How Can I Help You?
June 20, 2008 10:55 PM   Subscribe

If you work (or have in recent memory) in a service position, what are the pet peeves/annoyances you remember most that people in general can fix? No matter if you're a dentist, waiter, teacher, or used car salesman, let us know (:

I work as a cashier at a major retailer, and there are several things that over the past year (this is only a high school job) have struck me. I no longer *ever* get impatient with a cashier when something goes wrong with the machine or if he or she rings something up wrong. It happens. I try not to count out exact change if it's like $38.97 anymore. Really. That's annoying. Cashiers would much rather give you the $1.03 change than count out your pennies.

So, I was thinking today while bagging dozens of dish towels: What about people in other similarly customer-service oriented jobs?

So, what can I (and others) do to make your job easier? Anything specific, anything general. Anything I can do to make you not think when I leave: "What a douche."
posted by Precision to Society & Culture (57 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
A bit of eye contact and a hello/goodbye, plus talking to me instead of at me in the course of the transaction; that's really all you need to do. Less than that is annoying, and more than that (trying to be my friend) is annoying as well.
posted by davejay at 11:08 PM on June 20, 2008

I don't work in IT, but my family seems to rely on me for technical advice. 99% of the time, all you need to do is hit the reset button. Couldn't you have done that before you woke me at 7AM on my day off?
posted by cholly at 11:23 PM on June 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

My first name is Grace. Every time I went up to a table (as a waitress) and introduced myself, I would get some form of joke: "Oh, like Grace Under Fire" or "Let's say Grace" or "Amazing Grace" etc. I have about ten more dumb jokes. Although I'm sure everyone who tells a joke thinks they are absolutely hilarious and original, they are not, and should restrain themselves.

Another annoyance: many times, when your food comes out cold or under-done or whatever, it's the kitchen's fault, not the waiter's. Sometimes it *is* the waiter's fault. Either way, docking tip for that kind of thing, or because you didn't like your meal, is not okay.

Of course, now I work as a nurse, which has it's own set of mind-boggling problems. However, if someone is douchy to me, it's completely fair, because they are sick and mostly allowed a certain level of douchy-ness. However, if you are not so sick as my other patients, and yet demand all of my time, it will cramp my style. Basically, just be understanding that we are over-worked and have more than just you to care for. Also, remember your nurse gets credit if you get better, not just the doctor! We're terribly under-represented in the media when it comes to amazing recovery stories. It peeves me every time someone says, "The doctor was with me all the time and saved my life!" because nearly always, it was a nurse who was there all the time, with the doctor a phone call away.

Not slagging doctors at all here. I respect them and hold them in the highest regard. I'm just saying, we do lots of cool stuff too, but we never get credit for the end results.
posted by nursegracer at 11:26 PM on June 20, 2008

When handing me my change, put the coins in my hand 1st, pause just long enough to see if I pocket it right away or not, then and only then, place the bills in my hand. Don't just dump a bunch of coins on top of a stack of bills for me to fumble onto the ground.
posted by klarck at 11:45 PM on June 20, 2008 [11 favorites]

I spent a reeeeeeeeeally long time in customer service. Here's my pet peeve list.

1. Ask what you really want to ask; don't announce the question.

Example: I used to work in 2 large bookstore chains. It drove us all ape-shit when people would walk up to the info desk and say, "Hi, I'm looking for a book." We know you're looking for a book. You're standing in a bookstore. If you were looking for a puppy, you'd really need our help, but as it is, you're in a bookstore and you're looking for a book. Good start. Now, WHAT BOOK ARE YOU LOOKING FOR?!?!?!?! Do you have a title, or, perhaps, an author? Alternatively, "Hi, can you help me find a book?" No, madam, I'm the only person in here with these corporate dog tags hanging around my neck who is incapable of helping you find a book. Just ask me where the Thomas Kincade books are already.

2. Patience is a virtue. Practice it. I currently work as the Jack-of-all for a non-profit. Everyday my phone rings about 30-50 times. I send people very useful information... for free. Please do not get pissy if this free information isn't in your mailbox the next day. I'm really busy, and calling me to announce that you didn't "get it yet" isn't going to make it get there any faster. I could be sending it out right now, but I'm not because I'm talking to you on the phone. See how this works?

3. The magic, get out of jail free card is this: Prefacing something annoying/dumb by saying, "I know this is a stupid question that you have to answer all the time, but..."
posted by Vavuzi at 11:54 PM on June 20, 2008

Following from Vavuzi... "I know you probably already know this, but..."

It helps, sometimes. Deliver it in the right tone and it becomes a conspiratorial statement between equals, plus lets the other person save face.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:39 AM on June 21, 2008

As a former bartender/waitress-

Nthing stupid jokes. If there is some characteristic that makes a person stand out to you (tall, short, named Grace . . .) don't mention it. Don't make a joke about it. It isn't funny.

15% is the accepted base tipping rate in the U.S.. Wait staff rely on these tips to make a living - they literally won't eat if you don't tip. My standard is 20%, more if I'm really delighted with the service or I feel like the server is having a really bad day (I love tipping 25% or 30% when a server is grumpy - my little random act of kindness.) As a former waitress, I noticed that it is the other people in the hospitality trade that tip well - white collar professionals, not so well. Doctors and lawyers are among the worst tippers.

As a scientist-

Happy to answer questions about my work when you've done some basic reading yourself. Whether you're a student or a reporter, it's hard for me to take you seriously when you do this. Read the material first, then I'll be happy to spend as much time as you'd like clarifying it for you.

As an EMT and granddaughter of someone who has been in the hospital a lot recently-

Please don't be capricious or just plain rude to the patients or family members, medical staff. I've worked as a firefighter/EMT since I was a teenager, but never really experienced hospitals from the other side of the coin. My family stayed with my grandmother while she was in the hospital in 36 hour shifts which meant that I spent all of Friday and most of Saturday at the hospital last week (as well as Monday and Tuesday, but that's a different story).

I was astonished and suprised to see how the medical staff treated my rather crotchety but totally mentally with-it Grandmother. Half the nursing staff (nurses, sups, and LNAs) were the nicest people I've ever met in my life. Courteous, helpful, kind. The other half were mean, condescending to both of us (my Grandma who works in mental health and knows pharmacology like the back of her hand and me who has not insignificant medical training). I'm incredibly sympathetic with the plight of nurses in the state of California and have always supported more funding, more hiring, more everthing, but I was really shocked by how poorly she was treated by the staff. She wasn't in a busy ward - less than 1/3 of the beds were occupied, and the inconsiderateness really verged on negligence. One of the LNAs, who was helping Grandma out of the bed, made an expression of disgust when her gown slipped down her arms, exposing her body for a moment and muttered "I hate my job."

If you hate your job, you shouldn't be in health care!
posted by arnicae at 12:55 AM on June 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

There is a livejournal community called customers_suck that might help you with this.

I worked as a receptionist. Don't call me hon, sweetie, darling etc. Don't ask me conversational questions if I seem busy. Don't get irritable if I try to get you off the phone because four more lines are ringing and you really don't need anything else.
posted by sondrialiac at 1:11 AM on June 21, 2008

My very first job was in a movie theater and I still remember vividly many pet peeves that still annoy me when I see fellow movie goers doing them. First is throw your darned trash away! Don't just put your half-eaten bag of popcorn and empty soda cup on the floor. All that stuff has to be picked up and swept before the next crowd comes in.

Don't try to sneak in messy and/or stinky food. Outside candy? Who cares. But a pizza? Come on. That's ending up on the floor before the previews are over. Or else you'll sit next to Mr. Complainy who will want his money back because he can't watch a movie with the scent of garlic in the air.

