After working in customer service for over four years, I have had my fair share of good and bad interactions with customers. If you have any experience in customer service, it isn’t a secret that the job comes with a number of challenges. I first started working in customer service at the age of sixteen and thought that it would be a breeze. I have never been more wrong about underestimating a job. Throughout the duration of my time in customer service, the same mantra has prevailed: the customer is always right. Along with that, a number of unspoken rules comes along with the job such as employees must go above and beyond for the customer and employee must never show irritation or annoyance with the customer. These mantras and rules should be reworked to redefine what customer service is because it has detrimental impacts for and on customer service employees.
I have experienced a number of times where a customer was blatantly rude or outright disrespectful while I was on the clock. Even though deep down inside I wanted to speak out and stand up for myself, customer service employees should never “talk back,” or that’s what they say anyways. The absolute worst experience I had with a customer was when I was seventeen years old in which I got yelled at by a grown adult woman who was upset her child couldn’t play with a broken fidget spinner - which was a choking hazard BTW!
Anyone who knows me would have been shocked to see me stand there and stay completely silent (but if I didn’t, I would’ve definitely gotten fired). I find that in times like these, the notion that customer service workers shouldn’t stand up for themselves while a customer berates and verbally assaults them causes emotional or mental damage to the employee. Essentially, allowing customer service reps to be mistreated signals that the company doesn’t care about them as a person and that verbal abuse is just a part of the job. This just isn’t right.
Another aspect that I believe is harmful to customer service employees is the expectation that they must go above and beyond to meet with demands and requests of a customer. After experiencing this first hand, I know all too well how mentally and physically exhausting it is to uphold this expectation. Depending on the request, it can be extremely taxing for employees to run around and track down items for a customer. More often than not, customer’s requests are either too specific, far-fetched or outright impossible. During my time working retail, I have had to run around the store, calling other people and solving customer problems way too many times. When this happens, employees often do not get the recognition they deserve and simply receive a mere “thanks!”
Thankfully, I have had experience with customer engagement through my internships and have realised how different it is compared to customer service. I’ve found that customer engagement creates a relationship and bond between the customer and employee instead of enforcing a hierarchy. While the employee still provides a service for the customer, the employee is viewed as a partner during the transaction instead of simply existing as a service. Unlike customer service, customer engagement doesn’t rely on overworking their employees by requiring them to bend over backwards and accomplish the impossible. Instead, customer engagement creates a safe, pleasant and collaborative space in which both customers and employees are able to work with one another.
I think it has become increasingly important that customer service be redefined. Employees in customer service jobs shouldn’t be expected to work until they are burnt out or allow customers to verbally insult them. Although customer service exists as a common procedure for businesses and companies, redefining what service means would allow employees to thrive and enjoy their job. Instead of allowing customer service reps to be belittled by the mantra “the customer always knows best,” businesses should foster a more collaborative and comfortable objective to emulate that of customer engagement.
Additionally, companies should train their employees to feel comfortable to speak out when they are being insulted or yelled at by a customer. While it is (of course) inappropriate to yell at customer, it should be acceptable that employees calmly explain their abilities/duties and tell the customer that they are people too and don’t appreciate being mistreated. Through analysing my own experiences, I would definitely be more inclined to radiate enthusiasm if customer service didn’t require me to overlook being treated like a doormat for customers. I believe that if businesses were to adopt collaborative, engaging and honest environments/goals, more employees would feel safer in their workspace. As a result, employees would feel more comfortable approaching and interacting with customers. As an avid shopper and customer myself, I would like to remind readers: next time you’re out and about working with a customer service employee, please remember to focus on engaging with them and treat them like a partner during the interaction - not a humanless service.