As businesses continue to reopen, I hope a climate of mutual patience, gratitude, and respect returns. Especially as we attempt to coexist in public spaces.
As colorful “Thank You”, or “Heroes Work Here” banners are prominently displayed everywhere, (pseudo love letters to essential workers), these colorful “PDAs” will have zero meaning if customers return to stores and businesses ready to mistreat these very same people. We customers need to be prepared to manage our expectations and check our self-entitlements at the door. Expect that everything has changed, and the customer-facing person is often not, and has no direct access to the decision-makers, or owners of the entity with whom we are doing business.
If there is constructive feedback for the employee, remain calm, let’s adult and find our words. And, if the opportunity avails itself, intelligently communicate this information to the individual. Which is often far more effective than firing off an email to “corporate.” Why? Because you want a resolution; you believe the employee could (or should) have handled the situation better. Some of the best coaching I have received when I worked in customer service positions, actually came from my customers. Please also recognize that working with the public is extremely stressful and can be difficult. Read: You/I can be difficult sometimes. It’s also worth remembering that some individuals take service-oriented jobs because they are arguably easier to secure. And let’s be honest with ourselves by not pretending that this is the first person we’ve ever met who has taken a job that is incompatible with their personality, or career interests.
Please try to know the difference between a customer service (person) issue, versus your disagreement with rules and procedures that this same company is paying its employees to communicate and enforce. Think on it this way…if you have minimal autonomy to change meaningful rules and procedures in your own job, or organization, how much agency does the frontline person you’re prepared to berate have?
And last but not least, to my customer service/facing brethren: Do consider picking up a copy of The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz. Read it often and carry it with you. I highly recommend working with the Agreement, “Don’t take anything personally” first. This is the best advice that I can offer you, if you intend on successfully working with the public, in the workplace, or in business in general.
People are capable of being cruel and some will be straight-up disrespectful. You will likely witness tantrums and meltdowns that a room full of sleepy and hungry two-year-olds would never exact on anyone. Ever. There will be people who are tired, lonely, hungry, miserable, jealous, and just plain rude, who will find their way into your store, your line, your route, and into your work life. It’s an unavoidable fact that we can chalk up to human frailty.
On a professional or personal level, you cannot afford to take someone else’s bad behavior personally. And you definitely should not let anyone impact you financially. You are being paid to act as an agent of the business in your assigned role. That said, the corporate position is to “love” the customer (read: their money.) What this means is you must at the very least “like” them. Think on it this way: the company is “renting” your professionalism, service, and behavior while you’re being paid to interact with/support their customers. It’s not about what you would do, or how you would handle the situation had you not been at work. Though it’s easier said than done sometimes, try to keep your goals, plans, and dreams at the forefront of your mind, especially when Mr. or Ms. Rude shows up.
Resist letting your ego get the better of you. By all means reject the temptation to do battle with an individual who clearly has nothing to lose, and clearly has nothing better to do than provoke and insult strangers. Alternatively, there are ground rules and exceptions to customer care. When a customer/team member exchange becomes unproductive, abusive, threatening, or otherwise unsafe for the customer or team member, the next level of management must intervene immediately. Full stop.
COVID has literally changed everyone’s way of life. All of us are going through a period of adjustment that is going to require significant patience and understanding. None of us will have emerged from this crisis the same. We are literally returning to a world that is dramatically different and unrecognizable to some extent. Some people have been physically isolated from loved ones, involuntarily unemployed for months and thus struggling financially, some are recovering from COVID; have been caretaking, and others have lost loved ones and friends to this horrible virus.
These are the issues that people are bringing with them as things reopen. This is what people are bringing with them as they return to work. Ever present are the burdens of sadness and devastation that lie beneath the facial masks that we all now wear to simply live today.
Reciprocal compassionate treatment of humanity is the new essential as we return to an existence in a post-COVID world.