Don't have sex in the balcony, the cry room, the back row, or anywhere else on the property.

Don't ask for an extra cup with your coffee/soda. Those are all inventoried and must be accounted for every night. Yeah, really.
posted by lovecrafty at 1:29 AM on June 21, 2008

I work for a small-time airline in customer service, and have previously worked for Dell and Cox in tech support. The below will be stuff that almost certainly happened to me yesterday, and will probably happen to me today:

1) Ask your question. Don't give me a bunch of facts, and then stop. Don't make a statement, and then stop. Examples:

"Hi, I have a reservation."
How can I help you?
"I'm going from Las Vegas to Cake Town on Tuesday."
Ok. How can I help you?
"My flight leaves on June 32nd."
Right. Ok. How can I help you?
"Do you serve peanuts on that flight?"
We have peanuts available for purchase on every flight, and do not provide allergen-free flights or other consideration for such.

"Hi, I have a reservation Las Vegas to Neverville on Tuesday. Do you serve peanuts on that flight?"
We have peanuts available for purchase on every flight, and do not provide allergen-free flights or other consideration for such.

-almost best-
"Do you serve peanuts on your flights?"
We have peanuts available for purchase on every flight, and do not provide allergen-free flights or other consideration for such.

*never calls in, and instead goes to and reads this for themselves.*

2) For the love of all that is good and right in the world, don't ask me how I am if you have no intention to wait for the answer.


"Hi, how are you doing?" *half second pause*
I'm do-
"I have a reservation."

"Hi, how are you doing? I have a reservation Las Vegas to Neverville on Tuesday. Do you serve peanuts on that flight?"

"Hi, how are you doing?"
I'm doing well, and yourself?
"Oh, I'm fine. I have..."

3) If we're doing something nice for you, don't make us regret it.

Ok, we have reversed the charges, and issued a refund back to your credit card.
"But I didn't want a refund! I wanted Thing Not As Good As A Refund! Let me speak with your supervisor!"
Are you... Are you really escalating because we're providing service superior to what you're asking for?

Ok, we have reversed the charges, and issued a refund back to your credit card.
"Oh. Well, I was really just looking for Thing Not As Good As A Refund. Is there any chance we can just do that instead?"
Ah... Oh, alright, sure I can stop that refund and have a partial credit applied instead. Are you sure?

4) Please, don't suggest I don't know how to do my job if I've given no indication I don't. If I provide you with a statement of fact in answer to your question, without hesitation or reservation in my voice, perhaps that's the answer.

Alright, there is a fifty dollar change fee to make that modification to your reservation. Would you like me to continue?
"Are you sure? Can you double-check that? No other airline does this!"
Yes, sir, I'm sure.
"I don't believe you!"
I do this dozens of times per day, sir. I can point you to a copy of the Terms and Conditions you agreed to when you placed your reservation, which clearly explained this policy.

-right, if you want to question it at all-
Alright, there is a fifty dollar change fee to make that modification to your reservation. Would you like me to continue?
"Oh, I read on the website that there was no change fee if changes were made more than 24 hours before departure."
That section refers to passengers who purchased our optional insurance. Unfortunately this reservation does not have that addition, so the unprotected terms apply.

5) We are not Company X or Service Provider Y. Odds are, the policies we have will not flex to meet theirs, otherwise we would just mirror their policies.

We charge $x per checked bag. Would you like to add baggage to your reservation?
"Airline X doesn't charge for checked baggage! I don't think I should be paying for that!"
Airline X recently joined us in charging for baggage, and charges more than we do. Additionally, we take the a la carte approach and allow you to pay for services you use, instead of everything being bundled under a monolithic fare. Would you like to add checked baggage?
"I've never had to pay this before with you!"

We charge $x per checked bag. Would you like to add baggage to your reservation?
"Oh, I didn't know you did that. Can you explain why?"
Surely. We take the a la carte approach...

6) Threatening legal action against the front-line employee will never, ever accomplish anything. It just annoys us, and quite possibly results in termination of the call.

Thank you for calling Us, this is Rendus, how can I help you?
"This piece of shit doesn't work! I have my lawyer on the line and we're going to sue you! What are you going to do?"
Sir, I'm afraid I cannot respond to threats of legal action. Please have your attorney contact our legal department. Would you care to troubleshoot this issue with me, so I can provide a solution to your problem?
"I'm going to sue! Sue! Sue!"
Then I have no choice but to terminate this call as I am unable to discuss legal issues with you. Thank you for calling.

Thank you for calling Us, this is Rendus, how can I help you?
"I would like to participate in civil discourse regarding my problem until all options have been exhausted."
Gladly. What can I do for you?

7) I don't mind smalltalk. Really, I don't. But it's not going to get you anything.

"Oh, you live in Las Vegas? How great! I have family that goes there regularly. Do you go to the Strip often?"
Ah. No, locals tend to avoid it other than when they have family in town.
"Oh, OK. Can you get me a discount or something?"
No, not really. We don't deal with that side of things much, being locals.
"Oh, come on, surely you know of coupon books or something you can give me."
No, I'm afraid that I don't go there, so I really don't know anything about that. Is there anything else I can help you with?

-almost right, but still annoying-
"Oh, you live in Las Vegas? Do you happen to know of any deals or anything."
No, not really. We don't deal with that side of things much, being locals.
"Oh, OK. Well, go ahead and make that change for me, then."

8) If you're asking a question. please, please, please listen to the answer.

"So what is your cancellation policy?"
X dollars per passenger per flight segment, and it will be a system credit that you can redeem through our exchange department. Travel must be completed by June 18th, 2009, which is one year from the date of original purchase.
"How much?"
X dollars per passenger, per flight segment.
"So X dollars?"
Well, no. That's per passenger, per flight segment. So if you're canceling round trip, that'x X times two.
"And the rest is a refund?"

"So what is your cancellation policy?"
X dollars per passenger per flight segment, and it will be a system credit that you can redeem through our exchange department. Travel must be completed by June 18th, 2009, which is one year from the date of original purchase.
"Oh, OK, thanks."

9) I'm required to give my opening. Cutting me off in the middle of it doesn't accomplish anything - If I want to satisfy my QA department, I must finish what I was saying. Besides, that's a bad way to start a call.

Thank you for calling This Airline Customer Care, th...
"Hi, I have a reservation."
*sigh*.. This is Rendus, how can I help you?
"I have an air flight reservation for two from..."

Pretty much anything but the above.

10) Repeatedly saying the word 'hello' is a bad way to handle things. I really, truly don't get this. It makes us repeat everything, because we have no idea what you may have heard. An actual example that made me take an early break, because I was so frustrated I wanted to hit something. The below is not hyperbole:

Thank you for calling This Airline Customer Ca...
Hi. Thank you for calling This Airline Customer Care, this is Ren...
Hello. Can you hear what I am saying?
Ok. I need to ask that you stop saying hello. Thank you for calling This Airline Customer Care...
... This is Rendus, how can I help you?
"Hello? I have a flight... Hello?"
I'm still here. Please, stop saying hello. How can I help you?
"Oh. I have a flight to Small City today from Big City. What time does it depart?"
Let me look that up for you. One moment please.
*maybe five seconds of typing in the commands and navigating a website to pull up the information passes*
I'm still here. I'm researching this for you.
"Oh. Ok. Hello?"
May I place you on hold while I look this up?
"Sure. Hello?"

