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.

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. 

Monday, 31 March 2014

Karen Jones writes a letter to herself

I'm delighted to welcome Karen Jones to the blog, here to celebrate the launch of her first collection, Upside Down Jesus and other stories. These stories have made it to the top in loads of big-name big-deal writing prizes - the title itself is from a Mslexia prize winner. (Tracy Chevalier loved it). 

I asked Karen if she'd like to write a letter to her younger self, just like Vanessa Gebbie, Kerry Hudson and Andrew David Barker have done for us in the past. You're in for a treat. A double treat, in fact - because there's a copy of Upside Down Jesus and other stories for one lucky reader - all you have to do is leave a comment on this post and your name will go into a hat (I'll take photos, it'll be amazing) and if I pick you Karen will mail the book out your way. 

Over to Karen now, writing to Karen then.

A letter to me in 2001

Hello You,

It’s 2001 and for some reason your fashion choice for hair and clothes is ‘looks like she’s from the future or Star Trek’. There you are, in a holiday apartment in Blackpool with the two most important people in your life, and in a way it’s thanks to them that you’ll start to take the idea of writing more seriously. You’re watching Cartoon Network because it’s a British seaside family summer holiday, so the wind and rain is keeping you indoors. That advert between cartoons for the writing course, cleverly placed to attract all those stay-at-home-feeling-slightly-trapped mums like you, it’ll catch your attention.
          You’ve already written a novel – and I hate to be the one to tell you this, but it’s truly awful. It’s possibly the worst novel ever written. If anyone ever wants to give an example of how not to write a novel, of why all tell and no show is so relentlessly dull, they could use your first novel as a perfect example – but you’ve never had the courage to let anyone see your work. You think this course might be the thing to help, to give you a push, to give you confidence. (Incidentally, that there was ‘the rule of three’. You haven’t learnt about that yet but when you do it will become something of a feature in your writing – as will these pesky dashes.)

           Your youngest son will start school next year, you don’t work since becoming Mum’s carer after she had the stroke in 1991, so you know you’ll have the time to dedicate to the course, the time to really make a go of this writing thing. When you get back from holiday you’ll contact the course organisers. You’ll have to send samples of your writing so they can decide if you have any talent worth nurturing. Later you’ll realise that this is nothing more than an exercise in massaging your ego – they’re not going to turn away anyone who’s willing to pay for the course. They’ll accept you, praise your writing abilities, you’ll believe them.

The course will turn out to be a bit of a letdown and your tutor’s comments are often unhelpful and vague but it will give you that confidence and willingness to share your work.  In 2002 you’ll send out a couple of stories to writing competitions. You’ll win one and come third in the other earning £750 from your first two efforts. Sounds great, eh? Ah, well, not so great. You see, after these two immediate successes, you’ll think that’s it, you’ve done it – you’re a writer now. The crushing blow of rejection is yet to come.

And there will be rejections – a lot of rejections – but you’ll be surprised at how quickly they stop hurting (well, okay, the pain will lessen and having a self-pitying tantrum on the living room floor will eventually become a thing of the past).

You’ll join a fantastic creative writing site run by the BBC called Get Writing and this is where you will really start to learn, by reading and reviewing other people’s stories, by paying heed to their reviews and by reading the free advice posted by published writers and creative writing tutors. You’ll also discover that the internet is a terrifying place and that people are often not what they seem or claim to be. The internet will remain a terrifying but incredibly useful place.

When the BBC closes the site down you’ll move to another, More Writing, and there you’ll join a small critiquing group. This is where your writing will move to a different level. These seven or eight writers will rip apart every aspect of your stories, will catch every error, home in on every detail. By then you will have the confidence to do the same for them. With their help you will garner more success, winning or being placed in competitions, gathering publishing credits in places like Mslexia, The New Writer, Writers Forum and Flash 500.

You’ll start to meet up with your writing group once or twice a year at a cottage in the Yorkshire Dales for writing weekends. You’re reading this and thinking, “Spend a weekend in a cottage with people I’ve never met before? Are you mental?” Don’t panic, thankfully they’ll all turn out to be just as they are online – clever, funny, helpful and encouraging. Each time you meet you’ll come home with a story that has been so improved by their critiques, it will go on to be published or win a competition. You’ll also have a stinking hangover, have gained 3lbs of mainly cake-based fat and have a hankering to play Articulate every night after dinner.

Between 2004 and 2008, you’ll write another novel and it will be better than that first effort because now you’ll actually know how to plan, how to create interesting characters and give those characters authentic dialogue. You’ll still stint on description – that hasn’t changed here in 2014 – but you won’t bore the backside off people with tell, tell, tell any more. That novel won’t see the light of day either. At heart you’ll always feel that you’re a short story writer and this is where you will continue to have success. Don’t beat yourself up about mainly writing short stories – it’s okay. An idea will be what it’s supposed to be, and if it’s supposed to be micro or flash or short or long, just let it end when it should. And, believe it or not, you’ll even write poetry now and then. What’s even more unbelievable is that it’ll get published. No, I’m not joking.

In 2014 you’ll decide to gather some of your favourite stories into an anthology and publish them. Like many people, your attitude to self-publishing has changed but you’ll still be apprehensive. Don’t worry – it’ll all go okay and people will be very supportive.

Oh, and you’ll also be about half way through writing another thing – a long thing – a thing you refuse to call a novel in case the word scares it away.

You’ll never be a millionaire, you’ll probably never even make a proper wage from writing, but you will love it and you will get better at it and you will always find time to do it, no matter how many other things are deemed more important.

Remember that when those first rejections hit the doormat. When those envelopes scrawled with your own handwriting tell you all you need to know before you even tear open the flap. When you read competition winning stories and think, “What? Seriously? This won?” Remember that you do this because you love it and because you can. That’s all that matters in the end. Though money is always lovely.

With love,

Me. x


Thanks so much for sharing your journey to here with us, Karen. I know the anthology is already selling well - may it continue to - and may your 'thing' get its other half writ soon.

Oh and I love how the Karen from now is looking up at the Karen from Star Trek like she's about to get beamed-up.

So, to WIN a copy of Upside-down Jesus and other stories, all you have to do is:

- comment on the end of this post
- or retweet the daily tweet I'll do on Twitter saying something like "RT this to be put into the draw to win Upside-Down Jesus.." only (maybe) more well written
- do either of these (or both!*) before 5pm next Monday (6th April) and you'll go into the hat 

*each person will only go into the draw once, but we appreciate all your comments, RTs and sharing of information.

About the collection:

A child struggles to overcome her fear of the upside-down Jesus, a man dons his 'egg-stealing coat' once a week, a teenager becomes obsessed with the colour purple, an old man keeps his wife closer than others would like, a psychiatrist considers the folly of his patients, and a little girl watches her neighbour slowly disappear.

Click -

To buy from Lulu

To buy from Amazon

To follow Karen on Twitter

To get to Karen's blog