16 August 2009

The Customer is Always Right

The customer is always right! These five words represent American tradition as much as playing baseball and eating apple pie. Degrading employees of the service industry has been one of America’s favorite pastimes for decades, and it doesn’t look like things are going to change any time soon.

Scores of books, websites and articles are devoted to the practice of unwavering customer service. The title of one such book, authored by Jeff and Val Gee, aptly describes our culture’s disturbing obsession with those five oh so sacred words; “Super Service: Seven Keys to Delivering Great Customer Service... Even When You Don’t Feel Like It!... Even When They Don’t Deserve It!” Only for the chance of greater a sales profit would Americans demand its workforce to smile while being slapped in the face.

No one leads the ridiculous crusade of groveling to customers more than the self-proclaimed “world leading educator and motivator for uplifting and superior service culture,” Ron Kaufman. Kaufman’s pestiferous face, complete with nauseating smile and disingenuous thumbs up, can be seen on any book, website, or article he churns out. All of which are aimed at furthering our business-oriented culture’s favorite adage, “the customer is always right.”

Having worked at a multiplex cinema for more than four years I can personally attest to the high level of antipathy directed towards employees of the entertainment and service industries. For one thing, customers expect you to be the Albert Einstein of all that is film. Possessing extensive cinematic knowledge is a requirement for multiplex employment as much as being an expert cappuccino maker is required to find work at Dunkin Donuts. If you haven’t seen every movie ever made, can’t name every famous actor or director in existence, or give a thorough yet concise film synopsis on the spot, than they assume there is something shamefully wrong with you. The best and most frequent customer quip is “You work here and you haven’t seen every single one of these movies!?” As if I not only want to spend my day off at work but while I’m at it watch computer generated hamsters fight bad guys in “G-Force.”

For some reason the moral codes and standards that apply in day-to-day human interaction become null and void the second a customer sets foot inside a business of the service industry. If I walked up to someone on the street and behaved in a pushy, greedy and arrogant manner, there are several things that could happen, none of which are pleasant, all of which I would deserve. Inject the same into a customer service environment, and morals and standards are thrown right out the window.

The “customer is always right” adage helps companies make more money while simultaneously providing an excuse for angry and bitter humans to abuse members of their fellow species. People basically pay for the right to abase others as a form of stress relief. If your life sucks why shell out major cash to see a therapist when you can yell at someone because a bag of small popcorn costs five dollars?

So what hope is there for the hard working, infinitely patient, and vastly under appreciated army of customer service employees? As long as “the customer is always right” sells popcorn things are unlikely to undertake drastic change. It’s just unfortunate that a large part of our economic culture is either uninterested or incapable of making money by treating its employees with dignity or respect. So, the next time you order popcorn at a movie theatre, go out to eat at a restaurant, or check your bags at a hotel, just keep in mind that the concessionist, waiter, or bell boy is not the cause of all your problems. We, employees of the customer service industry, are simply here to make your life a little easier.

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