*ahem* Ok. So, the above... Might be more rant than answer. But really, the biggest thing is basic etiquette. Behave like a civilized being speaking to another civilized being and everything's going to be OK.
posted by Rendus at 1:37 AM on June 21, 2008 [8 favorites]

Before you get in a cashier's line, check to see if their light is off. If it is, they are probably trying to take a bathroom break or it's the end of their shift and time for them to go home. The store I worked at required us to take customers if they got in our line, even though the light was off, which often led to the squirmy, have-to-pee dance after multiple customers kept getting in the closed line.

The exception to this is if a cashier with a light off waves you over. Sometimes if it was busy, the floor supervisor would hop on a register to help thin things out a little, but would leave the light off so it would be easy to stop checking and assist other cashiers.

If you get overcharged for an item, understand that it is not the 16-year-old cashier's fault. They don't set the prices. They didn't do it because they don't like you, or because they somehow profit from the extra 20 cents. 99% of the time, it's because that's the price on the machine. The other 1% of the time when they scan an item twice, it was an accident.

Unless I'm in a huge hurry, if I need a price check or see an overcharge, rather than holding up the line, I'll finish up my transaction and take my receipt to customer service (who are often more equipped to handle the issue anyway.)

My number one, biggest pet peeve? Don't, don't DON'T tell me to "Smile, it isn't that bad."

Because sometimes, YES, it IS that bad. Service jobs can be shitty. Maybe I just got chewed out by the customer before you, or maybe someone just tried to return an empty box of 15$ vitamins but didn't warn me before handing it to me that it was covered in poop. (<--really happened)
posted by saucy at 2:20 AM on June 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'm a photographer. Here are the comments followed by what I'm thinking:

"Hey, you DO have film in that camera, right?"

As a matter of fact. no. I haven't had film in a camera since 2001.

"Don't take my picture. You'll break your camera!"

No, I won't. Despite the fact that I'm shooting with a $5000 camera body, an $1800 lens, and a couple of grand worth of flash and support equipment, I don't spend all of this money to insure that ugly subject faces won't destroy it.

"Make me look thin!"

This isn't Hollywood and my client's budget doesn't permit the four hours of image retouching that would be necessary for me to meet your request. If you want to look thin in pictures, GET THIN.

"With that big camera you must be a good photographer!"

Wow. I see you're driving a Toyota Camry. You must be NASCAR driver Tony Stewart.

"You can just add [missing subject's face] to this photo later in Photoshop!"

Of course, although when you initially pressured me to keep the cost of this shoot down, you sure didn't indicate that you had an unlimited budget as well as unlimited time before you need th finished images.

"Surely there ought to be one good one out of all of those pictures you've taken of me?"

Your concept of a "good one" and mine are vastly different. Out of the 40 frames I've shot, there will be a couple with your eyes closed. There will be a few more where you were distracted. There will probably be around 35 that are technically good. There will be about a half a dozen I can live with, but there will be only one or two which meet my definition of "good ones". But those will be "really good ones" and will probably be the best pictures you've even seen of yourself.
posted by imjustsaying at 3:15 AM on June 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Don't make sarcastic jokes that we can't really respond to because we're too polite to assume you're being sarcastic. "Hey, you can give us a deal on that, can't ya?" "Well, no, I'm afraid it's store policy to--" "I'm just kiddin' with ya."

Don't toss your credit card on the counter when we ask for payment. We're not sure if you're being casual, or are cranky about something. Hand it or slide it over.

posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 4:02 AM on June 21, 2008

Don't assume you know the person's job better than they do. Don't assume they're a moron. Hang up your fucking phone.

And, please, if you get caught shoplifting, play along, pretend it was a mistake, pay for the item, and heed the friendly warning to please do your future shopping elsewhere.

As a former gun salesman, don't think about pointing that thing at anyone, especially me.

As a former clothing salesman, please, please, please wait until you're home to jack off. That's not what the dressing room is for.
posted by maxwelton at 4:19 AM on June 21, 2008

A lot of these just sound like people who are bad at (the customer interaction part of) their jobs. When I've been working in service industries, I've always seen it as my job to lead the customer through whatever service I'm providing, whether that's been retail or technical support or making an insurance claim. Some customer behaviour is just rude, but most of the things people seem to be flagging as annoyances aren't rude, but ignorant. And as someone working in customer service, the one thing it's not OK to expect is that people will be as familiar with your job as you are.

For example, if you're working in a bookstore and someone tells you that they're looking for a book, they're really asking you what information you need. Something like "I can help you with that. If you have the title and the name of the author I'll look it up on our database." would seem like a better response than getting annoyed. If you're working on a helpline and someone complains about refunding something then you obviously haven't established their expectations before doing it. (Oh, and if you have to finish a scripted greeting when the customer's interrupted you, then the problem's probably with your QA department and its policies.)

So, my own top annoyances are:

1. People who are resolutely unwilling to let me help them. It's one thing to be angry at a company and, when I'm a representative of that company, I'm fine with people expressing that anger at me. But people who phone up just to have a bit of a shout are just wasting my time when I'd much rather be solving their problem.

2. People with expectations that have little to no connection to reality. Years ago, when I worked in a video rental store we mixed up tapes occasionally. A refund and a couple of free rentals usually seemed sufficient. Once though, a woman called me up and wanted me to personally deliver the right tape to her house.

3. People threatening violence. Anger is fine. Telling me you're going to write to my manager to complain about me is fine (and I'll happily give you their details). Telling me you know where I work and you'll be waiting for me outside is not. Physically attacking me is right out.

So, as long as you let me help you, don't expect me to give you tons of free stuff because of a small mistake and don't tell me you're going to kill me, we're good.
posted by xchmp at 4:28 AM on June 21, 2008 [12 favorites]

Please don't try to carry on a conversation with me if you are carrying on a conversation with someone else on your cell phone. It makes it really difficult for me to tell when you are addressing me and when you addressing the voice on your Bluetooth headset. (This goes double if you're talking to your doctor, or breaking up with your boyfriend.)

Please speak in full sentences. Okay, this is pretty much only a problem with surly teenage boys, but they will say things to me like:

"Book on hold."
Do you want to put a book on hold? Do you want to get the book that's on hold for you? So, aside from the fact that it's just not courteous, it's hard to understand.

Oh, yeah. Don't whistle to me or wave me over if you need help. (This is in a library.) You can spare the ten seconds it will take to walk to the desk and ask for help. Ideally we would have some sort of intra-library system whereby people having trouble on their computers could instant-message the librarian, but we don't. I'm not your butler or your dog.
posted by Jeanne at 4:41 AM on June 21, 2008

Two things stick out at me from my years in customer service:

#1 by a long shot is common courtesy. That will excuse a lot of things. (Although, don't be patronizing or act as though treating a service person politely makes you a candidate for sainthood.)

#2 - I'm not really sure what I'd even categorize this as, but maybe awareness or context? Basically, think before you interact. For example, I worked at a coffee shop for much of undergrad. I can't tell you how many people would stroll in without so much as a glance at the menu and order a french vanilla cappuccino - like, the reconstituted stuff from a machine you get at the gas station - or something like a sandwich or pizza. (That's "order," mind you - not "ask if we serve.") Of course, a few seconds of looking around would have confirmed that we have none of those items. The aforementioned 'asking?' A different animal entirely and wholly consistent with being a thoughtful, self-aware person.
That's just one example, of course - you can extrapolate to other situations, some of which other posters have mentioned (for example, thinking for a half-second before making a sarcastic comment would allow you to conclude that it would be lost on a service worker who has to take your requests seriously; looking around for a second before you demand your food right that second will reveal to you that the restaurant is very busy; watching a cashier scan the bar code on an item without actually typing in the price would lead a person of ordinary intellect to deduce that it isn't their fault when the price comes up wrong, etc.)
posted by AV at 4:42 AM on June 21, 2008

Former waitress here. I never minded ringing separate checks. However, we had a lunch special called "the Maria's". COUNTLESS times I would start separate checks for 7 people at the table to order a Marias and a diet coke. You can't divide by 7? You are all going to hand me your debit cards anyway. Let me do the dividing - that's fine. 7 checks all at once sucks.

