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5 Ways You Suck at Customer Service Without Realizing It

How many people reading this have worked or will work in customer service? Not just call centers and complaint departments, but cashiers, servers, anal bead customizers? My guess is roughly all, give or take none, and I'm guessing 100 percent of you have accumulated bad customer horror stories.

But all of you are also customers, and I'm guessing that every week you see some customer service workers doing things that make you want to drive your car through the front of the store. So every one of us has been on both sides of this coin -- we've all inadvertently done the thing we complain about, at least once (or, at least, I know I have). If you work in customer service and have never done any of these, then you are a hero and have much to teach us. For the rest of you ...

#5. "I Do My Job and Not One Iota More"

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From a Customer Service Point of View:

It's been a long day. Every dumbass in the tri-state area has asked you every stupid fucking question you could possibly imagine, and many that you could not, even under the effects of the strongest of hallucinogens. "Where's the dog food? I don't know, sir -- have you tried looking in the pet aisle? Maybe under the 10-foot-wide sign that says 'DOG FOOD' on it? How about instead of asking me stupid fucking questions, you expend just enough energy to turn your useless skull 6 inches to the right and just glance in that direction?"

At least, that's what you would say if you were on your last day and you knew you weren't getting a recommendation anyway. Instead, you choke back the rage and say, "Pet section." The dipshit Dogfood Guy rolls his eyes at you and walks away in the wrong direction. You're pretty sure you hear him mumble the word "asshole" as he disappears around the corner. What the hell is his problem? He doesn't have a right to be pissed off. You barely said two words to the guy, and you answered his dumbass question.

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"Yeah, it's down this aisle, then take a right. It's under the sign that says 'Exit.' Go past that, then to your car and go fuck yourself."

Where You Went Wrong:

You didn't for one second put yourself in Dogfood's shoes. Because the odds are overwhelming that the customer considers asking you for directions an absolute last resort -- almost nobody enjoys A) interrupting somebody else on the job or B) admitting they got lost on a Snausage hunt. That's why right now he's thinking, "Pet aisle? No shit, where the fuck do you think I've been looking? The paint section? The point is, I'm not in this store very often, and all the aisles look the same to me, you arrogant prick." Then the next thing you know, he's shitting in the Arts and Crafts section.

So where you're thinking that you gave a completely correct, concise answer, he sees you as another young punk who wouldn't stop mopping for three seconds to be a little more helpful, because of an, "I do exactly what I'm paid to do and no more" attitude.

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"Sorry, but I don't say 'Hello.' We have a greeter at the door for that."

The thing is, that ridiculous Dogfood Guy (who, by the way, you're positive doesn't own a dog) isn't impossible to please. Yes, nightmare customers exist but usually all they want is a couple of seconds' worth of extra effort. Maybe something as simple as pointing at the pet section when you said it would have helped. Even giving a little extra detail gives the illusion that you actually give a shit, and he walks away happy: "Oh, sure. It's in the pet section about five aisles down on your left." It gives off much less of a "go fuck yourself" vibe, but you didn't think of it, because you felt like it was already a minor triumph to restrain yourself from actually verbalizing "go fuck yourself."

#4. "Hope is a Lie -- Sorrow is My Only Companion"

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From a Customer Service Point of View:

All jobs eventually start to feel monotonous. Repetition of any kind gets boring, even if that pattern is divided into week-long chunks. Even porn stars have to take a break every now and again to enjoy a few weeks of not fucking. So yes, maybe your voice has lost its life when you answer the phone. And maybe you leave your enthusiasm in the tip of a condom before you clock in for your shift. What the fuck do they expect out of you -- back flips? Fuck 'em; they pay you minimum wage. If they want more out of you, they can start paying you for it.

Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images
"Welcome to blah, blah, blah, where my life is a lie."

Where You Went Wrong:

First, I know that being cheerful and energetic is way, way harder for some people than for others. But people aren't expecting you to be an ambassador for humanity, they just don't want to walk away from your encounter feeling like they may have been the last straw that pushed you into clinical depression. It doesn't mean you have to be Flo from the Progressive commercials, but it also doesn't mean you have to go the other direction and be Wednesday Addams. Customers are perfectly fine with the needle set somewhere in the middle.

I used to supervise a couple of guys who, on the phone, sounded like they were about to commit suicide at any second. Slow, quiet, low-pitched, mumbly, slurred. When they were off the phone, they spoke as normally as any human you've ever met. But as soon as they put that receiver to their ear, it was as if someone were telling them that their parents had just died.

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"We're located ... on West Evergreen, beside ... I'm sorry, this is really hard for me."

