Somewhere along the line it became acceptable – at least in the States – to treat retail and other service workers as somehow less than ourselves. I blame the "customer is always right" mentality. This business strategy has led us to a point where the consumer knows that he or she can literally abuse the employees and rules of any given business and never face any retribution, because heaven forfend that business cost itself a sale or suffer a negative online review. You can complain about almost anything, however ludicrous, and expect to receive an apology and probably a coupon or free item. You can return items past the return date stated on your receipt, or without a receipt, or items that an employee saw you steal, and expect to get a refund. Because if we say "no," you might not shop with us (or steal from us) again.
I'm not saying everyone abuses the system. I'm not saying everyone is a bad customer. But my experience has shown me that an appalling number of people have become so accustomed to being coddled that even the kindest souls simply seem to forget that retail workers are human. So get ready to check your behavior – and if you're guilty of any of these things, think hard about how you'd feel if someone did any of them to you or about the hell you'd raise if a service employee acted similarly toward you.
Let's get into it.
Don't touch me!I sell cosmetics for a living. I spend a lot of my day swatching colors on my hand to show to the customer. This is not a problem; I have access to makeup remover and simply clean up between customers. But the fact that I have drawn a bit of eyeliner or lipstick on my hand to show to you does not make it OK for you to grab my wrist and twist it around to see how that color moves in the light, or bring it closer to your face for a better look, or to draw on me yourself. It is certainly not acceptable for you to grab my arm as I walk by you to get my attention, or to grab a piece of my hair to see if it's "real."
Honestly, where do you get off? In what other situation would you feel it acceptable to treat a stranger this way? Would you grab the wrist of someone you pass on the street to get a better look at her watch? If you did, would you expect said stranger to be OK with it? (If so... look into an etiquette book, STAT.)
Unlike strippers, retail employees don't have a bouncer to beat you up if you treat us inappropriately. In fact if we complain our manager will probably apologize to you for it and reprimand us because you felt put out by us calling you on your rude and inappropriate behavior. But the fact that you can get away with it doesn't make it OK. Don't touch me.
I am not your whipping post.It is not OK to yell at me, talk down to me, or imply that I am stupid because you don't know what you want and I can't read your mind. It is also not OK to yell at me because we are sold out of an item you want. Life is full of little disappointments; learn to deal with them.
I often feel like there are people who – whether consciously or not – get some little thrill out of abusing service employees. Maybe your boss is a domineering blowhard, or your kids scream all day, or a million other things that leave you with all manner of pent up frustration and looking for an outlet. And here I am, paid to smile at you no matter what you hurl my way. I'm sure it's tempting to take out all your frustrations on me, knowing I have to take it. But it makes you a jerk. Stop it.
If your time is so precious, use it wisely.You're in a hurry, you say? This line is too long? Well, while you were waiting in that line, did you use that time to fish your wallet out of your coat or purse, maybe have your coupons ready? Or did you stare off into space muttering about how slow we're moving?
Did you wait until you got to the register to go through your items one-by-one, dithering over which ones you want? Did you throw a crumpled pile of disorganized bills onto the counter? Did you not pay attention and shove your credit card in my face when there's a pinpad right in front of you?
Congratulations, you wasted your own time. You also wasted the time of everyone in line behind you, who is also going to yell at me about it.
Your mother taught you manners. Use them.If I greet you with a smile and say "hello," and you glare at me and storm by (sometimes only to return to huffily ask me a question), you're the one who is rude, not me. Think about how you would like to be treated by the people to whom you speak on a daily basis. Act accordingly.
Other customers matter as much as you do.I can't believe how often this happens. I'm actively helping a customer, and someone walks up and starts peppering me with questions or demands as though no one else is there. They will blithely talk right over me or the other customer and expect me to abandon someone else to help them. This leaves me moderating an uncomfortable situation, as I try to either help you both at the same time or explain to you (over your objections) that I am busy but will happily be right with you.
You are not more important than anyone else. Wait your turn. This is a skill learned in kindergarten, for goodness sake.
It's not my job to watch your kids.I have friends who have heard a mother tell their children to stay in a store while she leaves for the day; that "the lady will watch you." First of all: no, she won't. That's not her job. (She may call the police and report you for child abandonment, though.) Second: you are leaving your children with a stranger. Good job, Mom of the Year.
And even if you don't do this... watch your kids. Don't ignore them while they destroy our store because you're too caught up in your shopping. Don't yell at me when I ask your child to please not run/climb/eat things, it's dangerous. Don't let your infant chew on merchandise and drool all over it and then hand it to me because you never intended to buy it. (Yes, I have had this happen more than once. "You break it, you bought it" is not a policy anywhere anymore and everyone knows it.) Don't expect anyone to parent your child but you. And don't subject us to their bad behavior because you refuse to parent them yourself.
Clean up after yourself.Again, kindergarten. I don't want your empty cups, dirty diapers (really?!), used tissues, or other refuse any more than you do. Find a garbage can. Would you leave this stuff lying around someone's home and expect them to clean it up?
If I had a degree in family therapy, I wouldn't work here.No, I will not tell your daughter she's too young for makeup or that her jeans are too tight. (Again... parent your own child.) Nor will I settle a marital dispute over how much money is reasonable to spend on a gift. I will not take a side over whether that shirt is red or orange, and it is not acceptable to tell your small child that "the lady" will yell at him if he acts up. (I won't, and you'd only complain to my manager if I did.)
I'm not your therapist or your referee, and I am not paid nearly enough to listen to you fight with one another. But thanks for trapping me so that I can stand there awkwardly while you do so.
I AM A HUMAN.That's basically the main point of all of this. The American service industry has created for itself a model in which it is acceptable to treat its workers like little servicebots devoid of feelings or agency. And that's a damn shame. But the fact that such a culture exists doesn't mean you can't rise above it. Stop and think about how you would feel if you were treated the way you're treating someone serving you. If you think you would be offended, change your behavior. Just because we can't tell you off doesn't mean you're not wrong.
Yes, I took the post title from a Britney Spears song. No, I'm not proud of it.