It’s the inevitable struggle that comes with your teenage years and is carried out through college and, if you’re super duper lucky, maybe even the rest of your life. It’s the sinking feeling that hits when you put on your uniform in the morning and realize that somewhere in that process you were stripped of your dignity. It’s the quick crying sesh in the bathroom stall during a particularly miserable lunch rush or holiday season. It’s all the woes that come with your first jobs – particularly those which entail customer service.
Don’t get me wrong: this is America, home of the brave and poor spending habits. Having any form of income is a blessing, and there’s nothing better than being able to say that you are a somewhat contributing member of society, as opposed to a leech who sits on the couch all day and posts desperate tweets (“I could SERIOUSLY use a smoothie! Anyone wanna bring me one?!? #thirsty”) More so, if you’re earning a pay check then you aren’t truly “above” any task you are given. Complaining isn’t helpful and it won’t make you look any better in that uniform, so why bother?
But the fact of the matter is that most initial jobs entail a great deal of moaning and groaning. Unless you get lucky and land a position you’re somewhat passionate about, you’ll likely get stuck working at a restaurant, clothing store, pretentious coffee joint or chevron-filled boutique – which means you’ll be working with the general public.
If there are two things I’ve never really been a big fan of, we’re looking at people and smiling. I’m not a lover of small talk and I got a C in high school drama because I “lacked life and energy.” I even had to stop complimenting people years ago because everyone assumed I was being sarcastic when I would tell them I liked their outfits.
So naturally customer service has always been a struggle for me. From my first job at a book store (which I thought would entail lots of cute, artsy boys but actually involved a lot of old women buying Tibetan Mastiff dog calendars) to my current job at a bakery and café, I’ve been forced to learn and master the art of faking it when dealing with satanic worshippers customers on a daily basis.
1. Think of something funny or amusing. This is for when you’re working as a cashier and you’re pretty much just standing in one position all day staring at a line of citizens. It can be easy to become so bored or unhappy that your disinterest is actually visible. You may start yawning, frowning so hard you produce actual tears, or drooling. If the line is moving slow and things are looking hopeless, or people are pushing and shoving and your irritation is starting to show, calm yourself by recalling something that makes you laugh or smile: a YouTube video, a sweet text from a loved one, or even an old inside joke.
Smiling releases endorphins and all that jazz, plus it might soften the next customer a bit when they recognize that your joy is genuine. However please note: it’s important that you do this in a tasteful manner – if you’re one of those people who has a creepy half-smile, a gold tooth, or sort of looks like a gremlin when you’re trying not to laugh then by all means just avoid this tip. You don’t want customers or your managers to think you’re tripping out on acid.
2. Be in the moment. I realize that sounds like something off of a Hallmark card, but it may prove essential to your well-being in the work place. I used to spend my entire shift thinking of all the wonderful things I was going to do when I clocked out and the result was always detrimental to my mood; I would become easily annoyed, embarrassingly hypersensitive, and would often start to make-believe that I was a lonely prisoner named Justine, with lost dreams and anger to spare, who was being held captive by a group of unjust guards…
Perhaps your imagination isn’t quite as vivid as mine, but I can guarantee that making a point of finding bliss in your surroundings – joking with co-workers, exchanging friendly banter with customers, and accomplishing a great deal of work – will lead to a much more enjoyable shift.
3. Act extra friendly towards extra difficult people. When someone is treating you like a slave, it may be enough to make you lose hope in humanity. Petty actions from customers such as refusal to make eye-contact during a transaction, lack of a response when their food is served, or excessive complaints and demands can trigger a desire to either curl up in a ball and weep or whip out a Taser and go to town. Since neither of those actions are socially acceptable, my best advice is to kill them with kindness.
For example: if you work as a waitress and often deliver food to tables full of people who refuse to look up or even offer a simple “thank you,” don’t get so discouraged that you develop a habit of just tossing the food before customers and walking away. Instead follow protocol, ask them if they need anything else, and when they’re unresponsive or dismiss you with a wave like a servant feel free to lean in and say, “Great, well thank you so much you guys, I really hope you enjoy!” The over-exaggerated response might sound ridiculous to you, but it could be enough to grab their attention and earn you the gratitude you feel you deserve.
4. Disregard the air of entitlement. The people who often complain about how customer service has gone downhill are the same people who probably haven’t worked in customer service in awhile…or ever These people like to enter stores with a certain privileged way about them, as if they earned their right to be there and you better recognize. Customers of this variety might be over-dramatic about having to wait for their food, making it out as though they’ve spent the past three years as a Kenyan among rural poverty, or they might insist on getting a discount on an item that’s hardly damaged (“I just don’t think this is worth $30, ya know?” Okay, then don’t buy it.) Either way, the temptation to put them in their place can be a strong one. Keep in mind that the best way to instill humility in such customers is through a flawless and professional attitude. Attend to their needs, get their order right, ask all the important questions, and essentially make it so they can’t say anything bad about you and your ability to meet their royal standards. It might just take them by surprise and mellow them out quite a bit.
5. And remember: everyone’s carrying their own burden. The customer who seemingly enters your store with a dark rain cloud over their head is usually the same customer who is going to bring forth snarky remarks, painfully unnecessary questions, and a plethora of grievances and objections. Don’t take it personally and try not to be equally immature in your response (eye-rolling, impatience, etc.) Instead remind yourself that while you’re hating life on the job, they’re hating life OFF the job and on their free time. In other words: they might just have it worse than you. Make it your mission to turn their day around with a smile or compliment. If it works then you can give yourself a high five and feel proud. If it doesn’t work, you didn’t lose anything by trying.