The Customer Isn’t Your Butt

File under: things that irk me

I really dislike when salespeople think it’s funny to say something unexpected, as though it will make me laugh hysterically when they say “two thousand, four hundred…. dimes” when I’m having my water meter fixed. Or “alright, your car will be ready in 3 to 4 days”.

All you’re doing is making yourself look like an asshole. Money is tight. I need my car to get to work. I’m sure it’s HIGH-LARIOUS for you to say shit like that to unsuspecting customers – even customers who, like me, have caused no issue and have often paid good money for your service.

You know what, Tire Store Employee?

Waking up this morning with two flat tires didn’t exactly make me a happy camper. I did my level best to be a happy camper when I brought you my limping vehicle, the two flat tires having noticeably lost air since I filled them in my garage. I treated you nicely; I even smiled at your little tire-measuring joke, figuring that I didn’t need to inflict my bad mood on anyone else. I then ordered FOUR new 60K mile tires and paid for them, because I need my car, and because my old tires are nearly bald, are showing dry rot, and two of them are leaking. Paying for those tires did not make my morning any better.

It did not make my week or my month any better either, especially considering the current budget situation with regards to NASA – which, I remind you, foots the bill for the contract that pays my husband his salary.

And so, Tire Store Employee, telling me “Alright, you can pick it up in 3-4 days” after I’ve shelled out a large chunk of change that I’m going to have to worry about budgeting for the rest of the month to avoid issues with didn’t exactly make me feel like giggling at your joke. Especially since I couldn’t just say “oh nevermind” and take back my money.

Because sometimes car repairs really DO take 3-4 days.* Maybe those tires were sold out and on order or something? I didn’t know.

Responding to my “well, I guess I’ll have to figure out how I’m getting home” comment by saying “HA HA HA JUST KIDDING 45 minutes to an hour” made me want to scream at you.

You probably noticed that you got the Look Of Disapproval.

Had I not gotten great service from your company in the past, and known that I would have reliable tires that are under warranty, I would be inclined to take my business elsewhere the next time.

It’s a power thing for you, I’m sure. You like feeling like you can have that kind of power over someone. You probably think it’s quite funny to swap stories about the horrified looks on customer’s faces when you tell them blatantly false things that they have no reason not to believe, because you have the power in the interaction. They need their car, and you have the ability to fix that car for them.

As a customer? It’s not that funny.

Maybe because I work in a bookstore, and no matter how many silly interactions I’ve had with customers, I do my damn best to make sure they get what they want and don’t feel that I’m judging them for what they are selling or what they want to buy.

Maybe because I work in that kind of “power” situation as a buyer for my store, and know that if I can put the person selling the books at ease, they won’t feel defensive about my giving them a money offer for books that – to them – often have a lot of emotional value.

If a customer walked up to me to get an offer, and I said “we can give you two bucks” for a pile of signed first editions, and then said “oh no, just kidding!” and gave them the real offer? I’d get my ass in BIG trouble.

Making the customer the butt of some little bookseller joke says I don’t respect the customer, OR their stuff, enough to treat it like the business interaction that it is.

Now, does that mean I never laugh or joke with sellers? Of course not. We often find something little or trivial to laugh about, or I’ll let THEM make a joke about what they’re bringing in. But I try (and I am trained to try) extremely hard not to alienate them based on their stuff – or based on what books they buy.

Even if I think their books are stupid and will never sell or the book they want to buy is poorly written and a waste of paper, those books are my paycheck. And if the customers are happy, they will pay for whatever they choose and come back again next time when they need help. Besides, nobody made me the Goddess of Determining Literary Value.

So the next time I go back to The Tire Store Place, I’ll be expecting less of them and be preemptively defensive about being the butt of some employee’s little “funny joke”. Making jokes about my old tires needing Rogaine because they were looking bald? Totally appropriate (and funny). Joking about the actual SERVICE you were providing?

Hacked me off.

*And sometimes plumbing repairs – especially CITY plumbing repairs, really do cost more than two grand.

5 thoughts on “The Customer Isn’t Your Butt

  1. I’m one of those people who doesn’t even like when people make awkward small talk at me during a business transaction. I mean, other than “How are you doing today?” and “Did you find everything ok?” We really don’t need to discuss my outfit or how delicious that candy bar I just bought is.

  2. *signs your petition*

    I actually do not go to get car stuff done by myself anymore. I’m tired of being lied to, talked down to, and going home to find Mr. Moore furious because they charged me for a bunch of stuff I didn’t need.

    That power trip you’re talking about pisses me right the feck off, I don’t mind saying.

  3. Devil’s advocate here, because this rant hits a nerve. There is the possibility that the guy was just trying to lighten up a tense moment and was spectacularly bad at it. It’s possible it wasn’t meant to humiliate you, that it wasn’t a power play, that he simply assumed like the rest of his customers that you knew it took about an hour to get tires done. I wasn’t there? But shit, 9 times out of 10 in social interaction with CS I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt. Here’s why.

