Friday, 10 May 2013

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

In one of my day jobs, I work in customer service. Sometimes I write about it. 

From The Customer Service Worker’s Handbook
Tips for customer service workers Part 23

You’re half way through a shift, you’re in full flow, firing on all cylinders. Full of good energy, you greet your customer with a cheery ‘Hello, what can I get you?’ They do not respond with anywhere near the same goodness of heart that you gave them. In fact, they don’t even look at you. It’s as if their eyes are happy to land on everything else around you, just not you. The bar, the drinks, the menu, the ceiling. You give them the benefit of the doubt, believing they are just orienting themselves. Perhaps they haven’t been in this bar before. Perhaps they don’t know the etiquette of returning greetings.

They state their order out loud, it is something like: ‘Cappucino’ and they project this word upwards and over your head. Still they will not look at you. You need to know which size they’d like, though for some reason you feel like you don’t want to bother them. Luckily, you recognise this as madness and disregard it.

‘Small or large?’ you ask.
‘Medium’, they answer.
‘We don’t do medium, it’s small or large,’ you say.

They wave their hand, much like The Queen might, but one from the olden days who is dismissing your existence.

Then they say they’ll have a ‘normal’ one.

How can you best deal with this customer?

Replying, ‘But what is “normal”?’ : Should you or shouldn’t you?
Embarking on a debate like this is risky. Whether or not you go down this route will depend on how much energy you have left and also how cheeky you’re feeling.

If you do decide to follow this up, you might try one of the suggestions here to start a debate:

But what is ‘normal’?
Does ‘normality’ even exist?
Who decides what ‘normal’ is? (In this case it’s whoever ordered the cups but try to think big)

If your energy and cheekiness levels are high, by all means enter into that potential debate about societal norms, but do be prepared to be looked at blankly. See this as a success – your customer is looking at you!

So you’ve made the cappuccino
And you’ve put it on the counter, in front of the customer, but they didn’t say anything. It’s natural to feel a little deflated here, especially if you took some effort with the presentation. But do remember that you are a professional cappuccino maker and you take pride in your work regardless of your personal feelings about a customer not treating you as a human being. Feel strong.

You tell them the price of the price of the drink, most likely like this: ‘That’s [current price of a cappuccino], please,’ in a sing-songy voice because despite everything, you still feel manners are important. The sing-song is also tinged with intense irritation but no one can prove it so it’s okay.

Something harmonious happens next. It actually occurs in most customer/server transactions. It is part of the customer/server dance. You were never trained in this particular manoeuvre, it just ‘happens’. The customer sources their money, and you – you hold out your hand. 

To summarise - Them: money taken out of pocket/purse/wallet; You: hand held out. Writing the cold hard facts down in this way makes it sound like a cold, callous moment. It is not. It is a smooth and easy moment of connection.

However. The customer does not accept your offer of hand. They do not want this, this direct transferal of money from one human to another. They disregard your hand. 

They put their coins on the counter.

What do you do next?
There is only one thing you can do in this situation. And, despite the fact that you are a good person, you will do it because it has been done to you. And you will do it because there is logic in it. If the customer put the payment on the counter, they surely, surely, must want their change on the counter too. You are tending to their individual preference. This is a good quality.

And so, without great pleasure, for you are not petty – you put their money into the till and you take out their change, and – here again comes the dance of synchronicity – they know it too – they hold out their hand, and you – you place those coins on the counter.

And there is harmony again.



Karen Jones said...

I hate that customer. HATE THEM!

Rachel Fenton said...

It's those pesky petit bourgeois, desperate to scramble up the ladder of elitism, feeling the need to distance themselves from the workers they once were. Ah, feels good to have got that off the bird feeder.

Just think,Teresa, that customer would have gone home and no doubt attempted to ruin every other person's day along the way, whilst you, as sure as new life grows from the ash of a volcano, rose phoenix like to creative heights. A shake of the fan to you!

Kam said...

I hate customers like that, but you did the right thing. One must respond in kind :) X

Kam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Teresa Stenson said...

Hello Karen - your hatred is noted and appreciated. Thank you.

Hi Rachel - ooh, nice analysis. And you're right: I *am* a creative phoenix bird made of molten lava!

Hi Kam - exactly - it's what THEY wanted, after all.

Dan Purdue said...

Ah, yes, the old handing-the-money-over moment. I always hand the cash to the person on the till, so I'm not like the terrible customer you describe. But sometimes, to my (and, I assume, the cashier's) horror, I misjudge the trajectory, velocity, etc, and touch the person's skin with my own. It always feels like I've transgressed the staff-customer barriers in some twisted and nefarious way, or like I've made a clumsy sort of sexual advance. I didn't do it on purpose, I yearn to say. But then I wonder whether my face has instinctively contorted into some sort of grimace, and the other person - who probably barely noticed the fleeting moment of skin contact, now feels bad because I've made a face like I unexpectedly put my hand in a dog turd or something. And I have to stand there thinking all that while I wait for my change. The whole thing is agonising.

Also, that thing where sometimes your hand is a bit warm and one of the coins sticks to your finger for a split second and you accidentally sort of flick it down the back of the till and there's that moment where neither of you quite knows what to do because technically you have given them the right money but also they don't know for certain what the coin was and they won't be able to get it from behind the till until the end of the day.

Teresa Stenson said...

Oh Dan. I love all of that so much.

I can see your panicked contorted face very clearly. It is - as you say - really unlikely that the person who served you felt the same level of alarm at the fleeting contact. That kind of contact is okay. Because there is another, far more sinister, contact that can occur during that moment of coin transferal. Some people like to really spread their fingers out over your palm as they put the coins into it. Really slowly. You don't do that, do you? DO YOU???

Dan Purdue said...

I once saw an old man who used both hands to pay - one to hold the coins, the other to gently cup the cashier's outstretched hand from underneath. It was a bit like you might do if you were giving a small child a duckling to hold. The till lady looked very concerned, but it all ended amicably enough.

I think you already know the answer to your question. As soon as I can perfect my method of delivering coins with the aid of a long stick or tube, my days of terror at the till will be over.

Teresa Stenson said...

Ha yes, I've had the cupped hand. Baby ducking, I wish. Usually it's a handful of unnaturally warm coins from really warm hands with long fingernails. I tip the coins into the til very quickly and sanitize sanitize sanitize.

Good luck with the coin tube tipper. Needs a good name...