Self-Assertion versus Jerkiness
May 4, 2023 6:54 AM   Subscribe

I struggle with this issue much like the person here: But am seeking feedback on different arena of life; specifically dealing with a service provider.

I went to swim at a facility and the door to pool was locked. I went to front desk and they said "oh pool is normally open now but they're just having some chlorine issue. Happens sometimes" The tone was annoyingly breezy but I persisted politely and asked "do they have an estimate when it's going to reopen?" and the response was visible annoyance at having to call down to the pool person and find out. At no point was there any acknowledgement that I may have driven a long way and planned my day around being able to swim at a particular time.
So...say it happens a second time with same attitude--do I calmly explain my disappointment and leave it at that or angrily express my shock at how incompetent they are ("doesn't happen at other pools!") and demand a refund of my membership fees?
posted by Jon44 to Human Relations (18 answers total)
Best answer: It absolutely happens at other pools, usually because someone has, ah, released bodily substances into the pool and they need to re-sterilize it. So you're just off-base there. Do you want to cancel your membership and join another pool? Do that. Don't hassle the front desk about it, they a) can't fix it b) didn't cause it and c) don't care about you specifically, especially if you're going to yell at them about stuff that a) and b).

If you feel like the person at the front desk was rude, make a note of their name, call when you get home, and tell their manager. It does not make you a nice or kind person but it's the appropriate way to handle that situation. Getting angry at people who are paid shit wages to put up with you is never appropriate.
posted by restless_nomad at 6:58 AM on May 4 [35 favorites]

I wouldn't be expecting front desk people to have this level of insight into how your day has been planned, or how far you've traveled. They're responsible for your experience once you've come in the door, but they can't account for how important swimming may or may not be to you.
posted by sagc at 7:08 AM on May 4 [14 favorites]

I think some of my answer depends. Is this a luxury facility with exorbitant fees, is this a mid-range gym that's under $100/mo, is this your local community centre, etc.

First, you absolutely do not want to swim in a pool that's having chlorine or any kind of hygiene issues. So unless this happens super often I would be glad that you did not enter the pool.

Second, if this is a multi-use facility like some of ours are locally, and there are kid or senior memory care or other groups using this pool, you may find there are times of the day/week when this is more likely to happen. I once had the aquafit timeslot after a special needs group and like, shit literally happened a fair bit and that was fine because it's a multi-use facility.

On the customer service topic, again, it kind of depends on what kind of facility it is. If this is an upscale member-based business, for sure let the manager know. If this is a mid-range gym (especially if the pool is only one facet of it) or a community facility, the response you got is a bit disappointing but for me it's kind of in the realm of you get what you pay for - the facility is keeping your fees down by hiring less invested staff.

In my business, that response would be something I would want to know about, and unusual, because we are a member-based business that pays our front desk team well etc., but in a lot of facilities there are other considerations (lifeguard qualifications, being able to work really weird hours, etc.) that can outweigh the finer points. I say finer points because you did get the information you needed even if there was some annoyance about it.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:23 AM on May 4 [5 favorites]

I think there's a fine line here.

nomad and sagc are right that you can't expect the front desk person to care about how you planned your day, or about your disappointment. HOWEVER the front desk person is also your point of contact vis a vis your membership to this facility and it is fully appropriate for you to ask them for information (in a polite, respectful tone that does not dump your emotions on them):

- when will the pool re-open

- can I get a prorated refund of my membership fees for the pool being unusable on this particular day, and who should I speak to for this

- how can I lodge a formal complaint about my dissatisfaction with this facility

- I would like to suggest that you should update your website when the pool is closed so that patrons don't drive all the way over only to be turned away: to whom should I make this suggestion, who is in charge of the website/ who is the decision maker who can implement this suggestion

- etc.

If they sound annoyed at being asked these questions, then they're being rude and their annoyance is not your problem to solve in the least. You don't have to take it personally that they are a jerk. Neither do you have to give up on your own needs just to make them feel less annoyed. You can continue to ask these questions in a polite and respectful tone until you are satisfied, and completely ignore how annoyed they seem. You might say, "I do have a couple more questions, and then I'll be out of your hair, I promise..." and continue.

Or if they're being overtly huffy at you, you can let your tone become *excessively* polite, "I beg your pardon, is there someone else I should be directing my questions to? I just assumed you were the front desk attendant - maybe I was mistaken?" And when they confirm that they are the front desk person, you express relief and continue asking your questions in a polite, respectful tone.

From your end, if you're feeling really upset and you can't quite contain yourself to sound completely unemotional, it would be perfectly okay to say, "I'm sorry, I know I sound upset but this isn't directed at you - I know this isn't your fault in the least. I was really counting on being able to swim today. Whew." (And then give yourself a little moment to breathe deep or do a little shake or whatever to get yourself together. THEN continue with your questions in a respectful and polite tone.)