I also worked in a hardware store. I always found it odd that if you work in a grocery store, no one expects you to know how to bake a pie, but if you work in a hardware store, they expect you know how to fix their toilet. And get super irritated about the state of the world when you don't know how to fix their toilet. Hardware stores do not pay enough to have technicians working there.

5 years in a hardware store and 3 years in a restaurant taught me to be nice to wait staff/ bartenders/ customer service in general. I also tend to over-tip. I figure they can use the extra $5 more than me.
posted by beachhead2 at 4:45 AM on June 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Vancouver B.C.
Tourist shopping area.
American tourists;
"How much is this is REAL money?"
"How much is this in dollars?"
posted by Abbril at 5:06 AM on June 21, 2008

I also worked in a hardware store. I always found it odd that if you work in a grocery store, no one expects you to know how to bake a pie, but if you work in a hardware store, they expect you know how to fix their toilet. And get super irritated about the state of the world when you don't know how to fix their toilet. Hardware stores do not pay enough to have technicians working there.

This is not the customer's fault, it is the corporate marketing department's fault. Here in the US, Lowe's and True Value both advertise on TV that you can walk into the store, ask the first employee you see how to completely renovate a dilapidated split-level house and they will help you find all the supplies and even tell you how to do it.
posted by Ziggy Zaga at 6:25 AM on June 21, 2008

Working in tech support, I have an issue with people on both ends:

(1) You, the customer, don't need to apologize for the fact that you don't know shit about computers and that you're sorry to have to call me. You don't apologize to your mechanic for not being able to fix your car yourself, you don't apologize to your doctor for not being able to heal yourself, so there is no need to apologize to me. Nobody expects you to know how to fix computers, which is why I have a job.

(2) You, the tech support rep-- It really bugs me when I overhear other tech support people talk about how stupid their customer base is, or get too easily frustrated with them. "She didn't know how to do ___, can you believe it?!"

Aside from the fact that it's highly unprofessional, it's blatantly fucking obvious that these are the types of people that comprise your customer base. The mechanics aren't all snickering behind the garage door that the reason your car won't start is because the battery terminals are corroded...they just look at it as easy money. Your doctors don't hold boards of review where they laugh at the number of times you visited them because you couldn't figure out why it burns when you pee.

You're a specialist in technology; people respect you enough to seek out your wisdom, so treat them with respect as well. Their ignorance keeps you employed...if they wisened up, you'd have to find another line of work.
posted by Ziggy Zaga at 6:48 AM on June 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

I work in a hat store. We also sell Life Is Good products.

1) Don't try and make a deal. It's pretty obvious that we're a chain, and that I'm not the owner. I'm not empowered to give you anything for free, no matter HOW much you buy. And if I were, it would not be for buying two t-shirts. I regularly have people come in and buy ten times that, without expecting any kind of special favor.

2) PLEASE at least try to keep your children under control. Try and not let them throw T-shirts on the floor. I just have to fold them. Also, if your 8-year old son is wearing those roller-shoes AND is holding an over-filled ice cream cone, try and keep him away from our $300 hats.

3) I really don't mind people hanging out and trying things on who obviously have no intention of buying things. But if that's what you're doing, please don't make me get all our really expensive hats off the wall for you. Some of them are a huge pain to put back up there, and you can't afford them anyways.

4) Who goes shopping when they're completely plastered? Please don't.

5) It's pretty obvious that we're not a tourist shop. So no, we don't sell Navy shirts or cheap hats with the word "Annapolis" on them. I don't mind you asking, but please don't get pissed when we don't. There are 30 other stores around here that do.
posted by clcapps at 7:26 AM on June 21, 2008

I don't work in retail but thought this was a good place to throw this in. I always try and tell the manager whenever I have GOOD service. I'll speak with him/her if there is a problem but those poor people hear complaints all day long. If someone give me good service and a smile on their face, I'll go out of my way to let their supervisor know. I believe that it is important for people to get a pat on the back and it is usually very easy to give them one. Just my happy two little cents.
posted by pearlybob at 7:42 AM on June 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Closing time is closing time. You have zero right to act affronted if we're closing up and you haven't finished shopping yet.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 7:50 AM on June 21, 2008

I'm an elementary school teacher. Don't blame me for the bad behavior you have allowed your child to get away with in your home for years. Don't blame me for your child's lack of progress because you don't back me up by making your child read every night. Don't ask me to change a report card because your child is lazy or behind and you're in denial. Don't blame me if your child dies from eating peanuts because you never notified me that she's allergic.
posted by HotPatatta at 7:52 AM on June 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

I've worked in record stores and videos stores for many years. Biggest annoyances:

- people who bring 10 things to the counter and want to sample all of them. I am not your DJ. I'll maybe play two things for you, not 10. I have other work to do.

- when sampling music in the store, you don't have to listen to every track beginning to end. You've been handed a remote control for a reason. Use it. If you can't decide if you want an album in 2 to 3 minutes then guess what, you don't need it. Believe me, with 100% accuracy I can tell in 2 to 3 minutes if you'll buy it--it's sad that you can't as well.

- when sampling something, tell me when you've made your mind up yay or nay. There are few things more annoying than you asking me to play something while you browse and 45 minutes later you come to the counter and say "I don't like this at all". Don't subject me and my other customers to your poor choices.

- don't say, "But you work in a record store!" when I don't know the answer to every "Who sings this song?" question.

- when you have a "Who sings this song?" question, make it a real question with info that a reasonably informed person could answer. "I don't know any of the words or how it sounds but the guy plays a guitar and wears jeans" is not gonna get you a usable answer. (And yes, I get questions like that every week.)

- if you ask me for my opinion on a record and it's negative (or positive!) don't respond with "But will I like it?" I don't know. Really.

- don't come in every single day on your lunch hour and ask me what new and unfamiliar album I'm playing and then buy Led Zeppelin again. Holy fuck you're a baffling person. (Don't get me wrong, I LOVE introducing people to new music, but this behavior is utterly baffling and literally there are people who do this every single day!)

- If I do not ask you what you thought of such and such movie or album... really, I don't care. Please don't wax on about it.

- If you're standing at the counter and someone approaches me and asks what I think of an album, it does not mean they're asking you. And... if they don't ask me and just put something on the counter--do not give them your unsolicited opinion! Good Christ this is annoying -- can you not read the "why is this stranger talking to me" look on their face?

- All the used items I sell are guaranteed. That means I guarantee it works, not that I guarantee you'll like it.

- Don't ask Is it widescreen / is it dts / how long is this movie / etc / or anything else that you can answer yourself by simply turning over the box!

- Do not attempt to return used items for exchange or refund (unless defective). They're used. They're open. You cannot come back a week later and say you don't like it or already have it or whatever and expect your money back. In the days of digital copying, that is an unreasonable request. Do not be upset when I offer to buy the item from you in the same manner that I would were it purchased somewhere else.

- Do not brag to me that you have so many items at home that you cannot recall if you already have the one you're considering buying. Believe me, I do not think you're a kickass collector. I think you're a moron with more money than brains and that you should spend that money on a portable db so that you can recall what you already own. If you have so much shit that you don't recall what you own... time to examine that consumer lifestyle!

And... my biggest pet peeve ....

