The customer is not always right

One of the greatest disservices ever done to workers in this country was the introduction of the phrase, “The customer is always right.”  The credit for that tidbit of wisdom goes to Stanley Marcus of retailer Neiman Marcus.  Thanks, Stanley.

The customer is NOT always right.  Anyone who has ever worked in retail, food service, or front line customer service of any kind can tell you that.  In our society comprised of increasingly entitled, unintelligent, lazy, self-centered, and generally ignorant people, giving them something so blatantly easy, so totally pandering to grab onto as “The customer is always right” has done nothing but harm.

That has never been more obvious than in the last few days when the vine video in this article, if you can call a 6 second loop a video, went viral.

This is all over the internet.  You can Google “apple store freak out” or something similar and you can find more hits than you’d ever want to click through and see.  There’s only one problem.  They’re all about the woman doing the screaming.  “Wow, what a bitch”  “Mommy needs to lay off the sippy cup”  “Everybody knows you need an appointment, lady”

What they’re not about, and what the entire conversation isn’t about is this.  Her behavior is not acceptable.  It is never OK to treat anyone that way.  Ever.  And yet the voices pointing that out are hushed in the roar of the people using the word “bitch” over and over again or mocking her for being crazy, drunk, or both.

In this country, partly due to the entitlement generation, partly due to Stanley Marcus, and partly due to the idea that people who work in the Service Industry as a whole are lazy/stupid/underachieving or are all non-english speaking minorities/illegals, we as a society have developed this idea that it’s ok to be a jerk to your waiter.  That’s it’s totally fine to yell at the IT person who’s patiently trying to help you with your PEBKAC issue.  Don’t like the earrings/tattoos/the way your cashier looks at you?  By all means be rude to her.  Say something about it.  Isn’t that your right?

It isn’t, actually.

You see, people in the service industry are usually trapped in some way, and I’m not talking about career advancement.  They’re behind a counter, boxed in behind a register, stuck on their feet carrying something, on camera, required to make a certain sales goal, etc.  For the truly unlucky among us, we’re also working for institutions who are so afraid of Litigation Happy America that they will acquiesce to absolutely any customer demand.  Even when it breaks the law.  That leaves us high and dry and without recourse even when a customer is WAY out of line, physically intimidating, assaults us, or is breaking company rules or the law.  Great position to be in.

For those of you following along at home, it means that the person being screamed in that 6 second video?  That person, like me and the rest of my brethren and sistren in the service industry, is probably used to being treated that way.  This isn’t an isolated incident.  Read The Bitchy Waiter if you want more details about people in the food service industry being treated terribly.  Ask me if you want stories about being treated like less than dirt while working in IT, behind a register, and in every form of customer service from answering phones to working behind a ticket counter.

In my various roles over the years I have been physically assaulted 4 times, I have been screamed at more times than I can count, I have been called “stupid”, accused of racism and every other “ism” you can think of, I’ve been flipped off, told “I’ll have your job” and to “go to charm school” as well as called a liar and other similar insults.

And I’m good with people.  I’m patient, great at calming lost children, explaining rules and how to find things (in several languages), and at helping people their way.  I sincerely like helping people, and while I get fed up with humanity, I never let it show when I’m working with them.

But we have come to a point in society where adults feel it is acceptable to scream at people in positions like mine in front of children.  Where children can treat sales people and wait staff however they want and parents or grandparents do absolutely nothing about it.  Apparently when you take a job in customer service there is an unsaid, unspoken, unsigned but mandatory clause in your job description that says that being treated like you are subhuman is a requirement of the job and in most cases your employer will do nothing about it.

And jobs being what they are these days, people who have them just have to deal with it.  What happened after that 6 seconds of video?  Only the people in the Apple store know for sure.  I, for one, hope that the screaming customer was led from the store, told never to return, and that social services was called to investigate her ability to raise the child in the baby carriage she was smacking so hard.  I hope that the supervisors of the person who had to stand there while she screamed gave that person a break and, at minimum, a pat on the back if not a raise.

The real solution to the problem, however is this: courtesy.  Remember that the person standing behind the counter, bringing you dinner, answering your questions on the other end of the phone, etc. is a real human being.  He or she is working just as hard as you are, often working multiple jobs and long hours, to be able to put food on the table, a roof over their heads, etc.

I’m not asking you to massage our feet, I’m asking you to say “Please” and “Thank you.”  I’m asking you to keep your children from throwing things at us.  I’m asking you to let us talk and to listen to us when we’re on the phone with you or reciting the specials.  Most of the time we do actually know what we’re doing and we are actually trying.  Unless the building is on fire, screaming is never the answer.


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