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Life Lessons From A Customer Service Crackerjack

Updated on January 24, 2015
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Annette Sharp, Activist & Caring Nurturer. BAAS in Behavioral Science from Texas A&M University.

You can make it this far too....
You can make it this far too.... | Source

How Can You Succeed in Sales & Customer Service?

The only way to learn great customer service skills and good sales technique is on the job training. That's why this baby boomer wants to share how I became top notch in the field!

I want to welcome you to the story and instruction guide of an actual sales and customer service career spanning 25 years. An amusing and enlightening tale of learning, growing, training, communicating, and constantly closing. Use it as a guide for direction. Or better yet, learn FROM it.

Use Proper Body Language.

First sales job: Art Supply store. So I’m 18 years old, just graduated high school with no plans to attend college and a pot-head. Go figure. The newly graduated party animal released from the slavery of school now ventures into the working world of communication. What a struggle to get up at 8 AM every morning, usually with a hangover (forgot to mention the Schlitz Malt Liquor and Bud in the bottle) and go to a 9 to 5 job where I had to meet the public and pretend to know a lot about art. My sole reason for working was to be able to buy an endless supply of beer and marijuana. As long as I could stick it out, I figured it would be better than nothing. So I lasted 2 months and got fired because the owner didn’t like the way I raised my eyebrows at a customer. So this was a lesson in proper body language.

Customer's Aren't Always Right.

Next, I took off to Austin. TX with my boyfriend and got my first food service job: Church’s Fried Chicken! It was a cluckin’ job, for sure. I worked the service window and learned about chickens. Lot’s of them. Not much skill with this job other than being an “order taker”. I’ll never forget one night, I was working the late shift, and this dude comes to the window and orders 2 Super Family Meals with all the extras. Then he says, “Hey, I’ll take this to my friends and bring back the money”. Before I could blink he grabbed the sacks and was gone. So I got ripped off. I didn’t get written up for it, but it was embarrassing, to say the least. This was A lesson in the reality that people will rip you off!

Training your Memory

Then: Ice Cream Parlor Clerk! Oh, how sweet it was! All the sodas I wanted, Rueben sandwiches, French Dips….dang, I sorta’ liked it! We cut up pretty bad in the kitchen, great bunch of people. Whoa, I’ll never forget the woman who came in and ordered a triple Sundae with caramel, coconut, chocolate, chocolate fudge, pineapple, strawberries and tons of whip cream. I still don’t know how she consumed it all. She was eating for 3 only there wasn’t a baby on the way. I used to take sandwich orders and would have trouble remembering who ordered what (probably all that THC in my system). So I got in the habit of writing little reminders on the ticket of what the customers were wearing. I gave the ticket to the cook and she’d ask me, “What’s a red hat?” Then “You say a mustache?” No, don’t cook a red hat! It was the only system I could come up with to remember who ordered what. A lesson in memory training.

Just got off work from Dillard's headed to the club with Jennifer.
Just got off work from Dillard's headed to the club with Jennifer. | Source

Visual Merchandising Training and Sales Promotion

Dillard’s Department Store! Ah, now the real sales challenge begins. After the birth of my son, I go to the top (NOT)! It’s not like I really wanted to work in sales/customer service. It’s just all I knew how to do without going to college. So here we go! On into the high class retail world. I had to learn to fit in. Dang, I had to buy a whole new wardrobe for this one. For a reformed pot smoking, beer drinking, partying, new mother and abused woman only 20 years old, it was like a foreign country. I never could figure out how all the girls worked in those sexy, high heels all day in retail sales. I tried to wear heels to work but my poor feet and legs couldn’t take the pressure. I reserved the right to wear sexy heels for the disco floor, which was really hopping then. Working in a high pressure environment like that wasn’t good for me. I mean, I wasn’t compensated for my effort. I was pushed to make a ridiculous sales quota OR ELSE, and never got commission. It was usually men who worked in high dollar sales areas that got commission. Shame on them! I remember the famous Gold Toe Sock Sale…I had this great idea to promote the sale by ordering helium, filling balloons every day, attaching a big bunch of balloons to a huge basket full of Gold Toe Socks (the basket was attached to the ceiling with fishing line) so it appeared to be a giant floating basket of Gold Toe Socks! I thought it was a cool idea. Other than feeling classy and stylish, I never actually achieved real fulfillment from the job. Plus, doing the disco scene was a big thing, too, so working there had some advantages: cool clothes, fashion, employee discounts. I had my share of incidents, too. A lady I worked with in Luggage couldn’t stand me. She told the manager he should fire me. Sad, huh? I got my feelings hurt pretty easily while I worked there, but was glad when I eventually go the ax for not making my ridiculous quota. Plus, I already had another job lined up. A lesson in working a job you hate just because it’s there.