You are my customer. Behave like one. Though I'm friendly, I am not your friend. I will talk with you while I serve you. HOWEVER, when another customer approaches the counter to be served, SHUT UP. It is their turn to get 100% of my attention. I do not wish to give them 10 and you 90. Or vice versa. I do not wish to keep hearing your story or talking to you while I'm working with someone else. I pride myself on good customer service. It's this service that keeps my store open when all the other record stores are closing in this city. SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP. No story you have to share is more important to me than making sure the person across the counter knows that I want them there and that I will do my best to make sure they don't feel like they're at the bank or some other faceless institution. Please, shut up. You'll have my attention again when I'm done.
posted by dobbs at 7:55 AM on June 21, 2008

Another librarian here:

We are not a free daycare service. Do not drop off your children and leave, or tell them to walk here after school and stay until you pick them up. Library does not necessarily equal "completely safe place". Pedophiles use the library too. And with 20+ unsupervised kids (other than me), I'm not going to notice if your kid goes off with a stranger. Also, if your kid misbehaves, I will throw them out for the day, and you might want them to have another place to go to (like say, HOME).

If you do not know for sure, 100%, where the book/video/CD goes on the shelf, for goodness sake, leave it on the table and less us put it away in the right place. Do not randomly stick it in a gap somewhere near where you took it from.

And turn off the goddamn cell phone! Especially if I have already asked you to take it outside.
posted by timepiece at 8:02 AM on June 21, 2008

Hm. I get the impression from some of the comments that I should write about just how ridiculous the QA policies are for many call centers. So, I will. It's perhaps tangental to the desired topic, but it's still relevant.

1) Almost every callcenter requires an agent to use the caller's name twice in a call. That's why on short calls you'll hear absurd things like, "Yes Mister Smith, that's correct. Anything else I can do for you today Mister Smith?"

This one has been a requirement in literally every call center I've worked in (Dell, Cox, T-Mobile, 1-800-Cheapseats, another travel agency and my current employer. 30 second call? Gotta get the name in twice. My current employer is at least merciful enough to let it go if I never actually learn the name, usually.

2) I am required to ask if there's anything I can help you with. I cannot accept your statement that there's nothing else. So you'll get absurd things like "Thank you very much, that's all I needed!" You're welcome! Is there anything else I can do for you today?

Another one that's been required everywhere I've worked. Customer just got done screaming his way through canceling all his services? Gotta ask if there's anything else you can do for them. Just refused to release information because they can't verify a PIN? Gotta offer to do something further for them. I've been dinged on this for calls where there was nobody on the other end - QA departments are that irrational at times.

3) Contrary to popular belief, in some of the call centers I've worked in, I can terminate an abusive call. I have to justify why I did so, and I rarely actually do it, but I can. Especially if you're trying to hold me hostage to the call - Saying "You can't hang up on me, and I'm not going to go away until you give me what I want!" is a futile statement. It depends on where you work, though, on this one.

4) As I mentioned above, I'm required to spew out my opening no matter what. In particular, before I do anything else, I must brand the call, state my name, and ask how I can help. This has been consistent throughout my call center career. In a few call centers I also had to recap what we discussed, restate my name and brand the call. Absolutely must, even if I've heard the click of the handset and my phone shows no caller. This was worst at Cox, where I actually had the following conversation QA'd:

"Thank you for calling Cox Communications, your friend in the digitial age. This is Rendus in Technical Spport, how can I help you?"
Oh, can you transfer me to video?
"Sure, I can transfer you to video. Again, I'm going to transfer you to our video department. Is there anything else I can help you with?"
... No.
"Ok, well, this is Rendus in Technical Support. Thank you for calling Cox Communications, your friend in the digital age. In this call, I transfered you to video. Please hold."

The worst part about it? I got dinged for not pulling up the account, verifying I had permission to access the account (a requirement since Cox provides telephone service), verifying the caller's name, using the name twice, and failing to ask permission to place the caller on hold to transfer. I failed the above QA, and only got 'satisfactory' on the portion where I had to acknowledge the caller's request and then restate their request.

The list could go on - The QA system in call centers is very, very flawed. Letting us parrot the words we're required to say with a minimum of fuss is always appreciated.
posted by Rendus at 8:22 AM on June 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

You can hand me your trash and I'll throw it out; please don't leave your soda cup on top of an expensive art book where it will collect condensation that will run all over the book, ruining it.

When you dig in your pockets and hand over sweaty, tightly crumpled bills it's just gross.

If you'll be civil, I'll be cheerful.
posted by theora55 at 8:29 AM on June 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

beachhead2 said: "I always found it odd that if you work in a grocery store, no one expects you to know how to bake a pie, but if you work in a hardware store, they expect you know how to fix their toilet. And get super irritated about the state of the world when you don't know how to fix their toilet."

You took the words right out of my mouth. I once had an old woman ask me how do a loft conversion. She blatantly had no clue about which end of the hammer to hold.

My own personal niggles:

- Saying "it must be free" when an item doesn't scan. This might have been funny the first couple of times I heard it, but I've been working this job for 8 years now. You do the math. Also expecting me to laugh at your really-not-funny jokes.

- Do not tell me that you pay my wages. If you stop shopping in the store, I will not be made redundant.

- If you want to moan at someone, try moaning at someone who cares. I'll give you a hint. THAT ISN'T ME!!! My manager is paid about 3x as much as I am to deal with your ranting. If you do start having a go at me, I will have a go right back. Don't like that? Talk to someone who is paid to deal with your moaning. You're also much more likely to get a successful resolution to your issue if you talk to someone who can fix the problem.

- Don't moan that the queue is long, and then spend 10 minutes haranguing me about it. Customers form the queue, not staff. Very often the herd instinct will kick in, and everyone will want to be served simultaneously.

- Don't ask for "the new book by that chap off the TV". No, I don't know the one you mean. I don't care if he does play football/host a gardening show/wear a pink frilly tutu. I need to know the name of either the author, the celebrity, or the book. If you're that interested in reading it, get the name of it.

- Acknowledge my existence. I'm not asking for declarations of undying love. Just eye contact, or, if you're feeling really cuddly, a greeting. Ignoring me while I'm serving you (or committing the cardinal sin of talking on your mobile phone while I'm serving you, which is instant fail) shows you're level of ignorance. If you can't be nice to me, then I'm not going to be nice to you.

Always remember that I'm a human being, just like you. I have bad days, just like you do. And if I'm having a bad day, and don't offer to give you head when you walk up to the till, just smile and go on your way. Or you could tell me that you're going to get me fired, because I could probably do with a good laugh.
posted by Solomon at 8:32 AM on June 21, 2008

xchmp: I think the poster was asking for situations where customers might be annoying to service providers out of ignorance rather than intentional rudeness. People who want to be rude will be rude no matter what, and no amount of complaining is going to fix that. But when it's ignorance, there's a chance to actually fix it. Personally, I find those comments here more helpful than those that are complaining about obviously terrible behavior that I would never personally engage in. For example, it's a tiny thing, but it never occurred to me that putting the change on top of the bills would make it harder to handle. I won't do that anymore.

To answer the question directly:
I worked for a year in a mail room for a major credit card company. We had to handle getting customer correspondence scanned into a computer so that someone could actually deal with the issue. If you're going to send a letter to your credit card company, here is some advice:

1) Don't send your correspondence in the same envelope as your bill payment. It can jam up the machines. Even if it gets properly sorted aside by the machine, it still has to go through several steps before anyone who can help you will see it, and it's very easy for critical information like your account number to disappear in the process.

2) Even more importantly, don't write correspondence on your payment stub. That can get lost even more easily.

3) Don't mail cash! Whoever opens that envelope has to stop what they're doing and wait for a supervisor to come over so that the two of them can log everything under the watchful eyes of each other and the cameras. This is true even if you just stick a single penny in the envelope.

