“To serve people takes dignity and intelligence. But remember, they are only people with money. And although we serve them, we are not their servants.” – Lionel, Maid in Manhattan
As a person who has held three jobs now in the customer service industry, I’ve met all kinds of people and I like to think I’m a pretty good judge of them. I try to be easy-going and give people the benefit of the doubt, but some people make this very difficult. I’ve never actually snapped at a customer (that I can remember), and I think I’ve only ever cried in front of one. (Coworkers are another matter.) I have let my frustration show, I have visibly lost my patience and my temper, and sometimes I’ve simply walked away. Though I’ve allowed myself to be talked down to, sworn at, ignored, and threatened, I have refused to accept that I’m worth such treatment; I’ve just come to understand that some people are so low that they don’t bother to better themselves and their conduct. These people aren’t worth the breath I waste on British slang directed at their backs.
Customer service had proven that people are crazy. I don’t really like the idea that “it takes all types”, because that seems like an excuse for jerks to get away with their behavior. Also, some of these people may stand out more to me as a young woman than they would to my brother. How is that right?
That said, here are some of the most common types of people I run into:
Type One: Snobs
These are the people who think you’re only there to serve them. “The customer is always right” is tattooed on their souls, or the vacuum that’s left of them. They are disillusioned, ignorant, and narcissistic. To these people, you are little better than a robot and once you’re out of sight, you’re out of mind. This usually means that they don’t notice when you’re being cold and impersonal to them, nor do they care, but on occasion some insignificant thing will trigger them and you’d better watch out. They’re the ones you suffer with until they’re gone and then you vent or giggle with your coworkers about; whichever is more stress-relieving.
Some of these people have a semi-excuse in that they come from caste societies where people in service positions are naturally lower on the social ladder than those receiving service. That doesn’t make it right, but I can see how they came upon their social issues.
Among these are self-entitled high school students with 5 credit cards, all of which are declined. Want a band-aid for that ego, Tyler?
To these people: Get over yourself. You are not God’s gift to mankind and your superiority complex is not going to get you any special treatment – at least not the kind you think you deserve. Get your eyes past your own nose for two minutes and realize the person behind the counter is a human being and your equal. At least have the decency to answer their “Hello, how are you?” instead of launching into “I need….”
Type Two: Divas
These are the people who see you as an obstacle between them and whatever they deem to be the pinnacle of their day. They are either loud or they grunt; yoga pants or shabby clothes. They are rude, impatient, short with you, and act as if everything you say is an affront to themselves and to society. They must be handled with care and as quickly and quietly as possible. However, it is very tempting to be subtly rude, like forcing them to wait their turn or greeting someone else with more enthusiasm than they received. They won’t understand the silent reprimand, but it may make you feel better.
Among these are the people who say, “I used to work in this type of industry,” or “I know how these things work,” or, oh, my favorite! “I/my brother/my cousin’s roommate am/is a lawyer.” Y’know, the people who try to threaten you with their perceived power. They love being the victim while pretending they’re the good guy. They love to blame everyone except themselves and criticize “the system” or “the process” or “the way you run your business”. They are masters of monologues and rants.
To these people: Chill. If you didn’t want to be late, you should have skipped your green smoothie run, not taken the phone call during dinner, or waited until later to ask me to print 50 papers for you. It’s not my fault you can’t manage your time better. It’s also not my fault that you were just reminded you are not the center of the universe or that your “crisis” is not the only one that matters, nor the most important.
Type Three: Extras
These are the invisible people. They aren’t rude, but neither are they abnormally polite and friendly. They’re like the extras in a movie. They want to be in and out as quickly as possible. These people are actually nice to deal with because they don’t want an issue and you don’t want an issue, so you both tend to get things done quickly and without fuss.
To these people: I hope you can see what a relief it is that you’re willing to be unobtrusive. To you I extend the invitation to make special requests instead of letting my little mistakes go. I want to be helpful as my way of thanking you for your patience.
Type Four: Awkward Turtles
These are the socially awkward people who don’t have a clue how to handle themselves and who must be dealt with quiet pity or ill-contained impatience, depending on how your morning went and how many other people are waiting for your help. The best thing to do is not encourage them if they try to ease things up with a story, because once they get going they will never stop.
They tend to punctuate things with nervous laughter, use lots of filler words like “uh”, and have trouble making eye contact. They also have to double-check whenever they sense they’ve done something inappropriate, which they seem to think is every other word. They are hyper-aware, but not in a good way. They are just super concerned with offending everyone, and it makes them really hard to work with, let alone joke with.
To these people: I don’t want to hear about your dog, your house, or your family. I want to move on with my work. I get that you feel awkward, but you’re only making it worse by not knowing when to stop. And no, I didn’t get that joke. There may be hope for you to mellow out, but only if you pay attention and learn a little.
Type Five: Regulars
These are the people you see all the time, who are as familiar with you as you are with them, and with whom you can be personable. They are the welcome break in the rigors of social etiquette. This includes the well-meaning, slightly awkward but not creepy people, like my coworker Oscar. At least he has a sense of humor.