    I work in customer service, too, but not in the same capacity as most CSRs. I work in the BAD customer service – not the normal order taking, take your money part. When people get to me, they’re already pissed off. I work at a cable company in repair, where people have had mistakes and errors over and over again, and they need to be escalated to someone who has a clue. In order to make my half of any customer transaction even remotely workable, I depend on my ability to turn the tone of the whole interaction around on its ass – meaning angry to light hearted and workable. Why? I don’t get paid enough to deal with miserable people being bitchy all day long (no one would if it literally involved getting screamed at), and yet I have to. I’m damned good at my job, people like the service I provide, and yes, I crack jokes and chat and most cranky folks are finding themselves talking about OTHER SHIT before I hang up. Ninety nine percent of the time this works out fine. One percent of the time I find someone who can’t stand the concept that there’s a real human being on the other end of the phone – they’d prefer I was a fucking robot – and make it painful for both of us.

    To those people, who are by the by the same people that will always choose the “check out your groceries in the automated line because they don’t want to deal with people” I tend to not try as hard. Shitty, but true. We’re not a completely automated society yet, and goddamn it, the onus is on you to be able to function in a social situation whether or not it’s a happy one. This cuts both ways of course: had service guy been able to read exactly how irked or vulnerable you were feeling, he could have picked another way to try and relate to you. It’s unfortunate this way didn’t work, but maybe it really was just a botch job and he had no malicious intent. Surprising that I’m admitting this aloud because I’m the worst kind of cynic, most people /don’t/ have malicious intent.

  4. @hillary – I know, and that’s why I wanted to make the distinction between making jokes in general and making “jokes” about the service he provided. I’m absolutely NOT in any way against the general humorous interactions that make CS a lot less sucky. His jokes about Rogaine for my tires were amusing and did lighten the situation. I’m not humorless.

    But this isn’t an isolated incident – I’ve chalked it up to bad humor before, but it’s starting to become a pattern that I’m seeing with CS. I’ve had it happen with home repair people, with car repair people, and with people on the phone for various services that I legitimately needed to continue to function (like electricity). And in those situations, no matter how hard I try – and I do try, and I don’t yell at people on the phone either – I’m going to be tense and stressed, because I’m having to pay sometimes a lot of money for things that I need to keep on functioning. I certainly appreciate a joke, but there’s a difference between a joke and feeling like someone is trying to see if they can make you horrified or upset by lying about something in their power that you need.

    (And yes, I know tires usually take an hour, but I have no idea what’s in his inventory, and there were a LOT of people at the tire place. I was honestly expecting MORE than an hour wait. In short, I trusted him to give me a legitimate answer to my question about his job.)

  5. I think it depends on how good the bullshitting banter has been to that point that will determine if people are really just trying to make you smile with a last jest or if they’re being shits. If you’ve been goofing off with a guy, he probably assumed GREEN LIGHT JOKE TIME GO, as you’d been a good sport, and he just cracked one last joke that he /likely assumed/ (incorrectly) you’d recognize as a joke. As he’s known you for all of twelve seconds he can’t exactly talk to you about iunno, other stuff. CSRs don’t know other stuff, so they try to relate to what’s at hand and that’s the broken shit in front of them.

    Also, so we’re clear: I wasn’t there, so I’m not saying this guy wasn’t being a douche. I’m just suggesting that most people have a very limited wheelhouse to work with when trying to relate to a consumer. I don’t think personally I’ve ever done the WE’LL SERVICE YOU IN TWELVE YEARS joke, but I won’t say I haven’t because shit, I might have if I felt that I had a good rapport with the other individual. I don’t see it as a power play so much as a building on a very limited social foundation, and the alternative of silence is a bad one.

    It’s a slippery slope type of thing, too, in that too much of the LOLsters might give the consumer the idea you’re not taking them or their problem seriously. It’s a delicate balance which – I’ll be honest – I’m not sure people are properly trained to handle. There’s a reason I’m considered “really good” where I work – I know the balance. Rapport and good service = win. They have trainees sit with me so they can try and pick up on that skill set. Hopefully someone walked away a little bitter for their time with me.

    Also, as weird as it sounds, I always feel on the CSR end that /I’m/ the one coming from the powerless position because a customer can yell, scream, tell my manager I’m a dickbag, and threaten to blow up my building. I can’t transfer the call or hang up on them or I lose my job. True fact with my company – you can be as abusive as you want and I simply have to suck it up. I had a guy drop the c-bomb on me, and the best I could do “Sir, I’m putting you on hold for a minute. When I come back I’d appreciate that you not talk to me, or I have to transfer you to a manager.” Lovely, eh? Called a c*nt and the best I can do is time out his ass for a minute. Yes, I might have the ability to get people’s shit fixed, but the truth is I am completely at that customer’s mercy until the end of that phone call. The people who pay the bills for things? Have a lot more power than they might assume.

Comments are closed.