4) This is more for your sake than ours. Don't bother putting all the junk ads that come with your bill back in the envelope because you read online that it will cost us extra money to deal with it. The people in the mailroom that handle extra crap in the envelopes are unbelievably fast at noting that you haven't filled out the form and dropping that crap into the shred bin. It's really something you have to see to believe. For some of them, the bottleneck is the machine, which can't get open the envelopes fast enough. (They're not so great at remembering to write account numbers on the correspondence they find.) Similarly, don't write correspondence on those junk mail forms. At those high speeds, there's a small chance that the person handling them will think that you were trying to fill out the form and helpfully add the information you left out. In that case, the form will end up being mailed to the company that was trying to sell you something (not the bank, believe it or not; they just sell the space), and if you signed your note (or they aren't being dilligent), you might just get signed up for the crap you were complaining about. Nasty notes on ordinary junk mail marked "Return to Sender" don't even get read most of the time. We buzzed through returned junk mail at around 2,000-3,000 envelopes per minute, mostly making sure that the post office didn't slip any ordinary envelopes into that bunch. We are under no obligation to do anything with correspondence written on the outside of returned mail.

5) Don't submit your correspondence on colored, textured, or oddly shaped paper. Same goes for colored ink. It just makes extra work for the people who have to scan it into a machine. Those little blue, red, and green post-it notes are the worst. The scanners we had were not full color, so we'd have to spend a couple minutes with the photocopier and the contrast settings trying to get something readable. Yes, I know this is fixable with better technology, but that's not always there. It wasn't until 2005 that we stopped printing out faxes and scanning them back in.

6) Write your account number on everything. It's easy for stuff to get lost, and it's a pain to figure out where it goes.

7) If you're trying to be annoying because the bank did something nasty to you, know that the people on the front line who have absolutely zero say over your account will absorb that and even the customer service reps will probably never see any of that. They won't even know that you sent in a box full of pennies to pay the fee you were disputing. (Even though that took three people off the floors for a good long while, we still thought it was funny.)

8) There is no get-of-debt-free card. There is nothing you can write or stamp on our bills to make them go away, no matter what anyone tells you. Think about the size of the bank's legal department and how long they've been doing this. Trust me, whatever you've been told to do, the bank has seen it before, and it doesn't work. There are things you can do (consolidation, bankruptcy, etc.), but they all involve working with the bank, and not against it.

9) Make it clear very early in your letter what kind of problem you have. That will make it easier for the grunts on the front line to know which department to send your correspondence to.

10) Do not include official legal documents (death and marriage certificates, driver's licenses, deeds). There's no guarantee you'll get them back. You don't have to include those expensive official copies (which you will definitely not get back), and they can jam up the machines anyway. Photocopies are great.

11) Don't get food on your note. An unidentifiable substance can bring the entire floor to a screeching halt until Hazmat says it's clean. The grunts who don't have much stake in the ultimate productivity of the department don't mind so much because it's free time off (if we get behind, it might even mean overtime options), but doing it on purpose is a good way to get a visit from the FBI.
posted by ErWenn at 8:32 AM on June 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've worked in a service position for over three years, and I've dealt with all sorts of people, from those who know what they're doing to those who are just starting out and need to be guided along the way. I have to say, of all the little annoying things that can possibly happen, the worst is dealing with people who feel like they're entitled to anything they want just because they're a client. Instead of viewing their relationship with my company as a mutually beneficial one (i.e. they are paying us to provide them with a service they need), they see it as an opportunity to walk all over us.

While I work in a recording studio, this is a guideline that can be applied to all jobs that involve customer service. I don't mind clients who aren't sure how to go about getting certain things to happen, but I can't stand those who are rude to people who are just doing their jobs. They also throw a fit as soon as one thing goes wrong. Things malfunction; it happens, and we fix it when it does.

Basically, treat people with respect and if they're decent they'll respect you.
posted by wondermouse at 8:35 AM on June 21, 2008

I work at a customer service call center. Just like Rendus, I have to deliver my greeting:
Company, this is dreaming in stereo. How can I help you?
Please do not reply with:
"Well... I don't know if this is the right place..."
I can tell you if it is if you tell me who you are trying to reach.
"Is this Cable Company?"
No, I just said my company name in the greeting. Note how it wasn't Cable Company. And no, I don't know the number to reach them.
posted by dreaming in stereo at 9:03 AM on June 21, 2008

timepiece, I've wondered this for a while now. What's the big deal about a cell phone in the library if you're using it quietly? I know that's hard to do, but it can happen.

I've seen librarians stomp past people practically screaming to go tell someone who was whispering on their cell phone that if they didn't quiet down they'd have to leave.
posted by theichibun at 9:19 AM on June 21, 2008

I've worked at a variety of retail establishments, so I will offer up my largest pet peeve about those who work in them.

Pause on your conversation with to the other employees and look at the customer when you're helping them and ringing them up. AGGGH!!
posted by desuetude at 9:51 AM on June 21, 2008

Oh, one more, because this JUST happened.
Try not to create awkward payment interactions, like just handing me your merchandise and your credit card. I need to ring you up, and then tell you how much you owe me. And then you need to indicate in some way that the price is okay. This is so you don't come back saying that you didn't realize how much your item cost. Give me your item, let me ring it up and tell me the price, and THEN give me your card. Or at the very least, say something like "okay" if you've already handed me your card.
posted by clcapps at 10:08 AM on June 21, 2008

"How much?"
X dollars per passenger, per flight segment.
"So X dollars?"
Well, no. That's per passenger, per flight segment. So if you're canceling round trip, that'x X times two.

Rendus, I'm totally with you on the majority of your post...but this one got me. Sometimes people just don't understand the terminology. My mom, who doesn't fly very often but is otherwise pretty savvy, would probably not understand "per flight segment." I don't think that having to ask for clarification makes for a bad customer. Now, not listening to said clarification, that's irritating.
posted by cabingirl at 10:19 AM on June 21, 2008

i worked in a gas station for too long.

the single biggest bitch was always about the price of gas, and the ones who threw the biggest tantrums were always the ones with the expensive cars, burning the top grade of gas.

my most effective reply in those situations:

"well, status symbols are expensive."

i sucked at customer service, but my personal policy of you-get-what-you-give served me well during the crappiest part of my life.
posted by klanawa at 10:20 AM on June 21, 2008

ErWenn: I think the poster was asking for situations where customers might be annoying to service providers out of ignorance rather than intentional rudeness.

To me good customer service, especially with regard to call-centres, involves the ability to deal with and use these instances of ignorance. If you properly structre and control a conversation, most of them just disappear. Complaining about them seems like a waiter complaining about people wanting their meals all brought to the table at the same time. Sure, it'd be easier just to bring them out whenever they were cooked, but it's not reasonable to expect customers - even customers who are actively trying to make your life easier - to put up with this.

I guess I just find it mildly weird that people think it's OK to complain about having to work at a call rather than just relay information off a computer screen to the polite and dull. Then again, customer service is often undervalued and lots of companies would prefer to pay people to relay information as quickly as possible than spend any time shaping the customer's experience. And it's a lot easier to set QA rules like "customer's name must be mentioned twice" than to evaluate people's ability to establish rapport. I still don't think customers should have to accept this kind of thing, though.
posted by xchmp at 10:37 AM on June 21, 2008

I've been a call center tech support agent.

