Tis the Season to be Annoyed– for those in Retail

For those of us who have worked in customer service, especially in retail during the holiday shopping season, bossy customers can annoy us a lot.  There are differences between customers who are “bossy” and customers who are considerate.  Bossy customers don’t smile; considerate customers do.  Bossy customers nag and do not understand that you’re one employee trying to help many customers at once; considerate customers say, “No rush.”  Bossy customers sneer and use sarcasm; considerate customers mean it when they say, “Have a nice day.”

I have worked in low-end retail throughout my college career.  I began my career of part-time jobs as a busser and cashier at the dining plaza on the campus of my previous alma mater; as a courtesy clerk at a supermarket; as a barista, cashier, and bookseller at a former big-chain bookstore; and as a women’s shoes customer service associate at a department store.  (Oddly enough, I enjoyed working in women’s shoes the most.)

During the employee orientation meeting for my job at the supermarket, the speaker said something that I have always remembered since: “Because of the customer, you have a job.”  I always resented this saying, which ties in with the cliché “The customer is always right.”  Coincidentally, I had learned this saying from the job I hated the most of all the part-time jobs I have had.  Collecting stray carts around the parking lot really annoyed me.  Customers were not considerate enough to deposit their carts at the return stations once they were done packing up their groceries.  And those cart stations served a purpose other than for the convenience of the courtesy clerks: they also were in place to prevent damage to vehicles.

However, there is a sad truth to all of this: the orientation speaker was right.  Because of the customer, I had a job.  Because of the customer’s laziness in refusing to return the cart to its proper place, I had a job.  I was in a situation where I was more dependent on the customer than the customer was dependent on me.

Another rule I did not like when I worked at the supermarket was the “two bag” rule.  If a customer had at least two bags, the courtesy clerk had to ask if the customer needed any assistance to his or her car, no matter how light the bags were or how able-bodied the customer.  I always hated asking this question if the situation didn’t call for it, fearing I would insult the customer.  I always followed this rule, though.  However, I did incur the sarcastic wrath of one customer when his purchase consisted of only two very light bags.  He snidely said to me, “Does it look like I need help?”  Knowing that you are dependent on rude people is disheartening.

But this is how capitalism works.  Capitalism is based on the principle of competition.  If a customer’s experience is terrible at one supermarket, then that same customer can visit another supermarket.  For the most part, capitalism doesn’t care about the workers; it mostly cares about the customers.

While working these part-time jobs, I wanted a job where the customer was more dependent on me than I was dependent on the customer, like the Department of Motor Vehicles (the California version of the Department of Licensing).  The lines are always long and the staff of the DMV didn’t seem to care.  I once saw a receptionist text on her cell phone while at her station.  I had thought that the DMV would be a great place to work since the customers were more dependent on the employees.  There is only one place to get a driver’s license, and that place is the government.