Jobs in retail or fast food have to be among the most thankless, demanding and difficult jobs. Additionally, they don’t pay very well to start and require constant attention to customer service and customer satisfaction. In a difficult economy, many individuals must accept jobs below their skill level or past income level. It isn’t easy to swallow your pride and work a counter job after you’ve just spent four years on a college degree or working your way up in a more sensible retail environment.
Combined with the socio-political pressures we all face, people working in retail and fast food jobs get to deal with customers also affected by multiple stressors.
In 2005, I lost a high-paying office management position in the publishing industry. I relocated and had to find a new job quickly. I was hired by a coffee chain and found that job to be one of the most stressful jobs out there. Though I was patient with my customers, the job was physically demanding and exhausting in a way that publication deadlines never were.
On more than one occasion, I had to simply smile politely at a customer and let them know that someone else would be out to assist them shortly. There are only so many times a person can yell at you for serving “too much foam in an extra-dry cappuccino” after I carefully steamed two separate containers of milk for optimum cappuccino foam-so I definitely understand the behind-the-counter perspective.
My pregnant friend recently told me about a negative experience she received while in a major national retail store. She was looking at glider chairs and wanted to test the chair out before purchasing it. She asked an employee to bring the chair down from the top shelf so she could try it out prior to purchasing. The employee had to get clearance to do this since the item was tied down.
The supervisor told my friend that there was no way to take the chair down for trial after lying about the chair’s former location. After the supervisor refused to take the chair down, the supervisor suggested my friend purchase the chair without trying it.
In my friend’s words: “She then told me that I could buy it, take it home and put it together. If I didn’t like it I could bring it back. I looked at her like she was crazy – I told her that I’m seven months pregnant, I want to make this purchase if it’s a comfy chair, and you’re telling me to make the purchase, put it together and bring back this very very heavy glider if I don’t like it? I told her thanks but no thanks, that I would take my business elsewhere.”
There were several alternative solutions to this problem. The supervisor could have attempted to sell a different chair to my friend. She could have also brought the manager-on-duty onto the floor for specific assistance. If there was no way for her to grant my friend the opportunity to try the chair, she could have offered a general coupon towards another purchase or a future visit when the chair could be available. Furthermore, she should not have lied about the chair’s original location, stating that it used to be located on the floor. My friend (the customer) had been looking at the chair for a while and knew it wasn’t previously located there.
This is one reason why the coffee shop job was tolerable-and why I even kept it as a second job once I received a full-time position. If a customer was completely dissatisfied, our supervisors were permitted to re-make the beverage and offer a free beverage in the future, depending upon the situation.
My friend complained to corporate about the situation, and I hope she receives a friendly reply.
Understanding and Responding to Customer Frustration
Customers are heading into your store for help. If you are unable to help a customer, it’s best to point the customer to an available resource. Don’t let the customer leave without a name and phone number to call regarding any specific situation you are unable to fix.
You may be going through difficulties in your own life-and that’s understandable. When you’re on the floor, it’s your job to understand the customer’s situation as he or she presents it. In the example with my friend, the associates might have proven more sympathetic to my friend once she verbalized her pregnancy. An associate might have said “When [I, my wife, my friend] was pregnant, she used this other chair and found it to be rather comfortable. Would you like to try it?”
You may get more satisfaction out of your job if you view yourself as a problem-solver. This helped me maintain a positive attitude as a barista when a customer would come in with similar concerns.
“I really like coffee from this shop, but I just found out I’m pregnant and I can’t have caffeine.”
I would take it as an opportunity to offer non-caffeinated options at the store by asking about customer preferences. “Do you want a hot or cold drink? Do you like white chocolate?” These questions let the customer know that I cared, and my offer to let the customer try something until she found a new alternative usually earned repeat business.
Negative Former Experience
Some customers find themselves returning to your place of business because it’s convenient or has what they need-despite the fact that the customer’s last experience there was poor.
Your ability to respond to a customer’s frustration depends upon what you are permitted to do at your retail or fast food location. At the very least, you should ensure that the customer’s present experience is positive and ask your supervisor to speak with the customer.
If possible, provide a coupon or other incentive for the customer to return.
Some customers are just never happy. This is the exception to customers, but it can really have an impact on your attitude, confidence and job performance.
When I worked as a barista, I had really understanding supervisors. They were willing to step in and help a customer who remained repeatedly unsatisfied. This also helped me realize that it wasn’t my service or performance that was the problem-it was the customer.
Excuse Yourself and Walk Away
If you’re irked and feel ready to explode or say something inappropriate to a customer, it’s best to excuse yourself and walk away. Ask another employee to kindly assist the customer. Being an angry employee is embarrassing and bad for business. Unfortunately, part of your job involves sucking it up and listening to some unreasonable demands.
That said, no customer has the right to demean, degrade or deliberately offend you. Head straight to your manager if someone makes you feel uncomfortable.
Benefits of Good Customer Service
At some point, every customer service representative feels that his or her job is completely thankless-but good customer service is like good karma. It comes back to you.
One example of this includes a barista who went out of her way to assist a customer. The customer was having an awful day, but his experience at the store really helped. He sent a letter to the store addressed to the barista’s first name. It contained a $100.00 cash tip.
Providing good customer service is also a fast way to earn a promotion or pay raise. One of the main drawbacks about customer service jobs is the low pay-and providing quality customer service is an excellent way to remedy that.
Do you have any additional customer service tips? If so, please leave them as comments below.