How To Use Your Smile

Next on the list: Tractor Dealership, Cunningham Machinery. Whoopee, now this was a breath of fresh air after the snooty department store job. Single and looking, here I was amidst a whole customer load of rugged men in construction. All I had to do was greet them at the counter and attempt to look up parts for them. Now I wasn’t mechanically inclined nor did I understand anything about tractor parts, but I sure relied on those guys to help me out. And they did. I know they were tickled to have a tractor clerk who was better to look at than the men who ran the place. I was forever fulfilling my roll maintaining good customer relations, smiling sweetly, joking, laughing and putting up with the persistent flirting coming my way while eating up the attention. What did I learn there? A lesson in how to charm customers with your personality.

They soon forgave the blunder on the PA system!
They soon forgave the blunder on the PA system! | Source

Public Speaking Training

After the birth of a second child, on to the next adventure in the wondrous world of customer service: K-Mart. Honey, I was the queen of Blue Light Specials. I could work that P.A. system and loved it! It wasn’t always good, though. The worst thing that happened was that I got a call while I was working the Service Desk to page a customer in the store. I calmly picked up the microphone, and in my oh-so-blue-light-voice, I paged: “Mr. Jack Meoff, Mr. Jack Meoff. If you’re in the store please come to customer service for a telephone call…Mr. Jack Meoff”. Everyone starts staring at me, laughing & whispering and I couldn’t figure out why. What the heck is so funny? Rose, from the Deli, walked over and said, “Girl, you done paged the wrong’s a joke.” I looked blankly at her. “Girl, you paged J-A-C-K me off, get it?” Realization sunk in. My legs felt weak, my blood ran hot. Good grief, what had I done? I felt the tears welling up in me. The manger walks up grinning, the Assistant tells me, “Go take a break”. I felt like putting my head in the toilet, to say the least. I got over it. But it didn’t stop me from paging Mr. Mike Hunt a year later. I just didn’t get it. Naïve and young, my mind just didn’t pick up on it. Kmart forgave me and asked me to do a lot of things for them like plan the annual Christmas party, make posters, act as master of ceremonies at the banquet. Hey, it wasn’t bad at all. “Sixty-seven to check out, Sixty seven come to check out”. Ugh! My aching legs. After 3 years I had to quit, my legs broke down on me. My customers liked me, but my body couldn’t take the hard floors anymore. What did I learn? A lesson in how not to page just anyone on the PA system, becoming a great public speaker and some managers do value my creativity skills.


Developing Customer Relationships

Next: Newspaper Advertising Sales. What more can I say? This was a chance to work both inside and outside the 4 walls of an office. At the same time, I could develop personable relationships with my customers, who also became my friends. Refreshing and new, this was a new beginning. My communication skills greatly improved. Plus, I had my own business cards! How cool was that? It was cool until the paper went BUST after 7 months, so I moved on to a county newspaper that was well established and picked up all my old customers. The problem was, I made the owner’s wife mad because I negotiated a gas trade-off with a local service station in exchange for advertising. I needed to supplement my fuel usage. The owner agreed to it, but when his wife found out she made my life miserable. Oh, never mind that I sold a full page ad to Payless Cashways and brought all my old customers, she was infuriated stating I went over her head and she didn’t like it. Well, she held my check then demanded I drive to the office to clock in & out, no matter if I was through for the day and was 25 miles away, I had to clock in & out. So I told them I was leaving and worked one more day. Hasta la Vista, baby! A lesson in developing strong, long lasting customer relationships and don’t piss off the owner’s wife.

Tactful Selling

Monument Sales. (headstones, tombstone whatever you call them). So I started selling for dead people. It’s an art, for sure: especially when you get to call the family of the deceased a week after the burial and offer to send them a brochure on your lovely monuments. Now there’s a tactful way to do this. “Hi, Mrs. Jones, this is donotfear with Artistic Monuments. We heard about the death of your husband and want to know if there’s any way we can help the family choose a monument. We’ll be sending you a beautiful brochure”. Now isn’t that special? A lesson in tactful selling of a super sensitive nature.

Mobile Home Sales & Credit Apps.

