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Pasty Office Worker Blog: How to know when you're being a jerk


*Note - this is coming from the angle of a tech support cubicle monkey.

It's been said that "you can catch more flies with honey than fish with a cactus." Or something similar to that. Nevertheless, it is true that sometimes, to get what we want in life, we have to be a little bit nice.

Well, apparently that lesson hasn't sunk in with some of us yet, but, fortunately for you, my dear reader, you will now be indulged with some helpful tips to "check yourself" when you're going into jerk mode.

First of all, it's important to assess the situation. It's okay to be a jerk sometimes. As an example, let's say you were wandering onto the LJWorld.com homepage, hoping to find a heartwarming human interest story, when suddenly, you come upon a foul blog written by some devastatingly handsome, delightfully anonymous and adverbally adjectative fellow telling you how to act, while inventing his very own words. Well, you better let that guy have a piece of your mind!

After that, though, let's see what we're up against. Do you have to go depend on a total stranger to render the services you're attempting to receive?' Are you actually hopeful of achieving something? Or do you just want to let off some steam?

If you have to depend on that stranger, you better stay away from jerk mode. Sure, you can go into your local retailer or call/email your local firm with the "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore" line, but where would that get you? (As an aside, Network is a fantastic film. Simply fantastic. If you haven't viewed it yet, I highly recommend checking it out. [As a second aside, does anyone have any idea how I can do some basic formatting such as bold/italic/underline in this blog? Crampin' my style, man. Crampin' it bad.])

I'll tell you where it gets you with most service industry folks - the bare minimum. You see, there are indeed blurry lines at MANY establishments(not all, and note that I didn't even say most - this isn't a scientific blog with numbers and things). but in my experience, if you are working with someone motivated and empowered, you're going to get treated fairly.

I'll give you an example. Let's say two people call in to a customer service line to check on an order that seems to be backordered. Jack (our "jerk" caller) and Bob (our "nice" caller) both missed that the order is displaying backordered and need it shipped faster than the ground shipping they selected.

Jack might call and immediately voice his frustration with the order system. He might blame the company for not doing more to alert him to the problem. He might even say "I need to talk to a supervisor RIGHT NOW," since his problem is clearly the most important problem ever to have happened.

What will Jack get? Well, he may get that supervisor. He may even get a courtesy credit or get his order expedited. But if he is too abusive, it's also possible he'll accidentally get disconnected, or if the supervisor finds him more abrasive, he may even be disconnected.

Bob, meanwhile, may go back to the order site and notice that the item says it will ship in three to seven days. He may notice it's only been two days since he ordered, but he calls anyway to politely inquire to the status of his order. Learning it is not slated for shipping for two more days, he may even say "well, I must have missed that on the site. I really need to get it here sooner." Bob will probably not only get his order expedited, but Bob will also get free two-day shipping as a courtesy. You see, when you motivate people to help you, they value you more.

This is an interesting concept to many. As it turns out, retail workers, customer service workers, and support personnel exist to help you with your experiences at those businesses. They do not exist to be your therapist. They do not exist for you to use as your personal servants. One thing that people may not realize is that most of them go into work every day just wanting to help customers - something that most people in the industry actually like to do - but they find that the greatest barrier to helping their customers is the customers themselves.

With all that being said, let's run down some things you might do which could throw you in the "jerk" category, and how to change them so you can get into the "nice" category.

-Never assume you know more than the person you are working with.

This is vital. If you try to tell a cashier how to ring up your order, a waiter/waitress how something is usually prepared, or a support technician how good you are at computers, you're probably going to end up losing some respect.

Alternative: demonstrate your knowledge by asking questions to affirm something. If a cashier rings up something that was on sale, say "that was a really good deal on those dish towels," or if you're talking to a computer tech, you could say "Oh, I thought it might be the hard drive going bad on account of all the spyware/adware I've been downloading.

-Never assume your issue HAS to be escalated.

Don't call a place and demand someone's boss immediately. Never go straight to a service counter at a store and ask to speak to the manager unless you know for certain that your business must go straight to the manager. Don't use the old line, "Well, if you won't work with me, then why don't you run along and get your boss." For one thing, unless you know that isn't the person in charge, you might be making yourself look awfully foolish. Not only that, but many times, you'll end up finding out that the person you were working with was (gasp) doing their job appropriately as the guidelines directed them.

