The Customer Is Not Always Right: Why Retail/Customer Service Workers Deserve Better

I’m the type of person who loves to be busy. Call me bonkers, but I hate doing nothing. At the start of the summer, I read the posts from my friends about starting their internship at a major startup, taking summer classes, or studying abroad. My initial reaction was “GOOD FOR YOU. GO, GIRL.YASSSS.” But soon afterward, I'll shut down my laptop and stare at the ceiling thinking I should be doing something. Don’t get me wrong; I love my free time. I occasionally read Buzzfeed articles, catch up on the mainstream Netflix shows, or read a chapter of a mystery novel right before bed. But then I come to the realization that my tuition needs to somehow be paid for. That means I need a summer job.

Two summers ago, I had given up on my internship search. Most of the internships pertaining to law and government work required previous legal consultation experience, which I did not have. When I thought I ran into a dead end, something came up. While walking over to my mom’s office, I noticed a “Now Hiring” sign outside of the Staples Express store just a few blocks down from my mom’s office. I was genuinely thrilled.

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My first few days were definitely a challenge. I panicked at the register, gave the wrong change, and forgot what to do next. I would sometimes forget to scan items and to ask the customers the most important question: “do you need a bag." I detected that the customers had become frustrated with me, as they tried to avoid my check-out stand and headed towards my co-worker’s. However, my welcoming co-workers and supervisors helped ease my rocky transition into the world of retail and customer service, something I am truly grateful for even to this day. Everyone was so patient with me; they answered my questions, checked up on me frequently, and treated me to lunch.

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Despite all the fun behind the scenes, one of my takeaways from my time working in a retail environment was a newfound appreciation for retail workers and customer service representatives for everything they put up with on a daily basis. Throughout my time at Staples, I experienced several instances where customers would ruthlessly question my intelligence. Since our branch was a Staples Express, we only carried a limited amount of products compared to a much larger Staples stores that sell office equipment like desks and office chairs. When customers came in looking for those bigger items, I had to inform them about the situation and even took the liberty of giving them directions to the nearest Office Depot. They would respond with such hostility and took all their anger out on me, blaming me for not having the products they needed when they needed them.

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I think it’s important to know that not all customers exhibit this behavior. Most of the time, I had excellent customers who were genuinely kind and grateful for our services. It is also important to consider that people tend to have bad days. Perhaps they didn't get much sleep the night before or had some trouble at work. Nonetheless, no circumstance gives somebody entitlement to treat another human being with disrespect. Some of the employees at my work endured extreme personal hardships but nonetheless went to work. My own sister, a current employee at Staples, is also a full-time college student. While she has to wake up at 6 a.m. almost every morning for her hour-and-a-half commute to school, she still comes to work from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. with a smile on her face. Just like all retail workers, she sets aside her personal life and suppresses her true feelings in order to best serve her customers.

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Speaking on behalf of retail workers, I wanted to let you all know that we are people, with feelings. If only you understood what it’s like to walk in our shoes, dealing with the harassment and faking a smile despite the cold disrespect, I can guarantee it would change your perceptions, attitudes, and behavior towards customer service. Instead of interrupting the cashier when she explains the benefits of the rewards program, try listening to what she has to say and then reject kindly. If a worker makes a mistake, notify him in a gentle tone and we’ll get it fixed right away. Before you act upon your feelings and frustrations, I think it’s wise to put yourself in their shoes. Would you want someone to humiliate you in front of the whole store? Would you want to get in trouble for an honest, human mistake?

Customer service and retail workers truly deserve better. Hopefully, you all can keep these words in mind while visiting your local Target, Walmart, or even Staples. Treat people the way you want to be treated.

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