There’s a coffee shop conveniently located on the ground floor of my office building. When the days get too dark, the coffee downstairs calls to me all the way up to the floor where I’m sitting behind my desk.
Sometimes I manage to overcome the temptation. If I buy a latte once a day every workday, it’ll add up to 80 euros a month!
And sometimes I’m not that reasonable and I just need a nice hug in a mug, as the coffee shop advertises.
But… it’s not always a warm, cuddly feeling that I get when I approach the girl behind the coffee counter, wallet poised in my palm, ready to order.
The regular behind the counter is a skinny girl with a masculine haircut, tattoos running up her sleeves, and a know-it-all face. No, strike that. A seen-it-all face. She looks like she hates her job and all the customers.
I’ve noticed that whenever I order from her, I become apologetic, as if I need to apologize for bothering her. If it was my coffee shop, I wouldn’t have her working there. She never smiles and she’s almost a bit scary.
Maybe she hasn’t gotten fired because even her boss is scared of her.
Which brings me to this: do you think customer service staff should smile?
As someone who has worked in customer service for many years, my answer is yes. You need to either smile or in some other way convey kindness and a welcome feeling to the customer. If smiling is too much for you, then maybe a little bit of chatting or at least offer an extra good evening. If that’s too much for you too, then maybe you’re in the wrong line of work. It really shouldn’t be that big of a deal.
Unfortunately, it is. Most of the times I buy something, I don’t get acknowledged at all. The cashier doesn’t look me in the eye, doesn’t say hello or thank you.
Somewhere along the way, I’ve been embedded with a strong habit of always saying thank you, bye! and as a customer it infuriates me if I’m the one saying it to a cashier who doesn’t respond. They’re the ones getting paid, not me!
In Finland, the land of introverts (don’t worry, I’m one too), automated cash registers have become popular at supermarkets. If you want to pay quickly without engaging in any eye contact or verbal communication, you can choose self-service, though to be frank, both options offer the same amount of human interaction. I feel less annoyed when I’m being ignored by a machine than by a human.
At one of my previous office jobs, there was a big training project where they wanted to teach all of their staff the importance of service encounters that leave the customer happy. Some of the employees had not regarded themselves as customer service people and didn’t like being given that label. They promptly refused to say any extra words or smile. Yes, they refused to smile.
And it was debated in meeting rooms filled with project managers, staff supervisors, and sales directors. Can we force staff to smile? Is it asking too much? Do we have the right to ask them to say things like welcome and thank you? Even the union reps got involved.
The result was no, they could not ask staff to smile. If someone was not a smiling kind of person, they were not required to put on a show for the customer. No one needed to pretend to be happier than they actually were.
Hmm. Then on the other end of the spectrum comes one of my very first jobs in a fast food establishment back when I was a teenager. I had quickly learned night shifts made you more money and there was always the same group who volunteered for nights. Now, you might think that the quality of service you’d get at a fast food place manned by teenagers in the early hours of the night wouldn’t be anything to remember. But you’d be wrong. I’ll always remember a girl who worked there. She had an easy, big smile and she once smiled so hard at a customer that her lip cracked open, colored red by blood. She was a genuine people person! It’s all about attitude.
While slightly off topic, I can’t end my tale without telling the story of a future brain surgeon I once met. I was working at a clothing retailer and my boss had taken on a young girl as a trainee for a week. Over here, high schoolers have to do real-life work experience for a week or two. The girl was supposed to be assisting in all of the things we did at the store on a daily basis: sorting clothes, assisting customers, unpacking new arrivals.
On her very first day, she arrived on time, worked through the morning, chatting happily with one of the younger staff members. Then she told us she was going for lunch. Okay, see you, I said. And she never came back.
I was slightly astonished but thought maybe I’d misunderstood. So later that evening when the boss came back, I told her the trainee never returned from lunch. Our boss was surprised and told me that there had been no such talk. Wondering what had happened, she called the girl’s mother, who had set up the traineeship in the first place.
The mother then told her that the girl had just felt like skipping the rest of the day and had gone shopping. Nothing to be worried about. Apparently that was what she did during school days as well.
The next day, the girl returned in the morning like nothing had happened. The boss told her, Hey you know that’s not how you behave when you have a job, you can’t just leave when you want. It was, after all, supposed to be an opportunity to learn about work life, so it needed to be said. A friendly chat about work morale, nothing too mean.
But apparently the girl hadn’t liked being scolded, because later that evening her mom arrived at the store, fuming.
She’s too good for this place, anyway! the mother vented. She’s such a smart girl, she’s going to be a brain surgeon one day!
I hope I never end up on that brain surgeon’s operating table.
To smile or not?
Happy New Year!