Retail memes

Customer service jobs, specifically retail work. I imagine many people go through the experience of customer service at least once in their life. In fact, I encourage everyone to do a customer service role at least once in their life; and I will explain why.

It teaches many us many life skills that I wouldn’t have got if I didn’t work in retail. Some say the age or occasion when we formally become adults is when we are buying our first adult drink, having sex for the first time, passing our driving test or going to college/university. I think it was when I had my first ever job: in customer service.

My first job in customer service was working for the Click&Collect chain Argos when I was 16-17. Young and chirpy and feeling like I could take on the world, I headed off to my first day at work. It was like a first day at school. I was nervous, of course, but I wanted to see what this whole ‘working’ thing entailed. 6 hours later and two customer complaints later, I started to curse the world and those who lived upon it. Who knew someone could complain about a paddling pool, Play-Doh and a creepy looking child’s doll? I left months later feeling disheartened. It taught me that working in a retail job, you will get annoyed, upset and pissed off with 30% of customers. A good 60% of customers will come and go with no effect on your life. The last 10% will be those who give you hope. Make your day just that little bit better.

Later, when I turned 18, I started working for Blockbusters, the film and game rental store. I was actually in this job part time for two years and I somewhat enjoyed it. I got more regular customers whom I could interact with, and that I got to know. Not only that, but I made many friends working there. They felt the pain if it was a bad shift, and they were on hand to help you out if the going got tough. You’re all in the same boat in these scenarios. If we started bickering between each other, it just makes the whole working thing worst. It’s bad enough feeling like we want to jump in front of a bus when you get a customer who doesn’t know the difference between a DVD and a BluRay (that still haunts me to this day) but when you’ve got a work colleague who insists on doing one tiny job for a few hours to get out of doing anything that needs doing, and then the whole store team arguing over it, and then shifts between people become awkward, trying to gather some team effort; I just want to bang my head on the wall. Everyone needs to get on for the whole team dynamic to work. Having a problem with a customer? Bring in your best work pal who is built like an emotional brick shit house and have them deal with it whilst you go have a little cry in the store room and eat your body weight in popcorn. (disclosure: I totally didn’t do that.)

Here’s a big one for me though, this is one massively positive thing I’ve taken from working in retail: because I’ve worked in customer service for so many years, I’ve come to empathise with those on the other side of the counter. No longer do I treat the sales person on the other side of the counter with a cold indifference, but as another human being because… well, they are. I am. Do I wanted to be treated as such when I’m at work? Of course I do!

Those of you who have worked in a customer service/sales position, I suspect you can’t remember many customers who have actually said ‘Hello, how is your day? How is work going?’ They are few and far between but they’re out there, restoring my faith for humanity one little piece at a time. The problem is, we expect the worst from those who walk in the door and this is where a lot of customer service can fall flat on its face.

some people are ok gif

Here’s a little trick I was taught once by an old manager, (and this again works in all areas of life, not just towards customers). A customer walks in. He’s a bit smelly, and is grumpy with everyone. But you’ve drawn the short straw. You’ve gotta serve him. You’ve gotta help him out. Before you’ve even spoke to him, you’ve put him into a slightly antagonistic part of your brain. You’re on the defense, which means that no one is going to come out of this with a smile on their face. Take a moment to think, why is this customer grumpy? Maybe he has had a bad day. It’s not his fault. You could be the person that is going to put a smile on his face. How great would that be?!

If that doesn’t work, start to focus on positive aspects of this person. Whether you really like his coat, or his shoes or cool watch, find something. You start to have a more positive attitude towards this person which means the experience between you and the customer is going to be more pleasant.

If in the end, you can’t help him, well at least in this instance, you can say you’ve tried. You’ve approached this problem with a positive attitude and made your work place that little bit more enjoyable. And if this was the sort of customer whom liked to bitch and moan and was just wasting time, well again, no love lost.

This little psychological trick works for any situation. Don’t immediately place customers into the part of your brain where they are essentially your enemy. This doesn’t help anyone. The whole ‘treat them like a human being’ thing works both ways. Customers are scary, unusual creatures with weird habits but you can make a work environment much nicer if you try some simple positive tricks!

Retail work really isn’t so bad.

And hey, at least you don’t work in catering. Man, I’d hate to be a waiter.

Ben Howgill