We’re ALL Self-Employed!

Have you ever wondered why good customer service is hard to find? I have! Everytime I go into a store, the first thing I notice is how crappy customer service has become. I would say that nine times out of ten, my customer service experience is subpar.

Why? Why are so many employees just showing up to put in their hours so that they can collect their checks? Why aren’t more employees excited about their jobs? I can’t figure it out. Is it a symptom of our society or is it something else?

The other day my kids and I visited our local Dillard’s so that I could pick up some shirts for our trip. While walking around in the store, I noticed two Dillard’s employees standing in the main aisle talking. We walked by and neither of the women greeted us or even smiled at us. The only communication we had with the women was when one of them told my son to get his foot off a rolling cart. True, my son had no business putting his foot on the cart and had I noticed, I would have told him so. But, that’s not the point. The point was that neither of these employees bothered to say hello to the person who’s partly responsible for their income!

It would be one thing if this were an isolated incident but, it’s not. EVERYWHERE I go, employees act like they hate their jobs as evidenced by:

1. how slowly they walk around (of course some of them probably can’t walk faster due their incredibly baggy pants!)

2. how little they talk to customers or even look them in the eye

3. how MUCH they talk to their fellow employees while ignoring the customer

4. how little they smile

I think this is all due to the fact that so many people have so little self-esteem. They don’t value themselves and their potential so they think they are stuck in the rut of minimum wage retail forever.

I think an attitude adjustment is in order.

In his awesome book, Change Your Thinking Change Your Life*, Brian Tracy makes the statement that we should all consider ourselves the president of our own personal services corporation. I think this is an awesome idea! Why? Because it means taking ownership in our jobs. Employees who consider themselves owners are going to act differently than employees who simply consider themselves helpless employees.

Whether they want to believe it or not, an employee’s fate lies in their own hands. It’s true! Once they figure this out, they should feel liberated! Why? Because they can begin to take the necessary steps to improve themselves. They can begin to set goals and plan for the future. They can read books on motivation, success, and anything else they want to learn about. Then, they can choose to either work their way up the ladder with their current employer or make the decision to go elsewhere.

It’s been a long time since I was employed in the retail environment but I would think that if I were a manager in a retail store, I would do all I could to help my employees get ahead. I would have training session after training session on customer service and decision-making. I would make them read lots of books like Think & Grow Rich*, Goals!*, Flight Plan*, and Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty*. I would make sure that my employees knew that they were all presidents of their very own corporations.

Heck, maybe I should go back into retail!

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21 thoughts on “We’re ALL Self-Employed!”

  1. Oh and when they do greet you, it’s never the traditional “Hello Sir” or “How can I help you?” It is “Hey man”, or “Dude, you want fries with that?”

    (I really had someone at Qdoba call me dude. It shocked me and I forgot what I was going to order.)

  2. I think the problem is that many people have those low-paying jobs because they cannot see 2 inches outside of themselves. They feel they deserve better that what they have and sabotage whatever jobs they do have out of anger. To be fair though, customer service does have to put up with a lot of customers who also demonstrate facial paralysis and are stuck in a permanent frown accompanied with a high dose of self-righteousness. So maybe the problem is with society overall and just customer service folks.

  3. That is the way an entrepreneur would think, but these are businesses. The technique of building a business is to standardize; make all positions interchangeable and serviceable to the lowest common denominator to pay the minimum, emphasizing only what the originator deemed important. All creative endeavor, enthusiasm, and reward is reserved to the originator. The business is only the modern configuration of the assembly line. What is desired is to replicate itself as perfectly as possible without intensive management or preferably, any management at all.

  4. It’s all about the economics of incentives. I’ve been in customer service both in a commissioned job and an hourly job.

    When I worked for a retailer that paid commissions the customers were generally better taken care of than the places that paid hourly. There’s more incentive to greet and assist every customer instead of just being there and collecting a check.

