In the grand spectrum of kindness, I like to think that I’m on the sweeter side of things. Being raised in the Midwest certainly didn’t hurt, but on top of that, I am overwhelmingly preoccupied with other people’s feelings. Sometimes I see a lady with a flat tire on my way to work and my morning is ruined because her morning is ruined. It’s because I’m a Cancer, and Cancers are good at pretending nothing bothers them, but then caring about everything all the time forever and ever. Sure, I have a smart mouth but I’m made so uncomfortable by confrontation that I save my jabs for commiserating friends or twitter followers who are deciding that I’m boring.
In the grand spectrum of intelligence, I like to think that I also fair well. I got good grades throughout my education, I have excellent reading comprehension, and I aced my Intro to Logic class in college, which, in full disclosure, I actually took for math credit because I was an art major and was too stupid for college math, but as far as basic, life-applicable logic, I am a winner, which gives me pretty good bearing as far as day-to-day human interaction goes, and there are calculators for everything else anyway.
My point is, I am not a malefactor in any way and would argue nothing about my appearance suggests otherwise. So it’s troublesome that in retail, so many complete strangers feel that they’re being hoodwinked based on none to five minutes of interaction with me. So many of you are under the impression that you’re Pinocchio and I’m that asshole Fox in the top hat that’s leading you astray. That’s not true though. You’re Pinocchio and I’m Jiminy Cricket and I’M ONLY TRYING TO HELP YOU IF YOU WOULD JUST LISTEN TO A SINGLE WORD I’M SAYING YOU’RE GIVING ME A GODDAMN ULCER
'Tis the season though. I've heard the tired cry of my brethren; whispers in the food court, cell phone conversations in the parking lot, and pleas for mercy via Facebook status begging the masses of consumers to just be a little kinder.
The laundry list of reasons I get verbally attacked ranges from the mundane (we ran out of ribbon) to the absurd (I can’t scan a coupon you do not actually have) to the outwardly cruel (“you’re too fat”) And it’s not even that rare for the abuse to become physical (throwing merchandise, ripping down signs). Earlier this week two of my coworkers were slapped. I am exaggerating none of the details here.
While the reality is that about eighty percent of our customers are not rude in any way, that leaves about twenty percent that are, whether it be a small comment about a price increase, a prolonged debate over store policy, or just general condescension. Implying that I am stupid is as hurtful as telling me that I am stupid, and the thing is, I’m not stupid, and can easily detect your subtlety.
So I’ll let you in on a little secret. I’m not out to get you. I depend on you in fact. I have sales goals and set expectations. Many times, meeting those expectations means incentives for me. Incentives I need. So it would actually be detrimental for me to purposefully give you a hard time. I want you to be happy.
That being said, I am a peon. A drudge. A messenger that doesn’t care to be shot. I am working minimum wage in a job that I don’t really care about. And guess what. I have no clout. If you’re unhappy with price increases and decide to unload your disapproval on me, I cannot march to the Man In Charge and make your case for you. If you’re upset with the exclusions on your coupon and scream at me that my company is thieving, you should know that the marketing department has no idea that I even exist. If you missed a sale, missed an e-mail, missed a promotional gift-with-purchase, I am so far from being able to override a programmed algorithm embedded in our company-wide computer system that you’d be better off hacking in and doing it yourself. Furthermore, if you insist on being such a penny pincher in the first place, kindly escort yourself out of our specialty store full of indulgent and overpriced products and march to Target like the commonfolk.
And finally, if you are going to bitch at me about the ten cent fee for a shopping bag, may I point out that it’s not a company policy, it’s a city ordinance, a law my which I am forced to abide. A law that is strictly enforced and heavily fined when broken. A law put in place by lawmakers that YOU voted for, not me, so technically, this is more your fault than mine. Now, as a company, we could have tacked that fee onto your purchase with some nondescript code at which you wouldn’t look twice and just given you your bag, but instead we opted for transparency and gave you the option to purchase it and also the opportunity to call me, personally, a money grubbing swine for having the audacity to tack ten extra cents onto the forty dollar body cream you just purchased.
Real-time Update: My sister just sent me this link to a YouTube video and while I was, just a moment ago, typing with the fire of a deep-burning rage, I am now, completely disarmed:
Jason Segel could get it. What was I talking about? Oh yeah.
I get that dealing with jerks is a part of the territory. But before you suggest that all of us whiny sales people go get a ~real job, consider that some of us DO have real jobs, and we need this work to get by in a season when spending is heavier. Some of us are working toward something bigger, putting ourselves through school, or supporting a career that’s harder to break into than the typical nine-to-five. And, despite the difficulties, some of us are actually doing work we enjoy, work at which we excel, and work from which you benefit. And for all these reasons, our work is not to be belittled.
Now that I’ve asked you to consider, for a moment, my point of view, I am willing to take a moment to consider yours. I will walk the walk, because everyone can always benefit from a little perspective, and I’m no exception.
Maybe you’ve had a very long day. Maybe you got a flat tire this morning. Maybe you caught flack for being late to work. Maybe you got a call that your son has been suspended. Maybe you’re stuck doing all the shopping because your spouse wouldn’t pick up the slack. Maybe your parking spot got stolen a moment ago. Maybe your parent just died and you haven’t smiled in a while, even on your best days. Maybe this gift you’re buying is for someone you love very much, and they’ve had a rough go of things, and it has to be perfect, not for you, but for them.
I know very well that when times get really hard, the little things, like the coupon you’ve been saving, or your favorite soap being in stock can mean more to you than it normally would. I’ve cried over flavors of cough drops in a way that has nothing to do with cough drops. But Ellen Degeneres always says that when you put something good out into the universe, it will come back to you. And she has to be right because her eyes are so sparkly that it can only be real happiness.
So customers, I beg of you. Hold your breath. Have patience with me and I will help you the very best that I can. Cry it out in your car later.
And my fellow retail workers. Take a breath. Have patience in return because you don’t know where a person has been before they walk through your door. Offer an inhuman amount of kindness, even if you’re screaming obscenities in your head and your soul is turning inky black like the night. The last thing you want is a bad Yelp review.
And finally, everyone, if you can manage a little extra sugar coating this season, give it. Let a sales associate know you appreciate them. Be sincere and smile if you can manage it. For every twenty horrible customers, I get one who does something exceptional, like brings me chocolates or gives me a hug. It’s incredibly rehabilitating.
…so is this