Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Tips for Customer Service Workers Part 42: My Till is Going Slow

One of my day jobs is in customer service. Sometimes I write about it.

Extract from The Customer Service Workers' Handbook 
Part 42:
My Till is Going Slow 

Potential Settings: Anywhere which uses a single line queuing system, such as fast food restaurants / ticket booths / coffee shops / supermarkets / banks / virtually any retail

Keywords: transaction, inconvenience, technology

Your till is taking longer than it should to process a customer’s transaction. There is just you operating the tills, and you have a queue of people waiting to be served. This has happened before and you know it’ll just take a few minutes for the till to kick into life and catch up, so there’s no need to call a colleague or a manager for assistance. But you have in front of you a customer who is having to wait anything up to an extra three minutes for their transaction to be completed, not to mention the line of other customers who are also being affected by this three minute wait.

How can you best deal with this situation?
First things first: Apologise and explain to the person you are serving that the till is being slow. This is easily done by saying, ‘Sorry, the till is being slow’. Most people will accept this and wait patiently, but some may not. The most common customer response to your apology is: ‘It’s okay,’ but you will know by the tone and style of delivery whether or not it really is okay. The main thing to look out for is looseness or tightness.

Looseness: the customer smiles as they say ‘It’s okay’ and they are relaxed enough to lean on the counter with one arm and perhaps even engage you in conversation external to the business you are conducting.

Tightness: everything about the customer is tense, in particular their shoulders, neck and face so that when they say ‘It’s okay’ they do it without opening their jaw.

What to do if the person you are serving is visibly annoyed by having to wait 
Be careful here because the stony atmosphere they are generating might make you talk more and say ridiculous things. A common trap to fall into is to suggest the till is having a bad day. While it’s true that this approach would be welcomed by a friendly and easy going customer – one who might even take personifying the till a step further and say, for example if it’s a Friday: ‘It must be ready for the weekend!’ or if it’s a Monday: ‘It must have had a big weekend!’– a lot of people are just not susceptible to this kind of play acting and will look at you like you’re filth if you even try it.  

Saying ‘Sorry to keep you’: should you or shouldn’t you?
This is a good, although risky, way to phrase an apology. It’s risky because if the person is feeling ‘kept’ already, you will either highlight this feeling inside of them and make them more of an indignant prisoner, or – and this is the hope – they will see the idea that a human keeping another human just by a small delay in the transaction process is ridiculous and they will feel some shame at their behaviour towards you so far. If this happens, they will redden and say, ‘It’s okay’ again, but this time they’ll mean it and you will feel the self-worth shift back into your body.

Note: If your customer is friendly and finding the whole delay process a bit of an adventure, saying ‘Sorry to keep you’ might lead them to exclaim ‘It’s no problem!’ and laugh loudly. This will infuriate the people who are waiting.

Keep your focus on the till or the person you are serving.
Do not catch the eye of the customers waiting in the queue. Most of them will be wearing an expression, and doing things with their body language, chosen specifically to let you know how much you are inconveniencing them right now.

Examples: pursed lips, arms folded, eyes staring directly at you. They will be shifting their body weight from one foot to the other more than they need to because this lets the other people in the queue know how inconvenienced they are right now. There will be at least one person tapping their foot. In some cases, there will be some muttering, including the sound ‘fff’. However, there will be some people in the queue who are fine with waiting either because they are enlightened or they don’t have much on today.  

What to do if the person you are serving isn’t annoyed.
The friendly and relaxed customer will probably be chatting to you as they wait. Be aware that if you indulge in conversation with this person, the people in the queue will think you’re just pissing about. Be sure to interject your chat with serious stares at the till, and even if it’s not necessary consider looking around the back of the till as if you are solving a problem with the wiring.

At last! The till has caught up and completed the transaction.
How the customer exits this situation, and how you bid them goodbye, will depend on their behaviour during the last 3 minutes. If they maintained their annoyance it’s always nice to be extra nice to them in the hope that you will highlight their not-niceness. But don’t hold any hope for this.

You can use ‘Sorry to have kept you’ as you greet each of the customers who have just had to wait. Once again you’ll most likely elicit the ‘It’s okay’ response delivered with or without sincerity.

Your till is now operating as it should.
Congratulations, customer service worker, you can go back to working to full capacity  with maximum efficiency.   

