Service with a Smile (Right?)
When you work in customer service, just getting through your workday can be a true nightmare; use these tips to recover from all those problem customers.
By Crissonna Tennison, UCLA
Customer service jobs are draining for even the brightest of social butterflies, and they can be an absolute terror for people who count sitting alone in a closet among their favorite pastimes.
But if you are still working toward your Bachelor’s degree (or heck, even after gradation), you may not have many other options for paying your bills. Here are some tips for making those 20 to 40 hours of your week not just bearable, but downright pleasant, and building major karma points in the process.
1. Always Prepare for Work
Get into the best possible mood before work by giving yourself the attention and consideration that your customers will expect from you for the next few hours. Warm up for the impending physical, mental and emotional workout by listening to your favorite high BPM song on your way to work.
Make sure your uniform is always clean. Nothing has the potential to ruin your mood more than having to wear dirty, smelly clothes to work (although it could end up keeping customers away from you, which may be your ultimate goal).
If you are an extrovert, drink coffee, since caffeine will improve your cognitive functions. If you are an introvert, drink coffee, and ignore the studies that say caffeine will impair your cognitive functions. (Fresh coffee in the morning is like a hug from an old friend. Science can’t take that away from you.) On your way home, if you are lucky enough to have a car, throw on some groovy, chill music, buy a beverage for the road and try not to be angry when the Jetta swoops in front of you without signaling. If you have to take public transportation…sorry.
If you are an introvert, make sure you get plenty of alone time before and after your shift.
This may or may not be entirely feasible, especially if you are a nontraditional student with a family at home, or you have the more traditional, celebrated arrangement of sharing a cramped “master” bedroom with two other people. But if you make it clear to those you live with that you need a period to yourself when you get home, they will hopefully respect your space and not take it personally if you aren’t ready to engage right away.
2. Take Breaks, if Possible
Even though there are no federal laws requiring employers to provide breaks of any kind, most do, and many states require at least a thirty-minute lunch break. If breaks are available at your job, use them. Stepping outside for ten or fifteen minutes can boost and prolong your physical and cognitive abilities—no forgetting orders or spilling drinks for you!
During busy periods, it can be easy to forget to take a break or to feel guilty about taking one. If you don’t take adequate care of yourself though, you won’t be able to take adequate care of your customers.
3. Find Your Work Friends
Not everyone has a cool cousin that can get them a gig at that swanky shoe store in downtown Los Angeles, but if you are working in a retail or restaurant position, you have plenty of coworkers to befriend.
While coworker strife is an unfortunate reality, there is nothing like annoying or angry customers to bring people together. You and your comrades can vent to each other about stresses both inside and outside of work, releasing all of your negative energy before you have to face the crowd.
4. Small Talk It Up
A lot of people don’t necessarily enjoy small talk, but when you engage in tiny conversations with people, you are building tiny relationships with them, which means you will be more invested in helping them, and they will feel more awkward going off on you when you tell them you can’t remove their late fee for returning “Fifty Shades of Grey” six months late. This is how repeat customers become friends. Remember, the more allies you have, the more enjoyable your day will be.
5. Turn Off Your Brain
Work is not a time for self-reflection, because once you start having some real epiphanies about your life, a customer will walk up to you and ask you where the nearest bathroom is—then, once you’ve told them and finally retraced your thoughts, BAM! The same person will come back because they couldn’t find the bathroom, could you come show them?
If you get too lost in your own thoughts, you will resent people for interrupting them. Remember that you’re not at work to make major decisions about your life or imagine yourself starring in a buddy comedy alongside Joe Biden. You’re getting paid to help directionally challenged people locate the bathroom, to remember that the old man who comes in every Tuesday always asks for his burger without onions, to find a way to follow people around the store and ask them for help without being annoying.
6. Or, Turn ON Your Brain
There is room for imagination in the customer service environment, but it should be used to focus on your customers, not yourself. Imagining what your customers’ lives are like when they’re not begrudgingly buying bridesmaid dresses for their frenemy’s wedding or yelling at you about the onions you left on their burger, again, helps you develop empathy that will help you to handle stressful situations in a calm manner.
The old man with the onion phobia isn’t merely a symbol of the petty frustrations of daily life; maybe he’s somebody’s sweet grandpa, maybe he just lost his wife. Try not to always imagine sad scenarios, though—too much of that is just depressing, and it will turn your shift at the local burger shack into a very long Lifetime movie about sad strangers vainly trying to fill the chasm in their souls with high cholesterol foods.
Maybe the salty old man never married, and the reason he is so upset is because when he brings the order home to his young pregnant lover, she’ll be PISSED if she sees so much as one onion on her food, dammit!
7. Be the Bigger Person
Some people are beyond help; you aren’t a superhero. Don’t let mean customers get the best of you. They don’t know you; when they see you, they see a bank teller or a grocery clerk, not the person you actually are. Their abuse is directed at a reductive caricature of what you are; it’s not personal. Whatever you do, maintain your composure, if not out of empathy for the customer, then at least out of respect for your employer and yourself.
Make sure you have spoken with your supervisor in advance about what the proper procedures are for dealing with a problem customer. If possible, delegate the problem customer to a manager. If things get serious enough, you can call a security guard if applicable, or even the police. You aren’t obligated to deal with other people’s baggage. And remember that you have an army of work friends to rant angrily with later.
8. Be Honest with Yourself!
Maybe this isn’t the job for you. Even with the most optimistic outlook, some work environments are too stressful to endure for an extended period of time. Being able to quit a job because of stress alone is a privilege that many students don’t have, but if your current situation is unsustainable, by all means search for another job. Just make sure to find one before you quit.
Even if service jobs seem insignificant, they offer the opportunity to bring a moment of positivity into a lot of people’s lives. Remember that when you’re staring at the line out the door while waiting twenty minutes for the soccer mom to order an unnecessarily complicated coffee-inspired beverage.