“How am I doing today?”

A regular patron came in recently and said “How am I today?” The clerk at the desk replied “I don’t know, how are you?” The patron then said “Works every time!”

He wanted her to ask him how he was doing. This is entirely backwards, and very needy. It is a sign of a need of external validation, at a minimum.

I heard this exchange from the back room and thought it over in case he decided to use this line on me. Luckily, he did the very next day.

When he said “How am I today?”, I replied “Only you would know that.”

This stumped him. He mumbled something about how I was supposed to ask him how he was doing. I pointed out that the normal way of doing things was for him to ask me how I am doing, and then after I answer, I would ask him how he was doing.

I told him a story of when I worked in retail. After many years of various retail jobs, I got tired one day of constantly asking people how they were doing and them not asking me. This is normal in retail. You are treated like a machine, a non-person. You are a means to an end. You aren’t really there to them.

That day I started answering for them. After I asked, and they replied, I waited a bit and when (not if) they didn’t ask me, I would say “And I’m fine too, thank you!” This confused them. Some would say “But I didn’t ask you.” I said “Yes, that’s the point.”

I explained to this patron that it is rude to not ask the other person how they are doing, and to only care about yourself. It creates an air of higher and lower.

So then, I asked him how he was doing and he said he was OK.

Pause.

Then he said “Notice I didn’t ask you how you were doing.”

Yes. I noticed. Now I know that he doesn’t do this out of ignorance, but willful neglect of basic courtesy.

This explains a lot about him. It shows how terribly broken he is. I wonder how he was raised. I wonder what would twist someone into being intentionally rude. This isn’t thoughtlessness. This is on purpose.

Now, there are certain people who get too familiar, too close. They assume they are my friends when they don’t even know my last name. Certain people insist on telling me what books I should read, not even knowing what I like to read. Some people even went so far as to insist that I had to have children when I got married, not understanding the family history that I’ve lived through.

Plenty of people are too personal at the library, but then some are too impersonal.

This is why the self-check was such a great thing. People didn’t have to come to us. They didn’t have to treat us like ATMs. If something wasn’t working right, they only had themselves to blame.

This is always an interesting job. If you are a people-watcher, it is the best job ever.

How are you?

I think everybody should have to work in retail for at least a year. Then we all might learn how to be civilized.

When I worked at a fabric store I would ask customers all day long how they were doing. They would answer me and they would almost never ask me how I was doing. One day I got really frustrated and I said “And I’m fine too thanks!” I got a really strange look. The person didn’t get that they hadn’t asked me how I was doing and they didn’t get that it was rude not to do so.

The person behind the counter is not a machine. She is a human being.

Treating a human being like she is a machine is how we are falling apart. It is how we are losing our humanity. Common courtesy isn’t common anymore.

When I am interacting with a customer service representative and they ask me how I’m doing, I’ll reply and then ask them how they are doing. They will reply, and then follow it up with “…and thank you for asking.” They are surprised that someone even asked them.

It doesn’t take any extra time to ask someone how they’re doing. But when you are going to ask someone how they’re doing you need to actually wait for the answer. And you need to look them in the eye if you are in person.

Just saying it and not meaning it is pointless. You might as well not say it at all. If you say it and you don’t mean it is just a reflex action and not a real human interaction. It is important for us to remember that we are all humans working together. If we treat each other like machines, then we will become machines. We will become less than human.

Just say “I don’t”

There are times when I have a couple signing up for library cards together and one introduces the other as the fiancé. Sometimes one will do all the talking, or fill out the forms for both of them. Or worse, will talk down to or belittle the other. I want to say to them to not get married to each other, that this is a train wreck waiting to happen.

I don’t, in part because of the unwritten rules of customer service. I don’t, because it is up to each person to live their own lives. I don’t, because people never listen anyway.

People don’t listen when their friends tell them not to marry someone. Why would they listen to a stranger?

Sometimes I’ll say “be nice” if someone is being rude to their partner. If nothing else, it tells the other person that what just happened to them isn’t normal.

Now, it isn’t just engaged couples that do this. Married couples will be hateful or condescending in front of me sometimes too. But they are already married. My hope with the engaged couple is that they still have a chance to back out.

It is a really bad sign if one member of a couple is talking down to or trying to embarrass their partner in front of a stranger. It means that it happens all the time when they are alone.

But, for me to say something is to get involved in a codependent kind of way. It is up to the hurt party to stand up and set boundaries. It is up to that person to say “You can’t talk to me like that.”

It is still hard to see. I feel kind of helpless when it happens.

How not to be a bad customer.

