Lately, I have been gaining a greater awareness of the consumer mindset that pervades our culture. When I go to the grocery store or to a restaurant I find myself paying closer attention to the attitudes, stress lines, and actions of the workers who are trying to make a living in a very fast paced, service-oriented environment. It is easy for me to empathize because I work in food service and retail. I work in a fast paced environment where I have to constantly juggle my actual work tasks with continuous questions and requests from anxious customers. They are anxious, I am anxious. It is a disease bread by capitalism and consumerism. Through my experience as I worker I am finding that I no longer want to be dominated by a consumerist mindset that looks at employees at a store i’m shopping at, or a restaurant I am eating in, as my slaves or inferiors.
There are two kinds of service. There is the service of one fellow human being to another. This is one of the most beautiful attributes in the human experience- one to be appreciated and emulated. In this realm I choose to serve you freely out of respect for you as a fellow, equal human being. But there is another kind of service that breeds division and frustration (feelings of entitlement to consumer and of inferiority by the employee). This service is counter-productive and counter-intuitive. It is contrary to the dignity of the human personality and should be shunned by those who are seeking to build, in some small way, a new world. So, what can we do?
First, realize that the employee is a human being equal in worth and dignity as yourself. This is a big first step and puts everything else in its proper light. Remember, that the majority of employees working under a boss or manager already feel pressure from them. They feel a sense of slavery and inferiority working as an “underling”. However, those in customer service have this problem compounded when customers put the same kinds of pressures on employees. When you are in a store or restaurant, look past the uniforms and dress codes that mark out the employees as slaves to the company and to your passions, needs, and desires. Instead, view them as fellow workers who have special skills, insight, and expertise in this particular field. Talk to them the way you would talk to your neighbor who is a mechanic or your father who is carpenter.
Also, understand the work load that the employee is already carrying. When you come with your request or question remember that the worker already has a job (s)he is trying to perform. It is true that most company’s tout “customer service” as the number one priority. But if the worker has no time to put milk in the cooler it really doesn’t matter how nice (s)he answers your question. Understand the implications of your request. For instance, if I go to a store and ask for a gallon of Orange Juice that is out of stock I need to understand that that employee will have to leave the job they are currently performing, go all the way to the cooler, and most likely look and dig through a couple pallots of product just to get to your one gallon of Orange Juice. I’m not saying that there is no place for asking a question or making a request. I am simply saying we should try to fully realize all of the implications of the requests we make.
We work 8 hours a day under immense pressures and alienations. It’s easy to think its “our time to be king” when we go to a store or to a restaurant. We should get everything we want, get it fast, and go through the line in a “jiff”. Our culture and economic system reinforces and capitalizes on this mindset. We forget how crappy we were just treated at our job, the pressures we had to endure, the negative feelings when those “above” us failed to take stock of our feelings. Or, we simply fail to understand that customer service employees have the very same experiences. If we simply called this simple thing to mind it would help us treat our fellow workers with the patience, understanding, and respect they deserve.