Anyone who has had to work in any type of service industry has undoubtedly encountered the dreaded irate customer. When dealing with this not-so-elusive species, many service workers instantly discover that there is no way out, no negotiating, no happy ending—unless there is some serious free swag in it for the customer.
I’ve worked in the retail industry for a few years, and lately I’ve noticed a general increase in these types of interactions. You also can’t turn around or toss an aluminum can without finding an article about, or television talking heads angrily gesticulating about, the country’s dire financial situation. I am certainly no economist, but I feel comfortable saying that there is a chance that the two are linked.
Of course people are edgy about handing over their hard-earned dollars and cents to the smiling cashiers amongst us—no one’s bank account is exactly bottomless. Politicians, financiers, bloggers, and people in the street continue to thump their economic plans like Bibles, but the fact remains that we are still in this situation right now. How can we relieve this tension in our stores, for both the customer and the employee?
The best solution may be the simplest, and it’s probably something you learned in kindergarten. The Golden Rule.
Actually, let’s take the Golden Rule one step further. Instead of “Treat others as you would like to be treated,” let’s make it “Treat others as you would like to be treated if you were in that situation.”
Tip your waitresses respectably, because you would deserve to be tipped if you had to deal with dozens of cheap drunks for hours on end. Don’t yell at someone who is merely the mouthpiece for corporate policies beyond their control, because if you were the lowest of the low on the totem pole you would know that you have absolutely no power. Don’t throw food in someone’s face for getting your order wrong, because if you were trying to understand a mumbler in a crowded restaurant something would likely get lost in translation. Don’t complain about paying full price when you drove all the way from Timbuktu and forgot your coupon, because if you were standing behind the register and something didn’t add up you would get fired.
Treating service industry members like garbage does nothing for you or for the recipient of misdirected anger. Speaking from personal customer-relations experience, I know I’m a lot more likely to go out of my way to help someone who isn’t questioning my mental competence in a loud and angry manner.
This solution may sound juvenile, but the Golden Rule is an elementary school lesson that people mostly forget about when they reach adulthood. Empathy is one of the greatest qualities of the human race. It separates us from those ubiquitous wolves and stops us from becoming rabid robots so bent on saving a dollar that we don’t care how many managers we have to complain to or how many hours our children scream in cavernous department stores. Never be afraid to reverse the situation and see it from the other side of the counter. The experience may just change your mind.