If you enjoyed that, why not try this previously published extract from The Customer Service Workers' Handbook:

He or she is just not that into you: the disengaged customer - rude on purpose or by accident?


Thursday, 6 November 2014

How To Take A Selfie

Do you think you look good today? Best take a selfie to check.

Is it a good one?

Yes. Fantastic. Post to all social media outlets with caption ‘just chillin’.

No. Do another.

Is it a good one?

No. Do another.

Is it a good one?

No. Do another.

It must be the light in here. Close one curtain. Put that nice ambient lamp on.
Ruffle your hair.

Think about how sad you felt that time you saw a dead baby bird on the pavement and it made you write a blog post about the cruelty of life.

YES: hold that face.

But now think about how sexy you felt that time you went out with damp hair and the wind gave you the best blow dry you’ve ever had and when you stopped to look at the wedding dresses in the wedding dress shop window you caught a look at your reflection and your head looked FUCKING ACE.

Now add that feeling in. That’s it. Do your SADSEXY face.

Is it a good one?

Wow that’s really not what you were trying to communicate at all, is it. Do you really look like that? Go to your favourite mirror and do SADSEXY FACE in it. Looks better in the mirror. Get your camera and take a photo of your reflection.

Ooh wait - turn the flash off.

Oh and also light a candle and put it in front of the mirror.

DO NOT GET THE CANDLE IN THE PHOTO THAT’S TOO MUCH. You just want the mood of the candle. The glow.

Ok. Now take the picture.

Is it a good one?

Hm. It’s ok. It’s quite hazy. Quite arty. Ooh, arty is good.

Or maybe it’s wanky.

Point is even though it’s just a suggestion of your face it’s VERY natural and VERY effortless.

PERFECT. Post to all social media outlets.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Dear 1980s teen

Last year, for their launch issue, The Letters Page called for pieces of writing on the theme 'pen pals'. I've had my fair share of those. But I also had one secret one, well - a fairly secret one, so I chose to write something to her and send it to The Letters Page. I couldn't remember her name, but she's from the 80s and she was a teenager. It's took me a while to decide if I should publish the letter here because it's a bit personal and not just about me. But I'm the only weirdo in it so there's no slander or treason going on. So here it is. A letter about a weird year and a weird-o.   

Dear 1980s teen

Hello. You don’t know me, but I wrote to you, and you wrote back, sometime in 1989. You were fifteen and you thought I was too. You also thought I was a boy called Stephen. But no. I was me, Teresa, and I was eight years old.

The boy you thought I was, Stephen, did exist. He was my mum’s boyfriend’s son and your real pen pal from a few years before. I’d found the letters you’d written to him in his bedroom, where I slept, and snooped, some weekends when we stayed at his dad’s and Stephen went to his mum’s. Being surrounded by the possessions of a teenage boy made me do so some weird things. Pretending to be Stephen and writing to you was just a part of it. Of all the things I did, when I was caught this one was actually the easiest to explain. Your letter had arrived, addressed to Stephen, at my address. Stephen had no idea why. He hadn’t written to you in years.

Mum asked if I knew anything. ‘Yeah,’ I confessed casually, ‘it was me. I just thought it’d be funny’. I was only eight but I knew humour was subjective. Well, that it could get you out of something. Made it harmless.

I don’t think she totally bought it. But ‘I thought it’d be funny’ was preferable to an alternative explanation, one that might go more like this: ‘I’m just doing some weird stuff at the moment, Mum. I’ve also stolen quite a few of Stephen’s possessions. For example I have a knife of his in my school bag and there are some playing cards with photos of women with their boobs out in my drawer at school.’    

A classmate found those cards. Went into my drawer to get something, saw them there, took them straight to the teacher (with a sense of panic edged with triumph, I imagine). My excuse was instant and believable: ‘I found them on the school playing field’. The teacher looked me over while she considered it. I was terrified inside. But I wasn’t usually troublesome, at least not that anyone knew of, so she believed me and reasoned they must have been dropped by some of the older boys. It wasn’t mentioned again.  

My auntie found the knife. Went into my schoolbag to get something, saw it, took it straight to my mother. With a sense of panic and triumph, I imagine. My excuse was not believable, but familiar: ‘I found it on the grass outside’. Not enough.