What I'm getting at here is, thinking that the front desk person should recognize & tend to your emotional needs in the moment is an unreasonable expectation. But it's perfectly reasonable for you to get some answers and lodge a complaint.
posted by MiraK at 7:44 AM on May 4 [11 favorites]

I would consider this well within the realm of "normal stuff that happens at a pool sometimes" and wouldn't give it another second's thought. I might consider whether to call ahead if it were really important to me in future, but even then, sometimes this will happen between call and arrival. It would certainly be reasonable to make a suggestion to the facility that when they have to close the pool they include information about expected reopening time on the sign.

If you feel the front desk person was actually rude to you (and that would go beyond "appearing a bit annoyed" to me but YMMV), then yes, take their name, call or write a note to their manager. Likewise, if you run into someone who *does* appear to go the extra mile of caring a ton about your personal plans and your day in an inconvenience, make note of *that* and send some praise to balance it out. No one working front desk at a pool is getting paid enough or treated well enough for what they get from the customers all day every day; make an effort to appreciate when they get it right at least as often as you complain when they don't.
posted by Stacey at 7:46 AM on May 4 [1 favorite]

Yes, it was fine to ask your follow up question of when it might re-open - that was being assertive and nothing wrong with that. But it's not their job to mollify your feelings about things not going your way - and yeah, this sounds very ordinary/standard pool event.

I'll give another example: say you arrive on time for a dinner reservation, but your table isn't ready yet because a number of tables before you are taking an unusually long time. Annoying, yes, but one of those things that just happens (similar to someone taking a leak or whatever in a pool). Being assertive in this situation might involve asking how long you'll have to wait, and maybe even asking for a free drink/appetizer if the wait is excessive (i.e. 30min+). But being a jerk would be asking questions like "How did this happen? Who is at fault here?" Because you're not the restaurant manager, not your job or role here - just like it isn't your job to decide if the pool employees are being incompetent- that's for their boss to decide.
posted by coffeecat at 8:00 AM on May 4 [2 favorites]

If you're going to call the manager on this person, ask how much they pay that person. While they should do their best to mask their annoyance, they are likely not getting paid enough to not be annoyed or to narrativize the entire day and mindset of every member.

Shared public pools are required by health codes to maintain pretty high sterilization standards. If your other pools were slacking and letting everyone swim in e.coli and polio and whatever else, that is not a reason to be angry at this pool for following public health and safety measures.

This process takes however long it takes, they have to run water tests until they've re-reached the required standards (and these pools are huge and the water only cycles so fast, this is quite an ordeal compared to a home pool or spa where you can just re-dose and kinda assume it's fine in 15 minutes), so you demanding a likely low-paid front desk person make a performative phone call to pretend to provide you with an unanswerable answer is certainly a choice you can make, but maybe not without the expectation of consequences such as someone thinking poorly of you. You can also demand the management give you a performative apology for shit literally happening, but the revocation of your membership is probably not going to accrue any sorrow.

What is it you think you are asserting here, is my main question? Your right to...swim in poop? Get chemical burns? Nobody was stopping you from using the pool to be mean to you. You were being unreasonable.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:01 AM on May 4 [7 favorites]

Hey, I happen to work at the front desk of a pool! (It is my part-time retirement job.) We have to close the pool on a too-often (in everyone's opinion, including staff and patrons) basis. When someone poos in the pool, we have to close the pool for 24 hours in order to treat the water to make it safe again. When patrons ask why it is closed, we tell them there is a mechanical problem (and I guess that's accurate: a problem with the "mechanics" of someone's body).

What I have discovered is that people are amazingly disappointed when they come to swim and find out they won't be able to. At first, it surprised me that adults have this reaction. I would have expected this reaction from kids, but not adults. (But, I have to admit, I have reacted this way in the past.) I tell patrons, "Yes, it is really disappointing. You come here to have fun, only to find out you can't have fun after all." But, to be honest, after I've had to endure dozens of people's negative reactions, it does get old after a while. It almost feels like they think if they just argue with me I can magically open the pool for them.

I don't know if this is the case with you, but I think it is worth asking yourself if you hadn't been so irritated by the fact that the pool was unexpectedly closed, would you have been so critical of the front desk person's behavior?

And another thing (and I can't stress this enough): If you do decide to complain, PLEASE make sure to find the right person to whom to complain, and complain directly to them. If you were to complain to me, as a front desk person, and I were to relay your complaint to management, it would not be NEARLY as effective as if you were to complain to management directly. And, also, quite frankly, I probably wouldn't relay the message at all.