Do I look stressed? Just overwhelmed......
Do I look stressed? Just overwhelmed...... | Source

Sales Training in Qualifying Customers, Determining Needs, Financing, and Closing Sales

Next on the list: Mobile Home Sales. What a great opportunity. Working at the Repo Depot and advertising 0-down Payment was sure to bring in the customers. I had a male coworker who was into body building and steroids. We always knew when he was pumped full; he’d get mad and blow up at us. Created a lot of drama in the office. He got canned after some uncomfortable episodes. After he left, all his houses started coming back, getting repossessed again. Seems there was some not-so-honest trading going on. I ended up reselling most of the houses that came back, so it wasn't too bad. I was selling some of the worst clunkers on the lot for cash: roof leaking, undercarriage falling out, holes in the walls, busted windows. You name it, if it was trash, I could sell it. Everyone thought it was funny, but I told them it only proved how good I was. The general manager told me I was ‘phobic’ once. When sales would drop off I’d get paranoid because he’d endlessly question me creating a sense of fear. So I was ‘Phobic’. The funniest thing that happened there was when this same manager, who happened to be a very handsome man, walked in on me when I was sitting on the toilet urinating. Yep, that’s right, I forgot to lock the door and we only had one bathroom in the office. I just froze as he walked to the back office laughing. I emerged from the restroom, placed a brown paper bag over my head, and walked to the back while everyone roared with laughter. It’s not funny. A lesson in qualifying, determining, financing, closing, and how to remember to lock the bathroom door.

Learning How To Recognize Warning Signals

Jim WalterHomes: a provider of new home construction along with financing, I thought, “This is going to be a cinch!” Wrong! The new sales manager was 26 years old, just out of college, verbally abusive, with no prior sales experience. Come on, I was more qualified to sell than this guy! I should have been telling HIM how to sell. Ha! Working in a male dominated environment had its ups and downs. When the construction manager came down from home office to check on things, he flirted and bugged me to go to lunch with him. So I decided, what the heck, I’d go to lunch and maybe he would let up. So after having lunch, we’re in the car heading back to the office, and he said, “So what do we do now? Go back to the office, read a magazine, or go to the hotel and have sex?” I looked at the guy and calmly said, “No magazine, no hotel, no sex. Go back to the office”. I learned later that he got into a lot of trouble somewhere. I can guess. The sales manager eventually badgered me to the point I was getting stomach ulcers. This is what I really wanted to say to that smart aleck, “Look, punk, you don’t know s---# about sales so back off and let me do my job. And while you’re doing that, quit beating the crap out of your wife. Don’t’ let the door hit you in the ass when you leave.” I resigned. The company is now bankrupt and closed forever. A lesson in fortitude and workplace abuse.


Marketing for The Apartment Complex

Leasing isn't all about just leasing. Marketing at Christmas time set me up in an elf costume.
Leasing isn't all about just leasing. Marketing at Christmas time set me up in an elf costume. | Source

Leasing and Marketing Skills

Next down: Apartment Leasing and Management. Yes, it’s customer service and selling. Ho baby, what a soap opera! Drama, drama, drama! Ever heard of a ‘landlord lien’? Remember the old landlord saying, “You don’t pay, you don’t stay”? In the case of the landlord lien, ‘you don’t pay, we take your belongings and hold them until you DO pay’. That was hard to do but I learned to get in there and take the most valuable stuff first, then put in storage until rent was paid. I witnessed affairs, fights, domestic violence, drug dealing and suspected prostitution. Not to mention my last day on the job. I had to call the cops because the maintenance man’s wife was trying to stab the neighbor upstairs with a putty knife. He was so drunk he couldn’t stand up and she was psychotic A lesson in learning to do the job even though it’s not always comfortable.


9 long years selling brick & tile...

Customer service queen...seasoned, experienced & ready for a change. Left the job 2 months after this pic.
Customer service queen...seasoned, experienced & ready for a change. Left the job 2 months after this pic.

Skills Attained Through Overcoming Adversity

Last but not least: Brick & Ceramic Tile Sales! Nine years of hard work, computing formulas, calculating square footage and smiling nicely. What a challenge! Nothing crazy happened there, just a lot of turmoil and aggravation. I can’t think of one funny, silly thing I did while I was there….well, I tried, but nobody ever laughed at me, they rolled their eyes. Funny how I can go to work on my present job and everyone thinks I’m funny. I make people laugh other places, just not there. Not that I never laughed while I worked there, but it was usually with my customers. One other employee joked a lot with me and got me rolling. He was always making prank calls to his relatives that were hysterical. Only thing I really miss, besides the customers. Then of course I got involved (while I was single) with one of the contractors and it ended in disaster. Then I had to stand behind the counter and be nice to the jerk! A lesson in overcoming adversity and don’t get involved with your customers.


I Hope You Enjoyed Your Free Online Training Course!

Well, there you have it. The ‘almost complete’ biography of life lessons from sales & customer service. So am I griping? Yes. . I’ve had some crazy experiences during my working years. Feel free to use my experience as an instruction guide!


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