Early on in my career in customer service I learned to ignore the hot shots that got a kick out of picking on me. Whether it was that I “made you late for work” because you stopped in a coffee shop and it took a little longer than you would have liked, or that I put too many pumps of syrup in your latte and you couldn’t drink it, I promise you, I’ve heard of all of the ways I am a terrible day ruiner. You want three inches of caramel sauce at the bottom because you just need it, fourteen smoothies in less than ten minutes because the traffic was intense, for me to understand when you say four packets of sugar you actually meant seven.
Here’s something I will fully admit to—I have made numerous mistakes. I’m not perfect, and if you complain, chances are I will go out of my way to fix it. I will own up to my mistakes, because I recognize that you have paid for a certain experience, and I have not lived up to that. I’m sorry. I totally messed up. Please. Let me buy you a drink.
But here’s the thing I don’t think many people think about—the key to good customer service is multitasking. My priority is you, sure, but I’m also thinking about the people behind you, the speed at which your drink is being made, the fact that one of the coffees is low and I need to brew it, that the chocolate syrup is going to expire soon, that the oven is beeping with a sandwich for Carl and drawer one needs ones and fives. But I look at you, and I grin as big as I can (because fake it ‘till you make it), and I ask you if I can start something for you. And you give me your complicated order, and I repeat it back to you while the coffee timer beeps and the man at the hand-off plain is insistently holding up the empty carafe of creamer and I begin scribbling your order on the wrong size cup. “I said LARGE,” you say with perhaps more disdain than you probably needed. “Of course, I’m sorry.” I fix my mistake as you roll your eyes at your coworker, who is now ignoring me, and I look at her, hoping she too will start to order. “Ma’am,” I nudge, as peacefully as I can, “ma’am, can I get something for you?” You sneer because I’m being brusque, but there is a line out the door, and while I do think it is fascinating that your husband is re-doing your basement, I really need to know what you’d like to order because I have to get that muffin out of the oven and give the bathroom key to the gentlemen in the coffee stained t-shirt, and grind the beans for the next batch of dark roast. I am trying my very best to give you my full attention—you really are my priority, I promise, but my mind does not start and end with your order. I am not a robot whose only task is to take your order.
I’m a firm believer that everyone should work in customer service at some point in their lives. It teaches you so much about working behind the counter, and how people see you. Now every person serving me could be me—I tip more, I have more patience, I speak up when something is wrong, I carry on more conversations with the people waiting on me. Sure, there are a lot of duds in this gig—there will be people who lean on counters, who ignore you, who text while on the job—but those people don’t reflect the entire workforce, just like the slacker in your office isn’t what your boss thinks of you. And yelling at them and snapping your fingers? Is that going to make you feel better at the end of the day?
We all believe no one else could do our job as well as we can if we find pride in it. I’m sure I couldn’t handle the accounts of thirteen international furniture clients without a decent amount of training. So can you afford me the same courtesy? If I handed you an apron and put you on the bar in the morning rush, I expect you’d be a puddle on the floor by 8:30AM. Your job isn’t easy. But neither is mine.
I won’t let it ruin my day if you berate me for making your drink with the wrong milk. I will wash you off with the vanilla syrup and coffee grinds when I clock out.
But have some grace, will you?