Rules of Engagement, Part 1 – Customers

There you are, shopping for groceries with your toddler. Things are going splendidly until said toddler spies something that he wants and you tell him “no”. Cue the mother of all temper tantrums, right there in front of all of the checkout lanes. Kicking, screaming, big crocodile tears, the whole nine yards. Just when this can’t get any more embarrassing (and, coincidentally, just when the wily and cagey child you’re raising realizes that you’re at the very end of your tether, patience-wise), this child puts on the most pathetic face in the world and wails, “Please, Mommy, don’t beat me again!”

Right about then, you look up and see the audience that this child has been playing to. Staring back at you from the lanes, you see a horrified teenage boy, three mothers with their own children (angelic, the lot of them), sixteen nuns, a squadron of State Troopers, and the stunned checkout girl, whose face is riddled with acne and horror. You are, of course, completely unable to see if they are looking at you with any kind of sympathy, because you’re pretty sure that A) you’re the worst mother in the world, B) your child is the worst child in the world, and C) despite never laying a hand on the child in anger before, you are sorely tempted to do so now (which only reinforces points A and B). Instead, you tuck the child under your arm like a football, walk away from the full cart of groceries, and leave the store. No, as a matter of fact, he didn’t get the candy bar or cereal or toy that caused the screaming in the first place. You also didn’t get groceries, but there’s no way you’re going to give in to a tantrum, especially one so carefully crafted to play to a large audience.

Maybe you’re not a parent, but you’ve seen something like this happen. We’re all familiar with temper tantrums, and we ALL have had it pounded into our heads that one does NOT give in to such demands, because it only reinforces poor behaviour. Well, that’s what they tell us when they’re talking about children, anyhow.

Apparently, that rule goes straight down the toilet when it comes to dealing with adults. Numerous magazine articles and message boards are advocating just these types of actions by adults in order to get what they want in a retail or customer service setting. Not over big things, mind you. Restraint is not something being preached here. Over tiny things, the kinds of things that spark a child’s tantrum. A candy bar. Fifteen cents. Apparently, though we tell our children that they should “grow up” and learn how to behave as adults, we turn around and tell adults that acting like children will get them what they want.

Shops are reinforcing this behaviour. Americans in general have become screaming, lazy, slovenly brats who think that the world owes them every single thing. In most other countries, were a customer to behave in the fashion that Americans do in their shops, they’d promptly be shown the door. Instead, there are those companies who cater to this whining, crying, tantrum-throwing culture because HEAVEN FORBID they lose a customer. My view is that if the customer is going to act like that, the company doesn’t want them in the first place, because they cost too much to maintain.

Am I saying that bad customer service doesn’t exist? Not in the slightest. I’m more of a stickler for good service than most, because I’ve worked in the customer service arena for the better portion of my working life. I give excellent service, and I expect nothing less from others in the sector. There’s bad service, and there’s bad management, and they will also get their due here. However, it’s your turn first, Customers. And we are all Customers, so don’t EVEN think that I’m not talking about you. I might not be, but then again, if you commit any of the sins against which I’m about to warn you, you should pay attention.

(The really sad thing? Most of the people who so badly need to see this probably won’t. They wouldn’t seek out information like this, and would probably not be caught dead looking at a site called “Chafed Butt”, for heaven’s sake. But you probably know at least one person who could benefit from this. Print it out, or send a link. I encourage this.)

The following are the Customer Commandments. A list of ways to make the people performing customer service for you, be they in retail, restaurant, or over the phone, love you. Ignore them at your own peril. Though the magazines seem to think that the pendulum is swinging toward the customer, backlash is a bitch. I don’t condone shoddy service, retaliation, or spit in the food of ornery people, but I won’t ignore the fact that it happens on a regular basis. You can prevent this, if you only pay attention here and apply these lessons as you go about your business.

Thou shalt not ignore our greeting.
When you walk into a store, or up to a counter, you will often be greeted in some way by an employee. We’re not doing this to piss you off. We’re doing this because it’s our job. Many of us are penalized if we don’t greet every customer within a certain time frame (anywhere from 30 seconds to 3 minutes, depending upon the establishment). You needn’t respond like a long, lost friend, but a simple, “Hello” will be fine. You can tell us you’re just looking, you can let us know that you’ll find us when you have a question or need assistance. But when you just breeze by, not only does it make us feel like shit, it’s rude. Extremely. This rule of treating us like the humans we are also applies to those of you who seem to think that it’s acceptable to simply blurt out the item you’re looking for, without so much as a “Would you help me find…” Just the other day, a person walked into my place of employment and responded to my, “Hi, how are you?” with “NOSE HAIR TRIMMER.” This is just plain obnoxious, and it’s a trend that deserves to die a painful death. Perhaps even inflicted with a NOSE HAIR TRIMMER.