There were two extra dimensions to this particular situation. One, that of course – a knife is an alarming object for any parent to find their eight year old in possession of. And two – a big clue about where it came from: Stephen’s name carved into the handle. Interrogation required. When did you find it? Why didn’t you tell anyone? Did you know it was Stephen’s? You must have. Where did you get it from, really? And what was it doing in your schoolbag?

I can’t recall if I showed the knife to anyone at school. I didn’t brandish it about, that’s for sure. I just had it there in the front pocket of my rucksack. No one needed to know – just like the cards. I was the victim of noseyness both times. I’m being light-hearted now, because really the finding of the knife was a dark moment, this being-caught moment, the drama in the room, the questions, the panic. I knew my mum knew I was lying. That was a horrible bit. But it was like the truth was stuck inside me, too terrible to tell, the culmination of all the deceiving I’d been doing - I’d stolen more stuff, just nothing else as shocking. I remember being sent into the living room while they talked about it in the kitchen. Fun House was on TV, and for years after I associated that program with a feeling of fear and shame. I was a thief and everyone knew it, only I wouldn’t say it.

The dark feeling leaked out into the months after. Mum and Stephen’s dad broke up. I’m not sure if I was the reason but I might have contributed to it.

Eventually I did confess. It took months though, months coloured by intense worry, until one day mum was hanging the washing out and I went to help. Somewhere between handing her the pegs I told her the truth about the knife. I’m not sure exactly what she said, but I remember it was nothing like what I expected, and ended with, ‘And you’ve been carrying this feeling around with you for all this time?’ She hugged me. We were to forget about it.  

I didn’t, not really. It hung around my head for years. We didn’t speak about it ever again, not even as adults. I’ve looked back, like I am now, to try to see a reason, or maybe just a theme to my behaviour. Secrets? Danger? Did I want to be Stephen? I don’t have an answer, or need one. Mostly I’d like to go back to see myself and say it’s ok. Confess earlier. People do worse things than this. You might do worse things than this. Be free. Actually – always be free. This is the most important thing I could ever say to you.

Oh but this letter here is to you, 1980s teen, not me. I’ll round up. What I remember about your reply to ‘Stephen’, the one that got delivered to my house, is that you hadn’t noticed a change in his handwriting, interests or ambition. (I think I said he loved school, reading and wanted to be a teacher. Hm. Not so.) 

You also used a lot of exclamation marks. You were excited about the rekindled correspondence. I wonder what you thought when the letters stopped again. Did I contribute or shape your view of men – do you think they’re inconsistent, flaky, changeable? Or did my version of Stephen (no penknives or nudey playing cards owned) became the bar to which you measured all potential suitors/pen pals?

I wonder if you still have the letter I sent. My Mum confiscated yours after telling me to stop pretending to be Stephen. I imagine her now, throwing it away, wondering if I really did think I was being funny, and what was going on in my head. And she didn’t even know what was in my school bag yet.

So I’m sorry, 1980s teen, for fooling you. Sorry you got caught up in my weird year.

Teresa, aged 8 and 33.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

just so you know,

I am still here.

The past month or so has seen work life speed up and writing life slow down. 

I've felt disconnected from the writing side of myself so to balance things out I had a pull to revisiting some non-fiction. It's done the trick. I feel connected again. Once a diarist always a diarist?

This particular bit of writing started out as a letter for The Letters Page. They didn't accept it for publication, but I see why now. It was quite rushed, I had more to say than I could in 500 words. The version I've written this week is twice that. 

So, a good experience.

But writing about real life opens the door to the old inner critic. She wants to know why I'm writing this. What I'm going to do with it. Because it's quite personal, you know. Are you going to put it in your blog? Might do. Why would you do that? Attention seeker. No, not that exactly. To communicate. To share. Share what a weirdo you were when you were eight? What if (insert person who might judge you negatively) reads it? Well so what. I'm not that bothered about what that person thinks. Aren't you? Why you thinking about it then? Seriously, fuck off now. You're such a drain. 


I will likely share the letter with you in the next few days. Check back soon.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

There's been a lot of catching up lately.

Family visiting us, friends who live far away stopping by.

Then my best friend, Claire, got married just this weekend (she's been preparing since she was 4 years old; the rest of us since Andrew proposed back in Feb 2013). It was a lovely day. Romantic, fun, exhausting, happy. Here we are.


