There is nothing I can talk more about, or even complain about, than annoying customers at work. I’ve talked previously about how everyone should be forced to work in retail at some point, simply because it would hopefully eradicate the vast majority of rudeness customers seem to possess. Today, however, I want to just ramble about a few things in the day of a life of working in retail. Luckily I just work weekends, so I have a solid five days in between each couple of days where I have to deal with people that think that I’m there to serve them (which, technically, I am, but that in no means makes them my superior).
I’ve worked in a bookshop for almost a year and a half now, and I worked as a hostess and in a pub before this. Without doubt working at the bookshop is by far my favourite, and if there were only nice customers I’d have so little to complain about that I’d probably have to shut down this blog. However, there are always awful customers – people who don’t seem to realise that they will be the subject of conversation in the staff room, and every time they come back we will warn each other and most likely not be that helpful. It gets even better if the customer thinks that they’re so in the right, that they’ll demand to talk to a ‘manager’, thinking that we’ll get a telling off, when actually we’ll get our manager who will be more concerned about whether we, the employees, are alright. I had one incident where a customer gave me their surname in order for me to find a book they had ordered in, and when I couldn’t find it they said “Are you really that incompetent?”. It turned out that they had a combined surname, something like Dean-Smith, so of course it was shelved under ‘D’ and not ‘S’, as they had told me their surname was Smith. Overhearing, my manager grew so angry that, once I had found this lady’s books, he took over the transaction and told her off, not letting someone treat me badly.
Some customers also have this strange thought that they could do my job so much better, that they are above me in intelligence as well as status. (Seriously, whoever came up with ‘the customer is always right’ clearly never worked a day in retail in their life). I had a man last Sunday knock over a huge Christmas display of all the packs of Christmas cards. I went over to see what had happened, only to see this chap just standing there among the carnage. Sighing, I bent down and started to pick everything up, and he didn’t speak until I was literally on my knees trying to gather everything around his feet (he didn’t move out of the way or even try to help). Instead of apologising, he said “Well what do you expect to happen when you display them like that?”. I then went to put everything back the way it was, to which he started telling me how I should stack them – a way in which meant you couldn’t actually see the product. I told him this, and the fact that we hadn’t had anyone have any problems with it so far, to which he continued to tell me how the proper way to do it was. I’ve had someone tell me that I rolled wrapping paper the wrong way, only to have the person buying said paper tell me that they didn’t care. This lady then told me ‘she was only trying to help’, which is so insulting I don’t even want to get into it. Never, I repeat never should you tell someone who is working how to do something if you are the customer. Just let them get on with it, and if they are doing a certain job wrong it’s down to their managers or co-workers to point it out, not you.
It’s gotten to a point where I can sense exactly what a customer is going to complain about. An easy one is on a Sunday, where the Sunday Trading Hours law means that we can only sell for 6 hours – and we state very clearly that we open at 12 for half an hour browsing time, then start selling at 12.30. We even have signs on the door and every single till point, but still you will have customers get enraged at you -even when you say ‘it’s the law, I can’t sell it’. Responses to this have included: “stop being stupid you little girl and get on the till”, “that’s just ridiculous I’m just buying ___”, and more. A lot of people have this habit of mumbling insults and profanities, but mumbling not in a ‘to-self’ way, but loud enough that you can hear every single thing. Why people think it’s ok to be rude to an employee at a shop in this way I’ll never know.
A favourite phrase of mine that customers use is ‘can you check in the back’. Honestly, it’s just fantastic and you get to just play along. Customers think ‘the back’ is this huge, cavernous space filled with all the products you have out in display, whereas really it’s a small cupboard in which we have some Christmas stock and mothers/fathers day, valentines, and easter cards. Still, you say “of course I’ll go check in the back” and you toddle off into the cupboard and have a bit of a sit down for a couple of minutes.
But really, the reason for this ranting is not just to get it off my chest. It’s because it’s gotten to the point where I expect rudeness, and any customers who are actually nice are very unexpected surprises. We have to take on this mindset of pre-empting how a conversation can go and what a customer will complain about, going through various scenarios and trying to figure out what phrases to use which will cause the least amount of problems. For example I only say ‘yes, we should have that in stock’ rather than say how many we have in stock, because more often than not if we only find 2 out of 3 copies, the customer will demand to see the other one and complain incessantly that we can’t find it.
But let’s end on a nice note. There are several reasons why I love my job – the copious amount of books, the odd broken chocolate item I get to eat, the cafe where I can get free tea and hot chocolate – but the thing that makes me love my job, the reason why I feel sad whenever I think of the day I’ll finally leave my job, are the people I work with. Having great work colleagues makes any job ten times better, from having someone positive to motivate you, to having someone you can rant with about customers. Nothing is better than going to work and having your colleagues ask you about your week and certain events you mentioned in passing a month ago, or having someone leave you a note so when you start your shift you have a ridiculous drawing of a reindeer wishing you good luck.
So, yes, a lot of customers can be arseholes, and there are very few customers who are kind and respectful to you. But what makes it all worthwhile are the people you meet and befriend at work, who are there ready to support you and keep your spirits high – especially in the Christmas season, where jolly goes out the window and enraged unprepared shoppers storm in looking for a book ‘with a blue cover’.