    Although, what’s worse? Employees that don’t care or pushy salespeople?

  5. Being within a decade of my last retail service job I have distinct memories of what it was like working at a low-end mass merchandiser.

    As one of my first jobs, I was excited and thankful to have gotten it. I liked selling, but the managers treated most of the staff horribly. I got treated ok. Since I was perky I didn’t get the gross jobs too often (dislodging dust bunnies the size of real ones or scrubbing toilets), but it was abundantly clear that since I was a teenager they didn’t expect me to stay around too long. I even got a remark from my manager when I stayed passed the time period typical for employee turn-over.

    I have to wonder if it is not just a employee problem as you suggest, yes they are probably partly to blame. However, if much is not expected from oneself- why give it for minimum wage? It takes a lot of spunk to keep going back day after day for so little pay or more importantly recognition.

  6. So Cal Savvy,

    I think the problem lies in the fact that employers don’t give their employees the tools and training they need to thrive.

    That said, I do think that employees HAVE TO TAKE THE INITIATIVE and put forth the effort to do the best job they can do no matter what the pay. You have to start somewhere. If an employee isn’t willing to work hard at minimum wage how the heck are they going to be trusted at a higher wage?

  7. I understand how it seems that there is no such thing as custopmer service these days, but sometimes just a smile will turn this attitude around. I’ve seen my wife work this many times, and she gets better service!

  8. It all boils down to hiring friendly people. I read about a study somewhere that a company only hired people who naturally smiled. They didn’t hire the brains, the lookers, or the brawney types, only the smilers. They figured that everything can be taught, but friendliness is not an easy trait to teach to someone who either has a chip on his shoulder or thinks the world isn’t fair to HIM.

    The study reported that the company was doing quite well in customer surveys and in profits!

  9. Good customer service wears you down. I don’t work in formal customer service, but at the library I spend some of my work time on the front desk. I love the library and most things about it. But some days it really really gets to you. Trying to help people is a lot harder, at least if they’re rude, demanding, etc.

    But overall, I find being happy and helpful pays off with lots of happy patrons and friendly coworkers. And chances for job advancement.

  10. Mrs. Micah,

    You are correct: it is difficult to be nice to rude people. However, I think you’ll find that rude customers are usually the exception to the rule and that most customers respond well to good customer service.

  11. When I’m shopping, I’d rather not be pestered or followed around in stores by plastic employees putting fronts of “good customer service”. To me, good customer service is making I can make my purchases with as little human intervention and invasion of privacy as possible.

  12. Minimum wage exists because rock-bottom labor costs are an objective. I earned minimum wage about four years ago. Now I earn about ten times that sum. I’m quite a bit more enthusiastic now. You kind of have it backwards. Try earning “the wage” and see how chipper you are. Just try it. Your blog kind of cracks me up.

  13. John (#12) said:

    “Minimum wage exists because rock-bottom labor costs are an objective.”

    You got it wrong. Minimum wage guarantees a minimum wage for employees.

    Actually, YOU have it backwards. Everyone has to start somewhere. There’s nothing wrong with earning minimum wage as long as you work to rise above it. I simply refuse to believe that a minimum wage employee who takes the initiative can’t earn more than minimum wage in a short amount of time. Take a look around, it’s not hard to stand head and shoulders above the rest.

  14. JLP, love the site. This is my first time commenting; I was drawn to the article because I directly manage a team of 20 call-center customer service reps for a Fortune 100 company. Also, I worked my way from the minimum wage frontline girl up to my current position, so I have plenty of thoughts.

    IMO, the problem is a combination of things. First, as a basic rep, I can tell you that you’re entirely aware of how expendable you are to the company, no matter how well you do your job. Moreover, you’re almost prevented from doing your job well; in our call center, each agent is required to have an average call time of 2min 20sec, and that includes asking four security questions, branding the company twice, asking if the customer is satisfied with the call, attempting to sell you an additional product, and, of course, handling your problem. You can imagine how frustrated the service rep can get when you call in and then have to run around your house looking for account information. Also, after tracking every single call for 6 months (I was bored), I heard, on average, ‘f-you’ 4x daily, called ‘stupid’ or some variant thereof approximately 20x daily, and of the remaining calls, about 50% were simply rude.