A few days later I attended a funeral. My Aunt Audrey, who was my Dad's sister, died last week. She was the youngest of three. My Dad and his other sister, my Aunt Edith, have already passed. So Audrey was the last of those Stenson children, and in that way the last close link to my Dad. But I'd only seen her occasionally over the last ten years or so, and usually at other funerals unfortunately. Isn't that the way? You see people at funerals and vow to meet again soon at a less sad occasion. We didn't manage to.

My Dad died when I was 16. When I was just getting to know him, or appreciate him. The last time I saw him we were talking about music I think (we didn't have the same taste then, but there'd be some cross-over now) and he told me he was a mod in the 1960s. This was possibly the most exciting thing I had ever heard. He then went upstairs and rooted around his wardrobe, coming back down with a mint and cream paisley shirt he'd worn in the 70s. It was 1997 and I was all about flares and collared shirts and long beads and anything alternative - earning me two nicknames at school: 'Indie Girl' from the cool 6th-formers in the years above me, and 'Sweaty Betty' from the townies in my year group. I WAS Indie Girl. And after that I was extra-original-authentic Indie Girl with my mint and cream paisley shirt.

It always felt weird for me around my Aunts and my Grandma after Dad died. Because I knew I was their last link to him, and it made me feel uncomfortable, and odd, and scared in a way. I'm not sure why. Pressure, maybe. No one did anything wrong, just the circumstances. Just the way it felt back then. Overwhelming.  

There are just a few Stensons I know now, pretty much just Edith and Audrey's children, my older cousins. But I can count on one hand how many times I've seen them in the past ten years. Despite this I feel a sense of unity of when I do, and I hang on to them a little tighter when we hug, maybe because - it's back to links - they are my only physical link to Dad, their Uncle.

At the funeral I got to meet one of my Dad's younger cousins for the first time and I asked him for any stories, any memories of Dad from when he was younger. He remembered my Dad being tall with a deep and booming voice. It was enough to bring a little physicality to memories that can become still over time.

Some photos of photos, so not great quality. Here I am with my Aunt Audrey. It's 1984, I'm about 3 years old.

And here's my Dad, in the South of France with his girlfriend (not my Mum) sometime in the late 50s, or early 60s. He's around the age he was when his cousin remembered him as tall, with a deep booming voice. (Perfect for singing Elvis covers, which he did when I was a teenager, in a band with his friends. Sooo embarrassing, I thought. Not now.)

Friends, a wedding, families and memories. A week of connections, really.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Connecting Writers: The Writing Process Blog Tour

Thank you Rachel Fenton for nominating me to be part of this blog tour where writers talk about their writing process.

Here I am answering a few questions.

What am I working on?

Today: my novel

Few days ago: adapting a short piece of writing into a poem

The week ahead: has to be novel, novel, novel. A little short storying.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Tricky question! I generally don't write in a particular genre. But I’m not a genre snob (hate them), I just don’t happen to write in one. But people do ask what genre my work is and I answer with that slippery useless term ‘contemporary fiction’, then wince at myself. So I don’t know how it differs, I just write what I like writing. My novel is half written in lists, so maybe that makes it different. I’m not the first to do that, of course. You might say my short stories are literary fiction but only because of certain characteristics, mostly that they’re not always conventional stories. Not because of loftiness, or better-than-ness, just because that’s what I happen to write.

Why do I write what I do?

I write short stories because … gawd maybe I’m not cut out for this. I don’t know. Okay I’ll just go with it. I like short bursts of stuff. I like jigsaws. I like questions. I like the way people talk. I like it when people talk about nothing (they’re not).

I’m writing my novel because ... it's a challenge, a bigger jigsaw, I found a character I like, am interested in, find funny, and I want to write her story. I want to get it published, I want other people to read it. This all sounds very basic doesn’t it? But then I suppose it is.

How does my writing process work?

On a practical level, I set aside one day a week for writing, keeping that day clear of any plans. On top of that I write when I can between going to work and living the other parts of my life with my boyfriend and friends. That one day each week is essential and I work hard to protect it. But there must also be bits of writing going on in some of the other days or there’s too much pressure on that one day to be perfect. Often I'll be tired and I never do as much as I think I could have done.