To these people: I hope you realize how much I trust you when I let this camaraderie continue. Thank you for not pushing boundaries and for treating me like a human being instead of another nameless person behind a desk or counter. Thank you for investing enough time and brain power to learn my name instead of settling on one of the 20 variations most people think sound close enough.
Type Six: Old Men
These are the people who are familiar in the wrong sort of way, who border on harassment and try to be buddy-buddy. They are blustering, overly-friendly, and don’t have any concept of what’s appropriate. They are people who can’t take hints, gentle suggestions, or direct orders to back off. These people are best dealt with over the phone, because you are typically calling for a specific purpose and can reiterate this a few times to make sure you’ve done your job and then gracefully hang up. Also, you probably have their number memorized and may have special permission to let them go to voicemail. I worked with someone like this for a brief period of time, during which he became way too familiar and was starting to get overbearingly polite and witty.
I say “old men” because that’s the majority of people I’ve met who fall into this type. I like the sweet old men in floppy hats with good manners, respect for others, and funny anecdotes to share, but more often the old men I meet are like those described above.
To these people: I don’t know where you get off thinking this is ok, but I never gave you the green light to be my pal. You, unfortunately, don’t know when to stop and can’t tell when I’m clearly busy trying to get my work done. It may be that we only met two minutes ago, so don’t assume you know anything about me, and please don’t make stupid jests about boyfriends, college, aspects of my job about which you know nothing, or the people around us. Don’t you have anything better to do?
Type Seven: Creeps
These are the oblivious people who like to hear themselves talk and see the poor insignificant worker behind the counter, desk, or phone as an easy target, a cornered animal who can’t escape. They think they’re clever or funny. They think that worker should be glad for their presence as a reprieve from the doldrums of server life. They hang around taking up space (and invading yours) and oxygen because they have nothing better to do, and by the time you realize you’re trapped there’s no easy way out. I have a special silent signal developed to shoot at coworkers who happen by in the presence of one of these people. It’s a wide-eyed, hunched shouldered, “Dear Lord above please save me or let me hide in the freezer” sort of look. Short of pointing them very obviously toward the door, the best thing to do with Creeps is to not encourage them and hope they get bored and go away. If I can’t shake them, I find the coworker I know can be more abrasive than I to run them off.
Note: Many of these are old men as well.
To these people: Back off. I was doing just fine before you showed up. Unlike you, I have things to do, and my duties as a kind, polite receptionist only extend so far.
Type Eight: Angels
These are the beautiful souls whose sole purpose in life is to be a beam of sunshine. They have impeccable manners, treat you as a human being from the start, do everything in their power to avoid fuss, and are so adorable that you want to squeeze them. These people are rare, but they can erase the frustration of all but the worst people you’ve been forced to deal with. The very sight of them makes you breathe easier, because, even if you’ve never met before, they give off an aura like a field of sunflowers. They are also intelligent and not feather-brained, and the majority can sense when you need a pick-me-up. I have the privilege of working with a lady like this, whom everyone at work adores.
Adorable, well-mannered children fall into this category. You know the type: sweet, soft-spoken but polite, typically placing an order under the approving eye of a smiling parent or older sibling standing by for support.
To these people: Bless you. Keep doing what you’re doing.
End notes: There are others, like the guy who flirted with an oblivious coworker for weeks and then slipped her a $20.00 “just for you”; or the man who was two different people depending on the toupee he decided to wear that day (and was always offended that you couldn’t remember which “usual” order went with which toupee).
My ambition when I am the customer is to be the beautiful soul. (Cat Valente says I am!) If I can’t manage that, I at least try to be as good as invisible. I’m getting better at being friendly to people with whom I am familiar, but I still struggle to feel out the boundaries and I don’t like to push them, and I hate the thought of being overbearing.
As for dealing with these different types of people, I usually wear my emotions on my sleeve, and I have a hard time concealing whether or not I am glad to be working with someone. Thanks to my parents, I am well-versed in the art of sarcasm, and I have a particular delight in subtle reprimands for breaches of social conduct, such as not giving special treatment to jerks. (This comes out in my driving, I’m ashamed to admit.) But the one person I still can’t handle is the Creep. I have them at church and, with my office next to the Dept. of Human Services and a bus stop, I run into them on a daily basis. They stroll past our door and see me, an innocent, well-dressed, content-looking young woman, and think I need company. And then they either don’t stop talking or get huffy when I have to answer the phone, even though this is my office and they aren’t here because they need help, and I have work to do.
Today one of my coworkers came in late and cast a curious glance at a Creep. I stepped into her office to deliver a message and she whispered, “Who’s that?”
“He’s waiting for his bus, which doesn’t come for another half-hour. He won’t go away and he’s starting to bug me.” (Ok, I was less coherent and more frustrated, but you get the idea. I was also clinging to the door frame and growling a little.)
In one minute flat she had very tactfully chased the Creep from the office and I spent the next 10 minutes thanking her.
She returned the favor later by having me call a Diva and suffering through a 15-minute rant where he found every way he could think of to say, “I disapprove of how you’re running your business and I want you to know,” following it up periodically with, “I know this isn’t your fault”.