Also, from now on, to save your sanity, always just give the pool a quick call to see if it is closed due to "mechanical problems" before you leave home. This won't guarantee that there won't be a "mechanical problem" during your commute, but it will at least lower your odds of showing up and finding the pool closed.
posted by SageTrail at 8:04 AM on May 4 [31 favorites]

Here's the fundamental truth of breaking bad news in a customer-facing job: The person breaking the bad news sees whatever the bad news is much more frequently than the person they're breaking the news to, and that leads to desensitization. In your case, the front desk person probably isn't lying; this does happen sometimes, and they've probably seen it happen quite a few times themselves, to the point where it has become almost normal, or at least unremarkable. To them, it's not any different than needing to refill the soap in the bathroom. That's also something that happens sometimes. And the pool is being actively worked on, so what would you like them to do?

I used to work tech support for a B2B software company with a comically unreliable server that would crash sometimes multiple times a week. It happened so often that we'd breezily comment on it ("oh hey, server's down again, look at that"). But this was software that people depended on for work. Thousands of our customers couldn't work until that server got fixed. It's a much bigger deal to them than it was to us. We just got a bunch of emails that we could respond to with a form letter.

Because you don't spend hours every day at this pool, it's not normal to you. This is the first time it's ever happened to you. That makes it seem like a big deal, and this is the root of nearly all the tension in a customer service interaction. Truly excellent customer service people understand this, and will treat whatever situation you find yourself in as a big deal, because they realize it is a big deal to you. The problem is, customer service (including tech support and front desk work) is a famously low-paying, dead end industry. There's no real incentive to be good at the job, because if someone has any skills whatsoever, they'll get a better job soon. (And even if they don't have any skills, they can just get a job at a different front desk or call center or restaurant or whatever, because those jobs are a dime a dozen.)

Regardless, to answer the question in your last paragraph, you should NEVER "angrily express [your] shock at how incompetent they are", because basic human dignity, dude. But also, the front desk person isn't the one who took a shit in the pool. They aren't the one who found the turd in the pool. They aren't the one rechlorinating the pool. They're just there to say hi to you when you walk in the door, which... they did, successfully. You can ask for a refund of your membership fees if you'd like, but considering the pool was probably only closed for an hour or so, they'll only refund you for that one hour out of the entire month, which will end up being like $2 max, and if you really want to put in that much effort for $2, well, you'd be better off saving your money for blood pressure medication because Christ you're building up a shitload of tension for no reason.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:17 AM on May 4 [15 favorites]

My kid works at a fairly fancy family pool. When they see a turd (it happens infrequently but regularly) they need to get everyone out of the pool, and get to work on cleaning. (This does not take as long as sagetrail's pool, by a long shot, but it takes the time it takes.) And when it happens, the pool staff is busy dealing with the cleaning and the swimmers - often little children - who need to be politely but immediately gotten out of the pool (and you'd be surprised - or maybe not - at how resistant swimmers can be, even with a turd bobbing in the water.) This process takes all hands on deck. My point is the the pool staff are not spending their time providing estimates to the front desk.

Now at our pool, this process takes a more or less predictable amount of time, and if the front desk knew this amount of time, they could have told it to you. But it would have been just an estimate, anyway.

You will not find a pool that doesn't sometimes close, unpredictably; and you will not find a front desk staff who always knows exactly what's going on with the pool mechanics, because the people dealing with the pool are not updating the front desk while they work quickly to solve the problem. It's just one of those things about pools.

ETA - the customer service aspect of pool work is surprisingly hair-raising, even at a fancy place. Entitled clients stomping their feet about stuff that the staff cannot solve is something the staff sees several times a day. They are not impressed by it. They do giggle with their families about it over dinner later.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:19 AM on May 4 [3 favorites]

I think there's an internal issue more important than the asked question of "how to deal with a service provider" and that's -- how do you handle upsets to your expectations/routine? Things change, unexpectedly, all the time. Handling the Shit that Happens with grace and aplomb is a critical life skill. As we get older, I find, we tend to settle into routines and resent when they're disrupted. On the other hand, a change in routine is interesting, and can lead to adventures and memories. A week where nothing unusual happens is a week that is too easily forgotten. A week where you have to deal with something unexpected might have an interesting story, if you engage with it in a positive, curious, and improv-informed way.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:28 AM on May 4 [6 favorites]

Just want to add, you can ask the management to put a notice on their website when the pool is closed for cleaning (and then check it before you go, if they implement it).
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:20 AM on May 4 [2 favorites]

I agree with the comments above. I once used to be a regular user of a community centre pool that got into trouble for not closing the pool fast enough due to "mechanical problems" (pool water is not equivalent to clumping cat litter!) and trust me, that's worse. This facility is doing the right thing.

I also agree, though, that the front desk person's customer-relations skills could use a bit of an upgrade, but as others have pointed out, you might need to manage your own expectations on that. In your shoes, I'd let management know that this could have been handled better, and suggest that they put a notice on their website. Confronting the messenger, who probably has the least power to fix anything here, is not the way to go.