I’m a mix of being disciplined and very easily distracted. Part of one of my jobs involves mentoring university students with huge workloads so I try to take my own advice. I look at deadlines I want to meet (even for publications and prizes these are all self-imposed, I’m never contracted to write) and see what time I have. I breakdown the time into chunks - weeks, days, hours, depends - and then I do it. Not always as easy as it sounds. The internet gets shut off if I have to (yeah, I have to) and I take myself out of the house usually, even if there’s just me in, for an hour or two.   

I write by hand for a bit, I type for a bit, I look into space a lot. I earwig. I think about what I’m cooking for tea. I think about crisps. I eat some crisps. I look at the time and wish I had more. I reassure myself. I daydream about a book deal. I write a bit more.

It’s easy to think I should be somewhere else by now. I've noticed lately that a lot of the people I know who have chosen a similar path to me (day job to pay the bills, make stuff in their spare time) are feeling downhearted because they haven’t got to where they want to be, or think they should be yet. I’m never far away from feeling like that, but when I do I pull myself around, because you know – I chose this, and it’s what I want. 

And I think it’s important to measure yourself only on what you do, what you’re making, producing, not where you think you ought to be, success-wise.


Thanks, Rachel, for the baton.

I’m nominating ... the first person who comments and says they'd like to take the baton! If you do, you need to answer the same questions I have and then pass it on to another blogging writer. 

Thursday, 29 May 2014

right so

I know I've been quiet lately - it's been a mix of being busy and ... ok maybe it's not a mix, I've just been busy. I come here and think 'need to write a blog but I'll wait cos I'll have something better to say in a few days...' Time doesn't come, so what this is is a quick scawl, post entering The Bridport Novel Award and pre getting me tea ready.

So that's what I've just been doing, writing and getting my novel in progress ready for Bridport. It is a work in progress so I'll be working on it even while it's away seeing if it's good enough for the longlist.

I've been to the Dales with my writing group, that was fab, and I've been being (lovely language today) a dedicated Maid Of Honour for my friend's wedding (actually not til August, but organising a Hen Night is like a project in itself, a high pressured but exciting one).

When I'm back from Henning it's full guns on the novel.

Other stuff... hm, didn't get anywhere in all the comps I really hoped I'd get somewhere in these last few months - Mslexia, Bath, the BBC... Onwards yeah yeah.

The novel's the thing.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Having a go at this

This year, for the first time, the Bridport Prize organisers are awarding a prize to a novelist - and a first time novelist to boot. I am one of those! I reckon.

I've been building (slowly, yes) a picture, a world, a person - maybe that's not the right order - but it's been building for a while and I'm going to build it faster and enter it into the Bridport Prize for a novel on or before May 31st.

What's really great about this prize is that it's a supported one so it includes mentoring and guidance from The Literacy Consultancy, as well as possible representation from agents A M Heath. It can be awarded to  to a completed or an uncompleted novel. The dates and time frame for the longlist and shortlist are given, so you know what's expected and when.

And if I don't get listed I will have built a bit faster. The guidelines are here.

I have to have 5000 words ready to submit on May 31st. If I'm longlisted a further 10,000 will be required by the end of July. I almost have those 5000 words ready, and plenty notes for the next few thousand. The plan is to just keep writing, which is an ok plan I think.

I know this character, I know some of the things she'll do. Mostly I like writing her, so with focus I reckon I can do this.

Will do updates! 

Thursday, 10 April 2014

and the winner is...(a photo story)

Thanks to everyone who entered the competition to win Karen Jones' book, Upside-down Jesus and other stories.

I said I'd post photos of me drawing names out the 'hat' and I said it would be amazing. That might not be true. But I did it, just now and in public. Here you go.

I'm in a well known coffee shop chain. I'd rather not reveal which one.

And so I begin the process of selecting a winner. Step one, page torn out of my cliched writer's notebook (MOLESKINE)

Rippety rip

Writey writey

I had the exact amount of pieces of paper I needed for names! Things like this make me glad, like the universe is saying EVERYTHING IS GOING WELL

Now try to look normal again.

Foldy foldy

This is not a hat.

Woop - WELL DONE...


So yes, well done, Jen. Karen will post your prize out to you, so it's probably easiest for you to send Karen a DM via Twitter with your postal address.

Thank you again to everyone who supported this endeavour, and sorry you couldn't all win a copy. If you'd like to buy Upside-down Jesus and other stories it's available on lulu and Amazon.

I'm sure you all feel like winners though, just for seeing my riveting photo story. Yes.