    Having said all of that, I do see quite a bit of apathy among my co-workers. Many have been on, or are currently still on food stamps/section 8/welfare and the like. As a manager, several employees have informed me they don’t want to earn a bonus because then their rent/utilities go up. I would say about 75% of my employees flat-out choose not to learn about updates to company policy, thus causing headaches for customers and managers alike, and because of fair labor laws, I can’t fire these laggards.

    No one in the situation is being treated like a responsible, adult human being. Upper management, as we have seen, makes it nearly impossible for the reps to do their jobs; middle management cannot hold employees accountable; customers expect to be treated like Moses decending from the mountain (ESPECIALLY when they, not my company, have screwed up); and the employees are pulled in 100 different directions.

    Well then. Off to work!

  15. I think a large part of the attitude comes from the fact that few people (especially the lower wage earners) have the financial education required to get through life. They become mired in debt at an early age and view work as some grueling, endless drudgery that they “have to do” to pay the bills. The bills are typically interest payments on things they purchased with money they didn’t have and are now probably worth less than they paid for them and so they spiral ever downward, blaming the system for their perceived lack of opportunity. I’d be pretty grumpy too if that was my life. Luckily, I realized the road I was heading down and took steps to change it, and I’m happy to say my family and I are more financially sound and happier for it. As a result, I work in a field that I love to work in and still feel passionate about.

  16. I have worked in some form of customer service since I began working. While I have never had the experience of a retail job, and am thankful for it, I have spent a lot of time in the restaurant business. As i minion at the host stand up through high level management. I love waiting tables and bartending the most for one solid reason. Don’t get me wrong, the cash was great, and I made a lot of it, but that wasn’t the best part. There is nothing more entertaining and satifying than a rude customer. People don’t realize this because most in customer service have never found the true solution. The more pissed of the customer, the more pleasant a response it requires. This is successful for two reason. One, that smile and sugary sweet (but not to the point where one seems obviously mocking) many times rubs off and the demeanor improves, or Two, they get even more pissed that you aren’t giving in to their rude bitterness, that you get the benefit of laughing your tail off when you walk back into the kitchen that this customer is truly getting angry at you for being kind and sweet.

    Yes customer service sucks. But if those people truly valued their job or themselves, they would find a way to make things work for them. I think what so much of the customer service problem comes down to is that people don’t value what a crappy job can do for them in the future. Working in restaurants was my “while i finish school” hold me over. But it lead to a so far successful career in sales, where I enjoy my job and make great money to pay for school, “while I finish school” job thanks to my now manager being impressed with my customer service skills while she got drunk at my bar. Everything is a stepping stone to something else. The more seriously you take it, the more it will help in your future.

  17. I don’t know, I didn’t mind saying hi to customers from time to time when I worked in retail. Then I think about the paycheck I used to get and the incentives just weren’t there for me to care. I was paid to show up and stock shelves with books and CDs. That’s it. If customers needed help, I would man the customer service desk waiting for a customer to come by and ask for it. It was pretty straightforward. and that was Borders. You go to a place like Walmart and you definitely won’t get customer service.

  18. It’s not about the fake smile at the door or the asking of a certain list of questions. It’s being genuinely interested in helping a customer rather than ignoring them as though they were an imposition on your time. It’s the underlying attitude.

    I got so mad at Starbucks when every time I went there, they were out of a certain muffin. They’d tell me, “Oh, we’re usually out of those by [45 minutes before the time I was asking for one].” So I’d go an hour earlier, and get the same response.