* If your support plan isn't 24/7 and you are thinking about calling on Monday, think about whether it can wait. Mondays were usually just terrible in the call center where I worked; it's Monday for the agents, and Mondays typically kind of stink, but they're also dealing with a bunch of people who walked into work on Monday and discovered the computer was broken, or worse, spent all weekend trying to fix things. I found that Thursdays after about 2pm PST were the slowest in terms of call volume.

* Remember your manners; the person on the other end of the line is a human being, using tools that are old, slow, and unreliable most likely. Now that I've worked in a call center, I never, ever give anyone shit about accidentally hanging up on me. I've seen what those CRM/softphone systems are like and I can say almost invariably, it ain't pretty. And, yes, patience is a virtue.

* Some of the best times I had in the call center was when the customer had to do something that took a while and they'd make idle chit-chat about their lives and ask me about myself. Most call center jobs are pretty boring and repetitive, and people tend to think of you as a voice on the line, so it's nice to learn more about people and what they do and be able to share a little of yourself beyond the tech side. My cube neighbor had this "phone girlfriend" who would call him once a week and he ended up knowing WAY more than was appropriate about her because she was constantly having to reboot and they'd just converse while they waited, but it was such a great story that I think most of us envied him.

* The people in outsourced support, contrary to popular belief, do not get scripts to read. Perhaps the biggest, most intense companies can afford that, but where I worked people would constantly say "Man, I'm so glad I got you and not someone in India, they're always just reading off a script." Let me tell you, I would have killed for that script if it existed.

* On a similar topic, most tech support calls are resolved by articles and help files that are readily available to the public on company websites. You are welcome to try to solve it yourself before you make a call. If it sounds like somebody's reading off something, it's probably because they're looking at their company's knowledge base. You, too, could be looking at that knowledge base.
posted by crinklebat at 10:54 AM on June 21, 2008

I've worked in retail for many years (mostly motorcycle dealerships) and it frustrates me no end when someone approaches me and says, "Don't you remember me? Do you remember my name?" Guy, I talk to hundreds of people every week. Maybe I remember you, maybe I don't, but it's REALLY rude to approach someone and put them in the hot seat.
posted by workerant at 11:18 AM on June 21, 2008

Don't just throw your cash/credit card on the counter without so much as saying 'hello'. You are definitely not The Fonz. You are however in your fifties, bald and wearing an argyle sweater.
posted by iamcrispy at 1:13 PM on June 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

theichibun, as you acknowledge, most people cannot seem to talk quietly on their cell phones. And to be fair, the rules must apply to everyone. If I let someone talk quietly without saying something, you can bet that within 10 minutes, one of their neighbors at the computer will be shouting into their own cell phone and annoying everyone trying to concentrate within range.

Honestly, the worst part is actually the ringing of the phones, but once it's started, there's nothing to be done for that round. I am kind of annoyed when the same person's phone goes off multiple times - you'd think they could put it on vibrate after the first one.

Not to mention that there's a "No Cell Phones" sign on the front door, the inner door, and the wall by the computers, so it's not like anyone can claim they didn't know.

Someday, I'm going to spend my own personal money on a jammer.
posted by timepiece at 1:40 PM on June 21, 2008

xchmp: This isn't so much complaining as answering the question "How can I make your job easier?" It's the difference between telling a random dinner guest to clear the table and telling the same thing to one who asked if they could help. At my old bank job, I never complained about people who used green pen to write letters (red pen on dark red paper is another issue entirely). They had no way of knowing that this would send me on an extra trip to the photocopier. I wouldn't even advocate printing a note with cardholders' bills with guidelines that tell them what sorts of paper and ink are best for correspondence. That just wouldn't be worth the effort. But I'll gladly tell Precision and anyone who wants advice for how to be nice to the people who now have my job that using black or dark blue pen on normal 8.5"x11" printer paper will make their lives easier.
posted by ErWenn at 2:25 PM on June 21, 2008

As a firefighter: if your house catches on fire, let the 911 dispatcher know when/if everyone is out of the house. If you're not the one who calls 911, make contact with the first arriving firefighters and tell them, too. Sometimes people will take extraordinary risks to search a house we know cannot be saved, in the mistaken belief that people might be inside.

Also, if you have some significant medical problems that might necessitate calling an ambulance sometime (or you're caring for someone who is), print out a little sheet with their basic personal information, a list of their medical problems, and a list of their medications. I am flooded with gratitude when someone hands me one of those for a patient, saving me 5 minutes of transcribing names off prescription bottles.
posted by itstheclamsname at 2:26 PM on June 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Don't ever, ever assume that the person serving you (in any capacity) is there because they're less intelligent/educated/hard-working/etc. than you.

Especially if you're expressing this attitude while asking a very, very stupid question.
posted by availablelight at 2:55 PM on June 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

ErWenn: I see what you're saying. Kind of. Consider it like this, though. At your old job, scanning in green-inked correspondence was a hassle. At my old job, dealing with these 'annoyances' made the job more interesting. Doing this well was what made me good at my job.

If you're reading information off a screen then anything the customer does to slow you down and get in your way must be annoying. If you're providing good customer service then everything the customer does is an opportunity to improve their experience of interacting with the company or organisation you work for. My job was never made any easier by people taking care not to inconvenience me.
posted by xchmp at 4:22 PM on June 21, 2008

I work in government and have a fair bit of customer contact - mostly over the phone, but occasionaly in person. It's not a main part of my job, but I'm very mindful of the service I'm giving when I give it. More often than not I think the people who deal with me come away pleasantly suprised. Once in a great while, not so much, but I'm convinced nothing could make that sort happy anyway. So here's how to have a good experience if you're dealing with the gubmint:

1) Don't casually drop the name of the neighborhood or part of town you live in, as if the more your house is worth, the more I have to do for you. I give the same service whether you're Wal-mart worker sharing a trailer in the boonies, or the rich retiree living in a $20m mansion on the beach. Truth be told, I'm probably more inclined to give better service if I think you aren't expecting it based upon your net worth, if you happen to catch me in a mood (rare).

2) Don't assume all government employees are idiots. I know I'm not one, anyway, and I know a fair few who are smarter than the average bear. I deliberately try not to resort to pat answers to the more common questions just to convey that I'm thinking about that customer's particular inquiry, and not just running down a list of canned replies even if I've heard the same question ten times that week. I try to have a dialog and hear a person out. I find that this really disarms people, and they come away with a positive experience when they were expecting a negative one.

3) Don't get mad if there's a procedure to follow to get what you want. I agree, sometimes government procedures make no fucking sense, a sentiment I am often happy to share with the very frustrated customer. Sometimes procedures are there for a reason, and that reason is called "the law," something neither you nor I can single-handedly change in the space of one day. I can't make the red tape go away but I can make it easier, if you'll work with me instead of against the system. Also, don't immediately take your request "all the way to the top", thinking that'll make things go faster. Wrong. It'll just put you back at square one, only this time with people who are annoyed that you couldn't trust them to get it done right in the first place.

4) Don't be upset if you happen to be wrong. If we are talking about a topic under my purview, and you come to the conversation with a preconcieved notion that is actually completely incorrect, I will gently and courteously - with absolutely no disdain or sarcasm, I promise! - explain how you're off the rails on that one. I'm not disagreeing to be mean or lazy or "not do my job", I'm disagreeing with your fundamental premise because somewhere in there is a major misunderstanding, and I'm attempting to get an agreement on what the correct premise is. See, I do this all day, five days a week. I'm happy to explain to you how it goes. No need to get snippy if it isn't an area of your expertise.
posted by brain cloud at 7:40 PM on June 21, 2008

Be nice.

Smile (even if you're on the phone - it makes a difference).

Be very clear about what you want. I think it's fair to assume that most customer service staff are not telepathic.