This may seem like a no brainer, but if you want good customer service, treat the clerk kindly. Don’t insult her. Don’t talk down to her. Don’t blame her for something that isn’t her fault. (Feel free to change the gender pronouns as appropriate.)

Basically, treat her as you would like to be treated.

I think everybody should work a customer service job for at least a year so that they develop some empathy and compassion.

The person behind the counter is a person, not your personal slave.

She didn’t make the rules, so yelling at her isn’t going to change them. It isn’t fair to her to attack her over something she has no control over. She feels just as frustrated as you do. Perhaps more so.

She isn’t allowed to defend herself either, so you just end up showing how much of a jerk you are if you attack her verbally. It isn’t an equal relationship.

She isn’t your friend. She has to be friendly to you. That is part of her job. If she isn’t friendly, she’ll get reprimanded. If she is your friend, she’ll give you her number or email address. Otherwise, don’t assume.

Don’t ask her out. Especially if she is married. If the only reason you know her name is because you read it on her name tag, don’t ask her out. Really. At least get to know her as a person first. Surely you aren’t asking her out just because she is female, right?

Don’t tell her your personal stories if they have nothing to do with what she is expected to do as part of her job. – unless she is actually your friend.

Don’t ask her to break the rules for you because you think you are her friend. She can get fired for breaking the rules. A real friend wouldn’t ask.

It rubs me the wrong way.

I know a guy who constantly will say “How are you doing?” but he doesn’t really mean it. It is said in passing, and it is said all day long. I hate it. I hate it because it is meaningless and mindless. I hate it because it is a false way to connect. It is empty.

It rubs me the wrong way.

I had a boyfriend who would pet on my arm in a thoughtless manner. If he was distracted by something – say, the television, he would pet on my arm in a way to connect with me, but there was no connection. When he would pet on my arm in a thoughtless and mindless manner, it would actually hurt. It was scratchy. It was grating.

Like the zest coming off a lemon kind of grating.

It is right up there with people who say “How are you?” and they don’t wait for an answer. And if you answer, they don’t hear. There is a lot of that in working in customer service.

It is really bad in retail. When I worked at a fabric store, I would always ask the customer how they were doing, and sometimes they would answer. Rarely would they ask me. Once, after a long day, I started telling people how I was doing anyway. That really messed with their minds. I’d chime up “And I’m fine too, thanks!” and they’d look at me like I was crazy. I’d gotten the script wrong, as far as they could tell. They hadn’t asked me how I was doing, and I was telling them anyway. As far as I could tell, they were the ones who had gotten the script wrong. If someone asks you how you are doing, you are supposed to reply and then ask them how they are doing.

Part of it isn’t just the asking, it is actually waiting for an answer. It is looking the other person in the eyes and actually caring.

Now, maybe that is a bit intense. Maybe people don’t do that because they don’t really want to hear the answer. Maybe they don’t really care. Then they need to stop going through the motions.

If you don’t mean it, don’t do it. If you do it, do it like you mean it. Whatever it is.

I think our world has become less connected these days. Cell phones and email and instant messaging and Facebook and Twitter and texting don’t seem to be doing what they were intended to do. We can communicate faster, but not better. We are interacting with our devices and not with people. We seem to be actually retreating further into ourselves the more information that keeps coming in.

“Dis”. Customer service story.

To attack someone who works in customer service is the same as throwing rocks at a dog on a chain. They can’t defend themselves.

I was told by a patron recently that something I did “came off as disrespectful.”

She had handed me her ID and got angry with me that I didn’t hand it back to her. I had put it on the counter. I was in the middle of checking her account to make sure I was in the right one, so I wasn’t looking. If she’d handed me her library card, this wouldn’t have been an issue.

Plenty of people put their IDs or cards on the counter and don’t hand them to me. Plenty of people put their books out of my reach too. If I got offended with each assumed slight I’d be angry all day.

But she said that my action “comes off as disrespectful.”

I’m so sick of this word, “disrespectful.” It is used so often these days that it is shortened to “dis”. If you want to feel offended when no offense was meant, that is your right. If you walk around with a chip on your shoulder, you are going to get tired.

If you want to talk about disrespect, think about the fact that this woman thought it was her right to tell me off. Me, a stranger. She gets to take a pot shot at me and walk away. She doesn’t know anything about me. If she knows my name it is because I have to wear a name tag. Abusing another person, taking advantage of the master/servant relationship inherent in customer service, is disrespectful, and it isn’t fair.

Just because you feel offended doesn’t make you right. How you perceive someone else’s actions is your own issue.

In customer service, the customer is always right. We aren’t allowed to defend ourselves.