Thou shalt not expect special treatment.
This goes for those people who think that THEY should be able to return things despite the stated return policy, or use a coupon that’s expired, or get a discount for no apparent reason. The ones who always drag out the old, “The customer is always right!!!” when their request is refused. I’ve got a clue for ya: The only people who use that are the ones who are actively NOT being right. They’ve switched price tags, or are trying to scam the store in some way. They pull that one out to blindfold those who are attempting to placate them. I’ll get into more of why that particular phrase is damaging to businesses in general when I bite the asses of management here, but for right now, I’ll tell you this: You are not special, you get no special treatment. Take what you want, and pay for it.

Thou shalt accept limitations.
Sometimes, stores will advertise a promotion on a product that winds up being so popular that that product sells clean out. Now is when it’s important to know how that store operates. Maybe they’ll give you a rain check so that you can still get the product at the sale price when more arrive. Maybe the store put the caveat “while supplies last” on their ad, which means, “You snooze, you lose”. In any case, accept that limitation. Either take your rain check or get to the shop earlier next time. You don’t get to harangue them into giving you a different product for the same sale price, you don’t get to scream at them to go check in the back and get the ones they’re hiding from you. You get to deal with it. Same thing as if you go into a shop and they’re a little short-staffed. Many places are feeling the dip in the economy right now and are scheduling bare-bones staffing. You can either wait patiently to purchase your product or you can go to another place to make your purchase. Yes, this is an option. Standing there screaming about how long it’s taking, or cutting in line because you can’t be bothered to stand with the rest of the filthy public isn’t going to do you any good at all. It’s just going to piss off the rest of the people in line, and it certainly won’t cause more staff to magically appear. Settle down already or go some place else.

Thou shalt not throw or shove things.
I’m sorry that you have to be at the gym in 26 minutes, but actually, when you throw your credit card, money, or products at us, it takes LONGER for us to process your transaction. We’re not used to having things thrown at us, and we may not catch it. Then you get even more of a delay because we have to rummage around on the floor of the cash-wrap area to retrieve the item you threw. Don’t be a baby. Just hand us the card or money, put the products either in our hand or on the counter, and conduct the transaction like an adult. Also? If you see that we’re in the middle of ringing up your purchases, and you still choose to ask “WHAT’S THE TOTAL!!!???”, chances are you’re still going to have to wait until we’re done before we can answer you. You are not endearing yourself to us, and more importantly, you’re making yourself look like an ass. You may not care if we like you, you may even think that you’re better than we are, but everyone else in the shop will think you’re a dick, and you won’t even get the desired result of us magically being able to just look at the rest of what you’re buying and know what your total is.

Thou shalt keep thine obvious jokes to thyself.
No matter how funny you think it might be, we’ve probably heard it before. Every time somebody says, “Oh, this doesn’t have a price tag. It must be free!!!”, we die a little inside. Making Fight Cub jokes in a soap store? Overdone. Asking if the massage chairs give happy endings? Die in a fire. Next time you go to make a joke in a shop, think about why you were inspired to make said joke. If it’s a glaringly obvious observation, STOP RIGHT THERE. We’ve heard it, it’s no longer funny, and it can make some of us have the kind of violent thoughts that are so bad that we feel the need to confess them to a priest. And we’re not even Catholic. Oh, and while I’m at it? Let’s discuss that “cute” little trick where you act like you’re going to hand us your money, but then yank it out of our hand, or refuse to let go of it. That little stunt right there stopped being funny when you were about 10 years old. Stop. It. Right. Now.

Thou shalt use thy reading skills.
Signs are there for a reason. They tell you things with words! Same thing with receipts. Open your pretty eyes and look around, sunshine! Read the words that are on display for you! They’re not there for the employees, they’re there for YOU! If it seems like I’m belabouring the point a little bit, it’s because I AM. Apparently, people lose their ability to read the second they enter a shop. They can’t figure out what’s on sale, they don’t know the return policy, and the words “EMPLOYEES ONLY” are written, apparently, in a language that is not comprehended by any person on earth. Read the signs. I realize that doing all this difficult reading means that you don’t have an excuse to violate the return policy, you’ll probably have to pay your damn late fees, and all sorts of horrible things that mean you don’t get to get your way, but the problem is that if you don’t read the sign on your own, somebody is going to be forced to point it out to you because it’s RIGHT NEXT TO YOU and it’s written in GIANT LETTERS. We know you’re not that oblivious except when you’re doing it on purpose.

I’m sorry, but it seems as though that one requires strong language and large letters. There are some blessed establishments that simply won’t serve you if you’re on the phone, and it makes no difference how long you waited in line. If you’re on the phone, you’re going to get skipped. This is as it should be everywhere. I promise you, the world will not implode in the whole ninety seconds it takes you to get rung up, or to order your sandwich, or to go through the drive-through, or to buy your NOSE HAIR TRIMMER. Simply put, you’re not that important. If you’re helping civilians to emergency land a plane or instructing the cab driver in the fine art of delivering a baby in the backseat, then get the hell out of line and order your sandwich when you’re finished and the people on the other end are safe and sound. That’s probably not what you’re talking about, though. You’re talking about your date last night, or how drunk your roommate got. Hang up and conduct your business, or risk getting skipped. No amount of yelling about it is going to change it. This is no longer the 80’s, when a cell phone actually meant that you had some sort of financial status. Now, every twelve year-old has one. Get over yourself.