If you can't be nice (i.e. if you're incredibly frustrated because something has gone wrong), then at least acknowledge that it's not the fault of the person you're dealing with (and generally, it's not) and ask them how you can get your problem resolved.

If you've failed to be nice, at least have the courtesy to say before you end the conversation "I'm sorry, I've had a bad day / am unhappy about your company's processes, but I know that's not your fault, and I shouldn't have taken it out on you".

In short, be nice. Not only will it not stop you ruining someone's day, but you're more likely to have a better experience as a customer.
posted by finding.perdita at 8:19 PM on June 21, 2008

If you work (or have in recent memory) in a service position, what are the pet peeves/annoyances you remember most that people in general can fix? No matter if you're a dentist, waiter, teacher, or used car salesman, let us know (:

I teach, and my number one pet peeve is the idea that my job is a service position.

The people in my college classroom are students, not customers. I do my level best to help them learn the material, in any way possible, but the responsibility for doing the work and making sure that they actually understand the material ultimately rests with them. I can't put the material into someone else's brain and make those connections myself. Each student has to do it his or herself--and then prove to me that they've mastered the material, on homework assignments and exams.

Paying tuition for a class does not guarantee a good grade, or even a passing grade.
posted by Sublimity at 10:08 PM on June 21, 2008

I've started to think that instant service stuff like McDonald's has spoiled people into thinking that the turnaround time for most services should be almost as fast as getting a burger. Some things take time!

While we'll try to accommodate you, if someone else came in before you, we may have to actually do their order before we can get to yours, regardless of how small your order is. Theirs shouldn't end up late because you felt your order should take precedence over theirs.

You know when your kid waits until the last minute to tell you they need to get something for class? Chances are pretty good you'll sigh, roll your eyes, and shoot back, "Why did have you wait until the last minute?!" Well, when you walk into a store and expect us to accommodate something for you five minutes before we close, you can be sure we're doing the exact same routine in our heads. We'll do what we can to help you out, but don't flip out like it's our fault if we can't.

Not that I've ever worked in a fast food place, but there are worse things that can happen to you compared to getting fries instead of onion rings... (Then again, anyone not self-aware enough to realize that probably wouldn't have the capacity to avoid that kind of behavior anyway)...

Looking at some of the other responses here, though, I don't really see a problem with hearing stuff like "This might be a stupid question, but..." It's actually nice to see a customer show some genuine humility. And I think the reason some people will say stuff like "I'm looking for a book" is because they don't want to give all the details of what they need, only to be told something like,"You'll have to go to the customer service desk" or the pithy "That's not my department." Makes you end up feeling kinda dumb. And that would apply to a lot of different businesses.

And the old "If it won't scan it must be free" gag... Yeah, I've heard that one a few times too. Wish I knew a good comeback for that one... Other than perhaps "Nah, the scanner just doesn't like you. Haha."
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 2:13 AM on June 22, 2008

Please don't tell me to smile, and don't hit on me/ ask me out in front of my boss.
Someone else said it before - I don't own the store, I can't give you discounts or things for free.
Not as often, if you the customer have your own business, ask if you can display your card by my cash register/ on the wall. I'm going to say no, but it saves me from throwing all your stuff out as soon as you leave.
Most important to me, we aren't friends and I'm not a stripper. Don't touch me.
posted by sgrass at 2:15 AM on June 22, 2008

great question and answers!

As an office manager for a B2B firm: when I answer my line, don't say "It's Mike/John/Chris" and wait for me to respond. I'm glad I've made you feel like you're the only Mike/John/Chris who's ever worked with my company. But giving me your full name, or letting me know your company's name, is really helpful. I hate having to ask, "Mike who?" or "Is this Mike from The Widget Store?", hoping I read the caller ID correctly. And yes, it's always men who do this IME.

Also, please don't call me to ask a question, then abruptly put me on hold while you deal with whatever's happening in your store. I know that small business owners are often juggling a million things... just tell me you'll call back later.

Lastly, don't make me guess at your question. If something's not working the way you expect, let me know.

To recap, this is what grinds my gears...

This is Firm, Pants speaking.
- It's Mike.
I'm sorry, who is this?
- Mike. Mike from The Widget Store.
Hi Mike. What can I do for you?
- Well, I have a question about something that happened last week.
OK, what was the situation?
- Well, we have this Widget Software from you guys.
Yes, are you having any issues?
- Well, Firm is responsible for task X, right?
Yes, task X is included with the Widget Software package.
- And task X usually gets done every day, right?
Firm's staff performs task X for you every business day. Was there a problem with task X recently?
- No, well, I guess I just... (talks to someone else in the background)... Pants, can you hold just one minute ok thanks

Much better:

This is Firm, Pants speaking.
- Pants, hello. This is Mike from The Widget Store.
Mike, hello. How's the new Widget Software working out?
- Good, thanks. How often does your staff do task X? I'm not sure if the updates happen on weekends.
Firm's staff do task X every business day. So, an update over the weekend would show by the end of business on Monday.
- (talks to someone in the background) Pants, thanks! I have to go now, I had another question but I'll call you later.
Sounds good, I'll be here.
posted by pants at 5:09 PM on June 22, 2008

I've got one more - as a firefighter:

Pull over when you see us. Make it really clear - don't just drop into the right hand lane and slow down, PULL OVER. Pull over if you're going in the opposite direction. Pull over if you're on the road that intersects our road. Pull over immediately, don't try to shoot through the intersection ahead of us. The slower we have to drive on the way to the call making sure you're not about to shoot out in front of us, the longer the patient waits/bigger the fire gets.

After we pass you? Don't chase us. It's a great way to get through traffic, I know, but for all of our safety, give us a wide berth.
posted by arnicae at 9:45 PM on June 22, 2008

OK, this is really a day late and all, but I'm a little miffed by xchimp's response. We obviously see the role of customer service very differently, but to state "A lot of these just sound like people who are bad at (the customer interaction part of) their jobs"? I take umbrage at that.
posted by Vavuzi at 11:08 PM on July 16, 2008

The only thing I have to add is know what you want before you go and order something in a fast food place. If you stand in front of the register I have to stand there until you're ready to order, whereas if you stand back out of the ordering area I don't have to be right there at the register -- I can do a small cleaning job, or get a drink, for example. Same thing goes for the drive-thru. Stop before the speaker to ask your kids if they want a hamburger or chicken nuggets, don't do it when you're sitting at the speaker. And if you need to look through every single thing on the menu, go inside. Drive-thrus are timed, and the employees sometimes get yelled at if they take too long.
posted by lilac girl at 7:59 PM on July 20, 2008

As a former waitress, and following what lilac girl said, when your server says "Are you ready to order?" It's much better to say "No, could you come back in a few minutes?" than to hem and haw over the menu for five minutes while they're forced to stand there letting their other customers' food get cold. From the server's point of view, it's much less of a hassle to come back than to wait while you decide.

I would also recommend to customers to never ever take food or drinks off of your server's tray yourself. Our trays are often balanced very carefully when we load them up, and when you grab something off of one (even if it's on a tray stand), you run the risk of covering yourself, your server, and/or the carpet with your meal.

If you need separate checks, ask at the beginning of the meal. If you need separate checks for a large party, call ahead or ask when you make the reservation to make sure the restaurant can accommodate you. Separate checks for a table of 10 is somewhat like adding 9 extra tables to the restaurant, on a busy day we might not have the time to handle it. (Especially true for any restaurant where your bill is written by hand.)

Close your menu when you're ready to order. If your bill was presented in a folder, after you put your money in, leave some visual cue that you've paid (move the folder, let the money stick out the edge).
posted by gennessee at 5:35 PM on July 27, 2008

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