There isn’t much I’d be allowed to say to someone who treated me badly. I can’t say “So why do you think you can talk to me like this?” But I can say “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

And I am sorry.

I’m sorry in the same way I’m sorry when I have to tell someone that they need to be quiet in the library. They should know better. I’m not apologizing for telling them. I’m apologizing for having to tell them. It isn’t being loud that is rude. It is the fact that they don’t get that it is rude.

Plenty of people assume that we are supposed to be friendly and cheery to them all the time. If we are less than cheery or perfect they attack us. Our own personal issues have to be suppressed.

They don’t get how hard that is. We can’t be “on” all the time. Nobody can. Plenty of customers have bad days and are happy to share.

So what do I know about her? She is African American. She is obese. She is in her early 20s. And, she just got a book about how to turn negatives into positives. It is called “Good self, bad self – transforming your worst qualities into your biggest assets.” Fascinating, isn’t it?

So I did.

I was really upset, but I’m training myself to look at things differently. I’m training myself to learn from the negative. I’m learning to spot the tricks of the yetzer hara and see them as a sign that I’m on to something great.

I was just about to sit down to work on part two of the condensed Gospels. I was about to be so angry that I didn’t. I almost thought who am I, to write about the Gospels, me, a sinner in the eyes of this stranger.

And I saw it. She wasn’t even real. She was an agent of the yetzer hara. This was a sign that I’m onto something big and important.

So I breathed in, sat down, and began to work.

“Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt.

Years ago I used to look forward to a smoke when I got upset by a patron. I finally realized that I was letting them kill me. Then I learned to burn it out by going for a walk or going to the Y. But that all required waiting. I had to burn with that anger for a while until I could get it out.

Now I have learned to see it as a sign that I’m on the right path. Weird, but it works.

It still doesn’t make it right to abuse a person in customer service. Just because you feel slighted doesn’t mean you were. Forgive, and all that.

“Ma’am!”

I was shopping at Hobby Lobby a few years back. There was this weird area that was kind of behind a counter. It kind of looked like the area was just for staff, but all the paint brushes were there. There isn’t anything so special about paint brushes that they need to be controlled. I don’t think there are lots of shoplifters who go for paint brushes. So perhaps the area wasn’t off-limits after all. I asked permission to go behind the counter and the clerk told me that was fine. He kind of looked at me funny, wondering why I asked.

I was in an area that looked like it was for staff – but I didn’t look like I was staff. I had my purse slung across me. I had a shopping basket next to me. And most importantly, I didn’t have on the vest that every Hobby Lobby employee wears.

In a short amount of time lady stood behind the counter that was behind me and said loudly “Ma’am!” I knew what she was trying to do. She thought I worked there. She was trying to get my attention. I ignored her, hoping she’d notice the purse, the basket, and the lack of vest. I had nothing that indicated I worked there. Nope. I was wrong. Louder she called. “Ma’am!”

Not “Excuse me.” not “Do you work here?” nor even “Can you help me?” She barked at me, like I was her servant. Her voice was shrill and sharp.

I got up, slowly turned around, and faced this bleach-blonde twenty something standing with her mother, and said simply “I don’t work here.”

Oh, she said, and walked away.

I wanted to speak on behalf of all retail employees everywhere. We are not your bitches. Don’t yell at us. Don’t treat us like dogs. We are people. We are here to serve you, but we aren’t your servants. You don’t have a right to yell at us.

But I didn’t. I’ve been trained well, to keep my opinion to myself. Lots of retail does that. Having a psychopathic, narcissistic manager will do that.

It is very stressful working retail. Somehow people assume that if you are working behind a counter it means you are beneath them. They treat you like you are stupid. Maybe they get a rise out of putting you down.

The library is a lot like retail, but it is nicer. People assume that you have a degree to work there. To do what I do, no. A high school diploma is the minimum requirement. But I am happy to have people treat me better, usually. There is still some retail “she’s behind the counter so she must be beneath me” attitude going on, sometimes.

I remember a time at the end of a transaction I said “thank you”. The guy got really angry and said “You are supposed to say ‘have a nice day'”

No. I’m not. There isn’t a script. If there was, he’d understand that it was time for him to exit stage right.

I don’t say have a nice day because it is trite. I don’t like it when people tell me that. I said “thank you” and it doesn’t even make sense for me to do that. I helped him. The library doesn’t make any money from people, so it isn’t like we need to say thanks. I said thanks to be polite. But he jumped on me.

Weird. If people want good service, they need to not be mean. I expect that in his mind, he gets shoddy service everywhere he goes. You get what you give.