Something happened today that has me thinking about customer service. It’s rarely a topic I address, since (and I realize this sounds a bit harsh) you either provide excellent customer service, or you don’t. If you don’t, there’s something wrong with your organization, and you need to deal with it. ‘Nuff said.
Now, I say this as someone who has managed people in various capacities (Dunkin Donuts and Coldstone as well as libraries), and to be quite honest, excellent customer service really looks the same everywhere, whether you’re at a reference desk or schlepping deep-fried dough and coffee across a counter. It’s a smile, a genuine interest in helping your customer/patron/whomever, and a collegial atmosphere that prevents an occasionally tedious job from becoming horrible. A good work environment usually leads to better customer service.
The reason I’m thinking about this is that I’ve been looking for a second job. (No, not leaving MPOW, love it there, but things at home are a wee bit tight.) I’ve applied around town in the past few days and not thought about it much. When I worked on my MLS full time, I also worked a full time and a part time job; the past few years of having only one job has felt sort of like a vacation. Today I worked up the nerve to apply at my gym, where I know they’re hiring for the front desk position (and the gym is open 24/7, so I can get some hours that don’t interfere with librarystuffs). Thinking about it, I was struck by the fact that every single employee who works at this gym is always friendly. The front desk greeting is *always* enthusiastic, and the personal trainers, salesfolks, and everyone else chat with each other as they pass, give encouragement to those of us struggling under our personal trainers’ tutelage, and generally appear happy to be on the clock. That’s what gave me the nerve to apply to work where all the beautiful people are, really – it seems like a great environment. (Not to mention that it is far healthier than flipping greasy burgers.) And there’s nothing that makes me happier than a good work environment – it’s very attractive. On the flip side, there’s nothing that makes me want to throw myself in front of a bus more than a bad work environment. And I’m not much willing to sell my soul on that count – it turns me into sort of a shitty person in a permanently shitty mood. (Luckily, I know myself at least this well.)
A second encounter really had me appreciating the idea of customer service – but not just the kind you see behind the counter. I frequent a nifty restaurant called Qdoba – it’s a chain, specializes in Mexican, and everything is made fresh on the premises. It’s wonderful. And since it’s right down the road, I get in there a few times a month. They don’t have much turnover (which amazes me, after my experience in chain restaurants), so I know (in the way you know friendly strangers) Lindsay, the young woman who is always smiling and asks about my day, as well as the young guy who wears glasses with yellow lenses, his visor, and a huge smile, even at the busiest lunch rush and in front of the crankiest customers. I chit-chat with whomever is fixing my burrito, and they send me on my way with scrumptiousness in a bag. A good deal.
When I went in yesterday for an application (okay, and for the chicken soft tacos), I chatted with Lindsay, who beamed when I asked for an app, enthusiastically said she’d look for it when I returned it and send it with a recommendation to her boss. I didn’t think too terribly much about it yesterday, other than to be gratified that she was so all-fired nice. When I went back this evening to turn in the app (oh, god, okay *and* for the steak soft tacos), Lindsay and a couple of the other behind-the-counter folks I recognized were there. She said she had told her boss about me and to be looking for my application, and they all seemed genuinely excited that I’d applied (to the point of saying they looked forward to working with me! Yay!)
To be honest, there was no need for them to be enthusiastic about anything. I fully expected them to take the paper, toss it into some back office, come back, bag up my food, and send me along with a smile. Maybe that’s what I’m so impressed by, a team willing to go above and beyond for no apparent reason other than that they enjoy their work and want it to reflect well on them. It calls to the blue collar roots my dad planted firmly in my soul (not that rich folk don’t also take pride in their work, of course). It is a *choice* to decide to recognize the faces that come in on a regular basis – I know, I’ve been there. It takes even more effort to be cheerful when you’re sweating your ass off because you’re roasting the chicken and toasting tortillas even as you’re serving because you’re short-handed. And any place that can cultivate that kind of service in its team is a place I wouldn’t mind spending some hours of my time.
The other thing that made me think of customer service from the customer’s side is this: if I hadn’t engaged the staff on my admittedly frequent visits, if I hadn’t made an effort to be friendly, if I hadn’t commiserated, rolled my eyes, and made fun of the customer before me who was an assmonkey for no reason to the staff, would I receive the sort of friendly greeting I get? I don’t know. Perhaps they’re just that good. But it takes something else for them to remember me as the ‘book lady’ and know my favorite dishes and to make me feel like an individual. And as someone who has worked a service desk in multiple industries, I know that a pleasant customer who is also a regular is a pleasure to work with. I think in our haste to train ourselves into providing great customer service, we often forget that the customer has a little responsibility to be nice, too. At worst, it doesn’t hurt anyone. At best, you develop some shallow friendships that may come in handy later.
So, remember to be nice to the overworked, overheated person who is fixing your burrito, and to the person who gives you an enthusiastic greeting at the door when you walk into the gym. or Wal-Mart. Or wherever. I promise they’re not being paid enough to be that sweet to you – that’s pure effort on their part, and you should appreciate that. They are improving your day with simple, genuine niceness. Be kind and offer the same. It costs you nothing, and it might surprise you how pleasant it is to simply be nice.
Perhaps this is only a revelation to me because my default mode is ‘relatively crabby.’ (Unless it is early morning, when I am actually in ‘speak to me and die’ mode.) Maybe it’s because simple manners seem so rare nowadays when folks throw their venti latte mocha whatcha-have back over the counter while still yammering on their cell phone and ignoring the human serving them. Either way, it’s been a breath of fresh air, and I’m rededicating myself to practicing my smiling more for those I help.