Alternatively, if you are simply polite and state your expectations directly, without looking like you're trying to get something for nothing, you'd be surprised at just how many people you deal with have the power to deal with your issue appropriately and kindly.

-Treat people like human beings.

True story: Going to a restaurant in Lawrence, I observed a fellow customer calling out to their server "Waitress... Waitress... WAITRESS!" until she finally got the attention she wanted. This, I thought, is a pretty easy concept. The server came up to your table. She gave you her name, and I understand not remembering names (I struggle with it), but you forgot it. Instead of saying "Waitress," how about "Ma'am," or "Miss," or walking eight steps and saying "excuse me, I'm sorry to bother you..."

(Side note: This case particularly resonated with me due to the way it happened. There are rarely any good reasons to address someone by their job position. Would you walk into an office and say "Sales Manager, Sales Manager!" Not only that, but this couple actually enjoyed over two-thirds of a sandwich before declaring it improperly prepared and demanding a replacement on the house.)

If you are sending an email or calling someone, just remember, you're asking for assistance or relying on the person on the other end to read/listen to you. The easier you make that, the better things are going to be.

So, dear readers (all four of you. AKA, the people I bribed to come read this), what other tips do you have for avoiding becoming the proverbial "jerk" in these situations?


llama726 8 years, 4 months ago

Yay, it posted. Commenter challenge: Find a new title that I can post to garner enormous amounts of attention. Something like "Stripper Blog," but with more reference to the fact that I'm chained to a cubicle all day. Thanks.

ajbeemer8605 8 years, 4 months ago

I agree completely. I would like to add - while shopping in a retail store, never assume that the person working there is doing absolutely nothing with their time and isn't in the middle of a phone call or helping another customer. Besides being in the middle of helping someone else, they could be doing a multitude of other things. Retail workers have other things to do besides just wandering around and holding your hand to lead you to something that is usually in plain sight. There is stocking, straightening, answering phone calls, and putting back the random crap that people either a) return, b) randomly set somewhere, or c) decide at the register that even though they've been carrying it around in their cart for an hour, and could have come to a conclusion on the item in that time; that they all of a sudden don't want it at all.

So don't assume that people working in a store are there, standing around with nothing to do, ready to wait on you hand and foot. Be nice. Treat someone the way you would want to be treated. It really does go a long way.

MeganMewbourne 8 years, 4 months ago

Yeah... I've worked in retail for a while now. There are a lot of times that if people were just nicer and more considerate, I would be happier to help them as much as I could. Just being nice goes a long way when asking for help from someone.

AnnaUndercover 8 years, 4 months ago

I do like 'Pasty Office Worker Blog,' though.

llama726 8 years, 4 months ago

Multi, you're right on. I guess what I mean is coming in or calling into a place with this massive sense of entitlement... as if to say "you are not good enough to talk to me."

Pasty Office Worker Blog is just awkward enough to match my style, I suppose.

llama726 8 years, 4 months ago

The sense of entitlement is something I'm gonna tackle in another blog. It's truly puzzling. I've literally seen people expect me to give them their money back for something they've bought after dropping it in their toilet, since it was within 30 days.

One of my close friends works as a collection agent for people who take out retail credit cards, and some of the things he's told me... Well, that may be another story for another blog too.

Danielle Brunin 8 years, 4 months ago

I really enjoyed this blog! As someone who has worked retail in the past, and is a customer now, I've often had these thoughts, but never took the time to write them down.

My biggest problem when I worked retail was that I took things way too personally when customers were nasty. What I came to understand was that it often wasn't me they were mad at. You never know what's going on in someone else's life. They may be caring for an aging parent who isn't doing well. They could have just lost their job, be going through a divorce, etc. In fact, in a couple of instances when I got to know the "jerk" customers when they came in later, they opened up and would mention some of the crappy things going on, or how things had improved.

On the other hand, as a customer now, I always try to treat people the way I would want to be treated. If I get frustrated, I always try to let them know it's nothing personal, I'm just trying to get this figured out, it's been a long day, etc. It's amazing how people will relate and often work even harder to help out because they understand what you're going through.

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