“The customer is always a pain in the ass”

Every now and then, a local talk-show host holds a “tell your customer service horror story” segment when callers can regale their tales of being abused, mistreated, neglected, or just plain ignored by businesses.

I’ve been tempted to call in. There is a certain national chain of auto service shops (affiliated with a very large retailer whose former full name might or might not rhyme with “Tears SoSuck”) that will never get my business after I spent 15 minutes being utterly ignored while standing at their desk.

I don’t get it. I don’t talk much about my Day Job, but there is an element of the retail to it. (There’s also a very large part that is not sales or service as well.) And one thing I’ve always gotten good marks on is customer service. My customers are MINE, and they often insist on dealing with me only because they are comfortable with me and that I’ll make sure they get what they want.

The attitude I have is simple: I’ve been with my current employer almost nine years. The way I see it, the company stopped paying my salary about two months after I started. Ever since then, I’ve been paid by the customers; the company just does all the paperwork. And I am NOT going to tick off the people who pay my salary. I’m going to keep them happy and satisfied so they keep paying me.

Sure, there are some customers I don’t particularly like. I even give some of them derisive nicknames. But I keep them to myself, or carefully shared with colleagues out of customers’ earshot.

I was once in an auto-parts place with three other customers standing at the counter. The guy behind the counter was on the phone. When he peppily hung up, he turned to his colleague and said “you ever just wanna take a customer’s head and just slam it on the counter?” and then turned to us as if we could not possibly have heard a thing.

Another time, in a donut shop, there were two teenage dunkwads working behind the counter. One of them looked up, saw a somewhat obese young woman approaching through the windows, and told his buddy “hey, there’s your girlfriend.” The other guy looked up, saw who he was speaking of, and said to his friend “aw, up yours, man!” and then turned to those of us in line as if personally insulting customers in front of other customers was perfectly normal and acceptable.

Something I read a long time ago has stuck with me. One person refused to do a job, saying it was beneath them. They were told that work doesn’t care who does it; if something needs to be done, it doesn’t really matter who does it, as long as it gets done. And if you’re going to do something, do it right — if you’re only going to do a half-assed job of it, don’t bother even starting.

One time, I worked for a new boss who was brought in to cut the staff drastically. Some he fired outright, some he made work so intolerable they left on their own. I was on the second list. He micromanaged me and assigned me the most menial tasks he could imagine. For example, I was assigned to mop the bathrooms every single day I worked. No one else ever did it; over a course of a month, I did it five days a week and they were untouched the other two. Also, before I could leave, I had to have my immediate superior go over my list of such duties and personally verify that each had been done to their satisfaction, signing off on each. (Luckily, the supervisors were nowhere near the dicks the boss was.) I resented the hell out of it, but I sucked it up and did it until an opportunity to transfer away from the dick opened up. Right up until my last day there, though, I did exactly what I was told and refused to give him the satisfaction of knowing how much I loathed him. When I heard that he had been shown the door shortly after I left his department, I did a little dance of glee — I had outlasted the prick.

So, why does my attitude seem so unusual these days? I freely admit I often lack in common sense, but this seems like basic common sense to me. Why does everyone have so many customer-service horror stories?

I just don’t get it.

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