And it wasn't just a work thing. Both of those guys had partied with me before. Both had been wild and loud and funny ... but the second they had to call someone, they went immediately into goth mode. Maybe they subconsciously feel like they have to impress on the customer how hard their job is? But my kids do this, too. As do all of their friends. Is that a generational thing, or did I pick up some weirdly specific power to depress people only when they're on the telephone? And if it's the latter, how the hell can I use that for good or evil? I'll take either with a power that stupid.

But holy shit, is it taxing to talk to people like this. Just to throw out an example, we have two stores in my hometown that have two of the worst cashiers I've ever seen. Neither of them speak, even if you offer a polite, "Hello." I've never seen either of them smile. You'll never get a "thank you" or even a "fuck your mother" from them. They just ring up your shit, heads down, as emotionless as the potatoes they're bagging. It's unnerving, probably because if you spoke to a friend and they were acting like this, it'd mean their whole family had just died in some kind of farming accident and the sheer despair had left them numb. You'd feel awful for making them ring up a bunch of Hamburger Helper during such a trying time. It creeps me out so much that sometimes if I walk in to either establishment and see that they're the only cashiers working, I'll turn around and walk back out without buying anything at all, even if I desperately needed what I came for.

Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com
"Nope, didn't need anything. Just checking to make sure everything was OK in here."

Look, I understand that no sane person goes there to socialize. I went there to buy 76 pounds of crabs and get that shit back home before they wake up and attack me. But again, it just takes the tiniest, bare minimum of acknowledgement to change the whole tone -- the briefest of eye contact, a simple greeting, a partial smile, if you can manage it. And please, don't come back with, "It's minimum wage, what do you expect?" Minimum wage isn't nothing -- when a minimum wage job opens up, 30 applications come in. If that's not worth a smile, it's at least worth making sure you're not dragging every customer down into your black ocean of unending anguish.

#3. "How's My Day? Well, Funny You Should Ask ..."

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From a Customer Service Point of View:

Every possible thing that could go wrong today has. One server called in sick. Another called in pregnant. The cooks have been getting the food wrong all damn night, resulting in your ass being chewed more than that time you stuck it in the piranha tank at Mall of America on a drunken dare. You had to cancel your date for tonight because you just got informed that you'll be pulling a double. And if that woman's little bastard son won't stop screaming, you're pretty sure you're going to end up in jail before that shift starts.

Your next table is a semi-regular. At least someone you recognize. When they ask how you're doing, you just let it all loose. Thank God someone finally asked.

Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com
"So then he said -- wait, mind if I sit down? My feet are killing me. Thanks a million. So anyway, that jerk said to me ..."

Where You Went Wrong:

Unless that person is an actual full-on friend or family member, nobody in the world wants you to vomit your entire shitty day onto them. I've had this happen with total fucking strangers at a business, and it is painfully awkward because no matter how polite you attempt to be, you can never fully hide your "who gives a fuck" face.

It's the opposite of Chadlyn Apathy up there in the previous point. There is such a thing as being too personal, even in small talk. Four or five years ago, I took on a massive amount of overtime at my previous job so I could buy my kids some really nice Christmas gifts, because up until that point, I had never had that opportunity. I had to work a few 80-hour weeks at a strenuous physical labor job to do it, but we were able to buy about $1500 worth of toys and gadgets. I was pretty proud of myself. When we got to the checkout line, the girl behind the register started asking us straight-up, "I don't get how people can afford stuff like this. How do you do it? How much money do you make a year?"

Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images
Yep, that's the exact face I made, too.

She went on to tell us about how she wasn't sure how she was going to afford Christmas for her own kids, and then I sort of just blacked out.

I understand why some people do this. I've done it, myself. Hell, I've done everything on this list at one time or another. Part of it is comfort in your job. When you deal with the public long enough, you start to view the customer base as an entity. You attach a generic personality on them as a whole because it makes it easier to communicate with them. The other part is about connection. You know from personal experience that the better your connection with a customer, the less likely they are to complain or throw a goddamn temper tantrum over some meaningless fucking bullshit.

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"It says right here that the plane would be light orange, but this one is dark yellow. This is bullshit! I demand justice!"

Unfortunately, the longer you stay in that position, the more comfortable and loose-lipped you become, until you're speaking with your customers on the same level you speak with your college buddies on Jello shot Wednesdays. What's hard to understand from your perspective, though, is that even though everyone really seems to love you and everyone is super polite to you, there is a very large majority of them who hate it when they look up to realize they're in your checkout lane. And as soon as they're out of earshot, they turn to their spouse and say, "What the fuck is wrong with that freak?"

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