    When I told them that every time I came, they were out, and each time, I came an hour earlier, they had run out an hour earlier. I mean, I understand not wanting to have tons leftover at the end of the day and thus only getting so many out of the freezer, but if you’re running out by 8 a.m., you have a problem.

    The response? “Well, I just work here.”

    Well, I’m the customer, and you are representing Starbucks to me. You may not be the one who decides how many muffins to get out of the freezer every day, but you know the person who knows the person who knows the person who does, which means you are one step closer than I am.

    I even left a message on their website and got nothing but an automated reply. No, “We’re so sorry you had bad service – here’s a coupon to use next time you go back” or anything.

    And all of this happened the quarter after their gross sales DECREASED for the first time. Hmmmm…

  19. I worked min wage retail sales after school and during summers when I was in high school. Considering that my prior work experience was outdoor manual labor in a all kinds of weather, I considered it something of a step up the rung of the teenage job ladder. It was clean and air conditioned, the products were fun to mess with, and as an added bonus, some of the sales clerks in the housewares and jewelry depts were very attractive (albeit a few yrs older than me but hey I was an optimistic lad), and the customers were mostly nice people, certainly people I would not normally meet in my very segregated, provincial hometown.

    I was in the electronics dept of a dept store, so getting to play with gadgets and talk to people about stereos, cameras, and such was cool. And being the only kid in the dept, I was the only one who had any idea how to work some of the electronic equipment – I would take the manuals home and read them cover to cover. Take programmable calculators for example: Back then (early 80’s), those fancy TI calculators cost over a couple hundred dollars. I was the only salesperson in town who could actually demonstrate these to the typical egghead engineers that were the target market.

    At any rate, regardless of what I was selling, and who I was selling it to, be it a $30 clock radio or a $2000 hi fi stereo system, I treated customers with the utmost respect. That was how I was raised. I could no more be rude or incomsiderate to a customer, than I could stop breathing. It would have been that unthinkable. In addition, it was always understood by some deeply ingrained brainwashing my mom must have implanted, that when you’re getting paid to do a job, no matter how little the pay nor menial the job, you do your best – period. Again, there was never even a question of these principals in my young head.

    This job was the 1st time I got to see adults (other than teachers) up close in the work environment. And I did notice that more than a few of them did not uphold what I thought were the universal truths of work and service. Those people were invariably unhappy and stuck in that existence. It taught me that I never wanted to become like that – tired and hopeless.

    Getting to the point, I think the work ethic, service-oriented mindset is not something you can much teach an adult. It’s either been woven into your character when you were real young or it isn’t.

    By the way, those sales skills I learned on my min wage job are the same skills I used to get my 1st job out of college, which by the way, was in sales, and the same skills of persuasion and influence I use today in my management career. I learned how to read people, talk to people, and form a connection with and relate to just about anyone.

    Even back then, as a teen, I could find some value in what I was doing, and how I was going to apply it to get ahead. Maybe not everyone has the same potential, but they would be much better off if they could at least see the potential value in their work as a stepping stone to something better. Everybody has to start somewhere.

  20. Minimum wage usually equals minimum work.

    When a company pays the least it is obligated to pay you, most people put in the least amount of work they are obligated too.

    Just before I left the UK minimum wage was £5.15 or so, about $10. Why in the richest country in the world can someone get paid half that? How can anyone expect to make ends meet?

    I work two jobs just to escape the poverty trap and I make relatively good money. I make $12/hour at my first job and $8.25 at my 2nd job. I work 70 hours a week and we are not really that well off.

    How could you expect to pay your bills on $5.85 an hour?

  21. Not at true assumptions, i’m a college student who works at a department store and the reason I hate my job is because, with the exception of a few people, everyone I work with is a complete moron, including the executives of the company(whom i speculate may do their work in crayon).

    I still work harder and get more done than anyone else in my store and I hate more than everyone else too. I’m an intelligent person with unlimited potential who has never failed at anything, and I spend my time picking up after slobs.

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