used to such treatment.”

    We are actually more prone to the times when employees are rude, which is just human nature, but there’s no need to take it the extra mile and imply nobody who serves customers is friendly anymore.

    Also, try visiting Canada someday, just for an hour, and sit down for a meal and see just how distanced the service is.

  • Jordan Richardson

    Also, try visiting Canada someday, just for an hour, and sit down for a meal and see just how distanced the service is.

    We’re a distant people.

  • HAE

    As a Canadian, We are by definition hosers and of course you Americans should EXPECT to be hosed, left, right and centre…mostly LEFT!!!

    In short, you can expect the same amount of service that passes as normal for our weather…Which is Cold!

    Be carefull up here tho…our staff all have mini-hockey sticks in their aprons for those times when a slapshot is the best way to wack some pucks back down south.

    So I suggest you keep your tail on the beaver cuz you never know when our moose is loose. ergo, put up, shut up and drink the maple
    syrup QUIETLY !!!!!

    No toque for you!


    Oh Canada

    P.S. NO! You can’t get fries with that! We do have pancakes and
    Canadian Bacon though!

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    When my wife and I were first dating, she was working over in London and kept bragging about how great customer service was in the US. The first time I came to visit her here, she picked me up at the airport and we stopped at a Taco Bell in Oakland. The kid behind the counter had resentment etched in every line of his face, every word (few!) he said and every movement of his body.

    I don’t know whether he also spat in our food, but we both got sick the next day.

    That was my first experience of American customer service. My wife was mortified.

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    “Taco Bell in Oakland”

    [snerk] Huh. Bad service and got sick? No kiddin’.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful


    I guess she should’ve waited until we got to Hayward…

  • http://ava.com.ua/category/9/52/b472/ Nokia

    Also, try visiting Canada someday, just for an hour, and sit down for a meal and see just how distanced the service is.