Being employed in the customer service industry has made me aware of two unfortunate facts.
1. That men and women in the food service industry are not treated the same.
2. People whom are viewed as holding careers in service to the public are not treated as fully autonomous human beings.
There are few men employed for the particular job that I hold. This seems to be a reflection of the company and people whom are responsible for the hiring practices, not necessarily of the desire for men to acquire employment in this field. Whichever the case may be, few men are employed in lower positions for the company that employs me. However, the men with whom I do work are treated differently than the women with whom I work and I do not mean that they are paid more, which they are not. Rather, I am referring to the treatment they receive from the customers whom we serve.
Customers are more polite to male customer service people than they are to female workers. I had thought that, perhaps, this may be the result of my male co-workers being older than I was, and maybe the customers were responding to their desire to show greater respect to those whom were older than they are. However, when observing the disrespect suffered by the older women when serving customers, this seems to not be the case. Instead, it seems that customers are responding to the mere fact that the person serving them is male. In addition to this, the younger male employees receive the same conversational, non-confrontational tone that the older male service workers have become accustomed to.
Female employees have come to expect certain behaviour from customers, which in itself is unacceptable. We are aware that customers, particularly male customers, will proposition us sexually and make inappropriate and, at times, extremely forward sexual advances toward us while we are working. It seems that those individuals, regardless of gender, whom have a sexual inclination toward men are not, generally speaking, as inappropriately forceful with their desires toward male employees as customers seem to be toward female workers.
It is unacceptable that women, in the workplace, have to be forced to deal with such harassment from customers when there is very little recourse for them. As a customer service person, it is my job, in such situations, to simply say, “No, thank-you,” which is, if you ask me, an inappropriately polite reaction to a man whom asks you if you want to taste him, for example. These situations demand, at the very least, a refusal of service and a removal from the store. However, if you are working with too few employees to implement such a reaction, which is the case on a midnight shift when such methods are most required, then your safest option is the inappropriately polite one. Polite responses do not encourage a change in behavior.
If the option was open to me, I would not only refuse service to such an individual, but would also point out how inappropriate such behavior was. However, such explanations are terms for dismissal in customer service.
In addition to this, employees are aware that customers will treat them badly by simply being rude to them, or by ordering them around as if they merely exist to serve the customer’s needs, or even by verbally belittling them. I don’t know if this is because they are aware that, in our function as customer service representatives, we have very few options by which we are able to defend ourselves if we are interested in keeping our jobs, and if this is the case then such individuals have proven themselves cowards by attacking someone who cannot responsibly defend themselves. However, I have noticed that this is not something that male employees have to deal with on a regular basis either. I am unaware if, perhaps, it is because customers believe there is a higher chance that they will be confronted with a verbal or physical reaction from a male employee, something that customers seem not to worry themselves about when dealing with a female, or if they simply feel less inclined to act in a disrespectful way toward a male.
Is this something that we have learned as a society? Are we somehow socially inclined to treat women with less respect than we do men? Or is it simply that we are aware that we are able to treat people in customer service with a lesser degree of respect because their jobs are contingent upon them remaining polite to customers regardless of how rudely the customer treats them?
I am certainly not arguing that we start to sexually harass and belittle men as we do women, obviously. Rather, I argue that we should treat those in customer service as that which they truly are: as autonomous individuals, as people. We are people. Somehow, we forget when we’re walking into a store that those individuals whom have dedicated their working lives to offering us service, to helping us, are just as worthy of consideration as anyone else. We have learned that these people are safe to berate because they are unable to defend themselves in a manner that would be equally offensive to us, because if they did so they would lose their jobs.
Thus, because this mother of two is thinking about the security of her children, she has no choice but to allow you to continue to make her uncomfortable with your sexual implications, comments on her looks and boasts about your sexual prowess. She is aware that if she said something about your inappropriate behavior, not only would that not improve her present situation while dealing with you, but that a simple complaint from you about her reaction would result in a write-up and possibly her eventual loss of employment.
This is unacceptable from both sides of the equation.
Not only should we as customers not treat customer service people with such disrespect, but also employers should allow people in customer service to demand the respect owed to them by virtue of them being people. The situation that has been put in place by businesses insisting on great customer service does not allow for ignorant customers to be forced to be respectful. We’ve been offered the chance to have it our way, told that the company that serves us will make it right, but we are not being made aware that our relation to the people whom serve us matters as well, that if we treat these people disrespectfully there will be some, any, consequences to our actions. I have no thoughts on what such consequence should be. I don’t believe that the answer should be sought. Rather, I believe we should take it upon ourselves to be respectful consumers of service and not treat those whom serve us as if that is the only function of their existence.