And, from now on, spare yourself some aggro and give them a call right before you leave to check that the pool is open.
posted by rpfields at 9:52 AM on May 4

I find the framework of the "Dime Game" from dialectical behavioral therapy somewhat helpful as a framework.
When deciding on how strongly to ask for something:

You put a dime in the bank for each of the questions below that get a yes answer. The more money you have, the stronger you ask.

Capability: Is this person able to give or do what I want?
Priorities: Is getting my objective more important than my relationship with this person?
Self-respect: Will asking help me feel competent and self-respecting?
Rights: Is the person required by law or moral code to do or give me what I want?
Authority: Am I responsible for telling the person what to do?
Relationship: Is what I want appropriate for this relationship? (Is it okay to ask for what I want?)
Goals: Is asking important to a long-term goal?
Give and Take: Do I give as much as I get with this person?
Homework: Do I know what I want and have the facts I need to support my request?
Timing: Is this a good time to ask? (Is this person in the right mood?)

Then tap into the wise mind and go back over the list to see if some items are more important than others.
Table for how to proceed is here.

Obviously, not everything is going to apply in every situation. In this situation, I think the front-desk person has no capability to open the pool themselves, and they are not required by law or morals to open the pool specifically for you (e.g., they're not barring you due to illegal discrimination). You don't have authority over this person. You are doing your homework now (asking for input on what's actually required to open the pool and whether it's normal for it to be closed), but you're learning from that homework that your request to open the pool immediately isn't appropriate.

It sounds like your priorities (swimming) are important as is self-respect. It's appropriate to ask them about the state of the pool in this relationship, since it's their job to give that info. Goals kinda depends, but I'll give you the dime.

Give and take doesn't really apply since it's a customer-service situation; same with timing.

So you've got 40 cents. We could kinda add the two dimes from the non-applicable categories. But you're in the 40-60 cents range. The table would say:

Ask tentatively; take no - 40 cents
Ask gracefully, but take no - 50 cents
Ask confidently; take no - 60 cents

Which is mostly what you did, right? Asked for information, took "no" as a response.
posted by lapis at 10:18 AM on May 4 [7 favorites]

I worked in various forms of customer service for years. It costs nothing to genuinely apologize for actual inconvenience, to make the call with being annoyed, to be gracious to customers. Some customers will still be jerks, most will be pleasant, a few will respond with warmth. It's fair to say I have a bit of a drive; should I be calling 1st to see if the pool's open? A smart organization would post it on their website, but most companies don't maintain their sites, don't have adequate human staffing, etc.
posted by theora55 at 10:58 AM on May 4 [3 favorites]

> Hey, I happen to work at the front desk of a pool! (It is my part-time retirement job.)


Here's the thing about pool closures. All we know at the front desk is that the pool is closed, but we don't know how long it will take for it to reopen. And everyone in aquatics is too busy cleaning the pool to let us know -- and they probably don't know, either, since there are so many variables. So while it is reasonable to want an ETA it just isn't realistic to expect one.

But it's an inconvenience that the pool is closed. People plan their days around when they can get their swim in, and now your schedule is thrown off. You probably don't have other workout clothes with you, and you don't know when you'll get time to come back, and exercise is important. It sounds like the person at the front desk didn't get it, and that's their job. It's a customer service position and they didn't give you customer service at a level that you want.

To answer your question: I don't think this is a good time to assert yourself more. Yeah, the employee didn't do a great job, but I don't think your pushing them would get you the results you want.

For the future: instead of complaining at the front desk person about the pool being closed without notice (or a similar thing), ask them how to get your complaint to the right person, the person who actually has some power. Maybe there's a web form, or a comment card, or a manager's e-mail address. Ideally you and the front desk worker are on the same side; you both want the member to feel acknowledged and listened to.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:36 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]

This is not a situation where increased assertiveness=increased results. That calculation is not always clear if you’re not used to being assertive, so that’s something to practice next time.

The front desk person can’t open the pool, can’t predict when it will open, can’t be the perfect mix of not visibly annoyed yet not too breezey, can’t un-make your drive, can’t restore your mood. If the experience was enough to sour you on the facility forever that’s your call of course, but it sounds like just one of those annoying things.

Another thing that may not be obvious if you’re not used to being assertive: complaining isn’t being assertive; advocating to the right person for your preferred, achievable, outcome is.
posted by kapers at 10:41 PM on May 4 [5 favorites]

I'm honestly pretty surprised by other posters recommending that you contact this person's manager about their affect. Many people seem to think that customer service means 'kiss customers' asses' instead of 'convey information and, if possible, services'. Did they do this gracefully? No. Did they convey to you the information and whatever services they could? It sounds like yes. Move on.
posted by Summers at 7:03 PM on May 5 [3 favorites]

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