The Customer is Always Wrong
Ok, ok, that's not fair. The customer isn't always wrong, but there do seem to be some constant misunderstandings between the general public and customer service workers. Having worked as a cashier, waitress and just about any other type of customer service rep you can think of, I've got a thing or two to tell the world about my job, and how you can make it a little easier (making me a little less homicidal).
I Have No Control Over....Anything
I do not set the prices of the products, I do not control when special orders go through or get delivered. I have no idea when Stephen King will be done his next book -- strangely, he doesn't contact me personally.The brand of coffee we serve was decided when I was 8, and if you'd like to know why your food is taking so long, look at that hockey team to your left. They got here 5 minutes before you. No, I don't think Wal*Mart would approve of me letting you haggle the price of that toilet paper. Yes, I know it was on sale last week, but it's not now, and no, I can't charge that price "just this once".
Cashiers and waitresses have no control over anything. They don't pay us minimum wage to make the big decisions.
Your Latte Is a First-World Problem
Few things amaze, or infuriate, me more than watching a grown man have a hissy fit over a cup of coffee. I've worked in a few cafes over the years, and at least once a month, this will happen:
Me: Can I take your order, sir?
Him: Yes, I'd like a grande vanilla latte -- but not the regular vanilla, I want vanilla bean -- with an extra shot of espresso, skim milk -- no, wait -- soy milk, extra hot, extra foam. But can you put it in an extra large cup?
Me: Sure. (repeat back order to make sure I got it right) Is that for here or to go?
Him: To go. I'm in a hurry.
"I'm in a hurry" should strike fear into the hearts of all baristas. A man who will order a coffee that takes 10 minutes just to spell out and then tell you he's in a rush is, without a doubt, there to ruin your day. When he pulls out his Gold Visa to pay for the $6 drink, you know you are officially screwed.
Let me stop here to explain something that perhaps people are unaware of. A latte or mocha is not the same as a coffee. We can't just mosey on over to the coffee pot and pour you the exact drink you asked for. They take time to make -- we have to make each individual shot of espresso, we have to steam the milk and create the foam you so love. We add the flavors, the whip cream or whatever else you ordered on it. At the same time, we're finishing the drinks before yours and starting the drinks after yours, because they're all in a hurry, too. There are 10 of them and one of me, and they all want something different, but equally time consuming. Sorry, Mr. Latte, you're just going to have to wait a minute.
But he's not okay with that, of course. It's my fault that he's now going to be late for work, miss that big business meeting and see the deal given to that colleague he hates. His wife will then divorce him, his kids will disown him and his dog will die of a broken heart. Or, at least, that's what I gather through all the jumping and shouting. All because his latte took two whole minutes to make.
I realize that it is my job to serve you as kindly as quickly as possible, but if your biggest concern in life is waiting in line for a coffee, there are about a million homeless children I'd like to introduce you to.
I'm Not Here to Shop For You
I love working in customer service. No really, I do. I know this article doesn't convince you of that, but it really can be a great job. You get to socialize all day, talk about things that interest you and see all of the new products before anyone else. I'm always happy to help people find what they're looking for or offer advice on products. What I am not happy to do, however, is shop for you. I have no idea what brand of lipstick your grandmother wears, and no, I can't tell from that picture. I don't know what your great niece wants for her birthday. And John Grisham has written about a thousand books, I'm not sure which one "about the lawyer" you want. We are here to help, but you have to have some idea of what you're looking for.
My Job Isn't Easy
I know from that side of the till, it seems that a monkey could do my job. All I do is stand there until you are ready, then I ring your order in and take your money. Easy, right? Wrong. What you don't see is everything else I do. Do me a favor -- next time you're at 7-11, take a look around. Not just a quick glance -- really take a look. Every pack of cigarettes and lottery ticket has to be counted (yes, counted. Each package and ticket, individually) and stocked while people are buying them, and we can't be approximate. We have to balance them at the end of the day. There are no less than 8 pots of coffee that have to always be fresh. There are hot foods that have to be cooked and timed, then disposed of if they don't sell. There are floors to be mopped, aisles to be stocked, pop and slurpee machines to refill, the phone is ringing, there are 12 people in line, that kid in the candy aisle is shoplifting, we have a new promotion going on -- so we have to hang posters, change the display at the door and take down the old sign outside. The nacho machine just ran out of cheese and there's a woman screaming at my co-worker because she thinks she should have won $10, not $5, on her scratch n' win. Now there are 17 people in line. And 2 of us. Our jobs are not easy -- we work our butts off to make sure that everything is there, fresh and ready when you come in. And we get paid minimum wage to do it. Please, for the love of all that is good, don't treat us like monkeys.
© 2011 Robyn J Williams