Thou shalt not presume that we are all idiots.
Yes, we are working retail or customer service. This does not mean that we are all morons, that we don’t aspire to other things, that we all have fifteen kids and are probably on some kind of welfare and we’re lazy too. Trust me. We’re not. You have no idea who you might be talking to. Just as we should not presume that anyone who walks in wearing a t-shirt with the sleeves torn off and ripped jeans is probably broke, plans on stealing, and couldn’t possibly be anyone important, YOU should not presume that we’re somehow lesser than you simply because we happen to be on the other side of the name tag. Maybe we’re working our way through school. Maybe we took this job, as Barbara Ehrenreich did, to write a book about retail. You have no idea. Life lands us in surprising places, and with a recession looming over our heads, you could be here next.

Thou shalt not touch.
Seriously. Don’t touch us. This means that you don’t get to smack our asses, touch our hair or faces, slap us, punch us, or make any other physical contact unless it it specifically requested. When I worked in a high-end bath and body care shop, I often invited people to touch my elbow, because it really is just soft at a child’s and it was a great way to show the benefits of one of our products. A specific invitation like that is the exception to the rule. Anything else, quite simply, is assault. It doesn’t matter what the intent was. You could have been trying to get a date, or you could have been taking out your frustrations. It is unwelcome unless asked for. Stop it right now.

Thou shalt get a wallet or use thine pockets or purse.
Your clothing is only an acceptable wallet if you are a stripper or at a Renaissance Faire. In any other establishment, it is not acceptable (or sanitary) to pull your cash out of your bra, your shoe, your underpants, or any other garment other than an actual pocket, fanny pack, purse, or wallet. You may think you’re being clever or sexy. You’re being disgusting. And you have no idea where that money was before you got it. If you continue in this practice, the only thing I can hope is that you catch a nasty little skin infection for your trouble. Ew.

Thou shalt not throw a tantrum.
It is possible that you’ve gotten some less-than-stellar service. It happens. It’s also possible that you just see an opportunity to cause a scene and maybe get something for free. Maybe you’ve been told no to a request. This is not the time to look around, note all the people standing around, and start screaming like the child I mentioned at the beginning of this piece. You are an adult. You ask calmly and politely for a manager. if the manager doesn’t give you what you want, you calmly find out who the next link in the chain of command is, and speak with them (or obtain their contact information). Throwing a tantrum doesn’t do you any good, it will only delay you and everyone around you, and it marks you as a person that nobody wants to deal with. It’s tough to get things resolved when nobody wants to talk to you at all. I shouldn’t have to tell you that you lure more flies with honey than vinegar, but it seems that it’s a lesson that people have forgotten. Put on your big boy (or big girl) pants and get on with being an adult.

Thou shalt show thine I.D. when asked to do so without putting up a huge stink.
Listen, I realize that many of you only carry cards. Most of us behind the counter are totally in love with the convenience of plastic. But many of you are completely clueless when it comes to those cards and keeping yourself safe. I’m going to lay it out for you very simply.
1: If you do not sign your card, you may expect that we will ask you for I.D., and we may ask you to sign your card while you’re at it. Why? Because your card is NOT VALID UNLESS SIGNED. Don’t believe me? Take out your card right now, flip it over, and look at the back of it. Right there, by the signature strip. According to Visa and Mastercard, if we are presented with an unsigned card, we are to check I.D. and then ask you to sign your card in front of us. It’s not our rule. It’s the card company’s rule. Now you know.
2: If you do not sign your card because you want us to ask you for I.D., you are stupid. If anyone in the world steals your card (or if you jsut leave it or drop it somewhere), they can sign your name in their handwriting and the signatures always match. This is handy, because…
3: If there is only a signature on the back of your card, it is in the Visa and Mastercard vendor agreements that we CANNOT ask you for ID. They consider it a “harassment” to their cardholders. So, in going back to #2, you lose your card, somebody picks it up and signs your name in their handwriting, they aren’t asked for I.D., the signatures always match, and you’re now in for some fun times with your bank.
4: The best way to handle this if you want us to ask you for ID is to sign your name in small letters and then write “SEE I.D.” in larger letters. If you don’t want us to ask you for I.D., simply sign your card.

In the end, really, it comes down to courtesy. If you treat us with courtesy, we’ll probably treat you with courtesy. If you act like a self-important doucherocket, we will do everything in our power to slow you down, knock your ego, and make sure that everyone else in the shop knows what an ass you are. And then won’t your mother be proud!