Sooo, I was at the grocery store the other day. When I walked up to the deli, I had an inkling it may not go well for a couple of reasons. First, there was a very loud, unending machine noise directly to my left. Second, I’m a soft-voiced, low talker. It’s been a problem of mine ever since I can remember. I think I’m talking at a regular level only to find out that no one around can hear me. I sound loud to me, but to no one else hardly ever to never ever. To add fuel to the fire, it was one of my really tired days. Do you have any idea how much energy it takes to talk when you are that tired?
The deli lady didn’t stop what she was doing as I approached and she wasn’t close by when she asked what I wanted. It didn’t appear that she was actually paying attention to me, so I waited a moment thinking she would come my direction. But she didn’t.
Back in my earlier days, I could follow multiple conversations, watch TV and listen to the radio at the same time and not miss a thing. These days not so much. For whatever reason, I needed to stand in front of what I wanted, because, even though it was the easiest order ever, I would have forgotten what I wanted in the three seconds it would have taken to walk down to tell her. Besides, the deli folks always come to where I’m standing, but she kept doing her thing, not looking my direction and standing way down there. Then she asked again, “Can I help you?”
So, I gave my order. “What was that?” she asked, still doing other things. I repeated my order a little louder. “What? I can’t hear you,” as she continued wrapping and not looking my way. I didn’t want to do this 20 more times, so I took a deep breath, digging deep, knowing I had to expend a lot more energy on this fatigued day than I wanted. When I spoke, I was surprised at how loud my voice was. I was about to start laughing I was so loud.
But deli lady immediately snapped at me, “You don’t have to talk to me like that. That machine over there is very loud and I can’t hear you.”
I tried to apologize and explain that I wasn’t yelling at her, but she had already decided and was done with me. I can understand why she thought badly of me, but she cut me off, chose to believe I was angry and treated me in like manner. When a co-worker asked how she was doing, she said it was a bad day already, nodding her head in my direction, and she had just started her shift. Hellloooo, I’m standing right here. Obviously, it was alllllll my fault she was going to have a bad day.
Then I got ticked. I mean how dare she not do what she could to get closer to hear me, especially since that machine was so loud? Isn’t that her job??? Besides, she has always been a bit on the curt side and I’ve never seen her smile. Maybe this is why all the older people in line behind me the other day were grumbling about service at this particular grocery store. As tempted as I was, I didn’t complain to anyone, except my husband and sister.
When I shared with my husband what happened, he talked me off the ledge by telling me he knew I didn’t mean any harm because I’m one of the nicest people he’s ever met. Really? Awww, that’s so sweet. Calming down. World falling off shoulders. It wasn’t until I talked with my sister, who laughed hysterically at the thought of me raising my voice like that, that I was able to let the whole situation go. It’s good to have people that know you well. Maybe next time I’ll take a notepad and write my order down.
Listen, I worked retail for several years, I’ve waited tables and my “real” job after college included several years of customer service type stuff on the phone and face-to-face. I know what jerks we the public can be.
I cannot tell you how many times I had to stand stoically and treat kindly people who insisted forcefully that their company had already paid for the conference, when no such thing had happened. Or the lady who complained that the rice was touching the chicken, which was completely unacceptable and wanted a new dinner. Or the guy who angrily told me I was not important enough to talk to and that Col. B should have known he was going to call. You know, not scheduled and out-of-the-blue like that. Or the assistant who extolled the extremely extreme importance of her boss, and couldn’t fathom how we would dare even think to send him correspondence given his incredibly awesome importance. Totally true stories with almost no exaggeration. I get it. We are something else.
However, if your job is to provide some kind of customer service, it’s in your best interest to try to do that well. Why escalate a situation by giving back what you get? It’s not going to stop all the folks who have a burr up their back side, because Lord knows there are plenty out there, but it helps if you don’t do your job with one up yours either. You may be able to cut down on the amount of people who might treat you badly if you create an atmosphere for it. Especially if someone is willing to apologize for what just happened.
A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare. Proverbs 15:1 (NLT)