- Vancouver, British Columbia - I helped a customer yesterday, who was not the nicest one that I have ever served. I will spare you the specifics of the incident other than to say that he had a short fuse and seemed to not be in possession of a great deal of patience. The whole experience left a rather sour taste in my mouth. His treatment of me made me feel like he thought I was an incompetent idiot (which I'm sure I am at times!) and one who was just not with it.
I've written before comparing customer service experiences in France versus Canada, so this is a topic that has been in mind many times before. When I go to a business for a product or some service, I hope to be treated with respect and as if I am a valued customer, regardless of how much or how little I spend at the store. The reason why I say that I "hope" as opposed to "expect" is because I simply do not have faith in the majority of businesses to even meet this basic desire. Nonetheless, I still find myself being rather gracious, even when I am treated as if I am simply an inconvenience, or worst yet, like the village idiot who has gone missing from his village.
However, what I started to think about this time in relation to customer service was the golden rule. Most people would generally accept that a good way to live your life is to treat people the way that you would want to be treated and go about your business. Nobody steps on anybody's toes and everyone leaves each other to live their life in their own way. In many ways, at the core, this is somewhat of a relativist philosophy, since it doesn't suppose that one way of treating a person is necessarily better, or worse, than another. It is your way, so you live it that way and be yourself. I'm all for being yourself! However, after this experience with this client, I began to think about this on a more basic human level.
What if the way that one person would want to be treated is not to the level that another person expects to be treated themselves? While this platitude of treating others as you would want to be treated is meant to minimize conflict between conflicting opinions, it doesn't really do so at a closer glance. Many people, unfortunately so, see customer service staff as people who are the temporary servants of the customer in that moment. This is not entirely a bad thing, except when it is taken too far. Yes, the customer service representative should be exceedingly attentive to the needs and requests of the customer, since the customer is paying the employee's paycheque. However, where the wheels start to fall off is when customer service representatives are treated like indentured servants and asked to do things that they are not allowed to, that risk their job security, or that treat them like a second-class citizen unworthy of respect. As someone who worked in customer service throughout his undergraduate school years, I've always appreciated the pressures and stresses of customer service staff....which is partially why I tend to be more gracious than I perhaps should be. With that said, I can't tell you how many times I've heard people say, when they get into the customer service profession, that they have gained a new respect for customer service representatives and promise to be more patient and polite as a customer in the future.
Many seem to think that it is acceptable behaviour to belittle and mock those in the customer service profession, just so they can get what they want or need. In fact, I remember a conversation with a colleague in which he stated that he would expect to receive bad treatment if he were in customer service. It were as if in his mind, customer service professionals do not merit respect, so he didn't feel like he'd ask to be treated with respect if he were one such employee. Oh well, at least he was consistent!
This is just what I mean though. As someone who makes his living working on the front lines of customer service, I do not want to be treated as unworthy of respect, so I make an effort to treat my service professionals with respect. Yet when confronted by someone who treats you otherwise, it brings into conflict the supposed pacifying principle of the Golden Rule.
The point is this: if living the Golden Rule is enough for some people's estimation of what amounts to a good person, I find it rather lacking on the whole. Sure, as a bare minimum, it would seem to pacify some conflicts, but when taken into consideration against wholly disrespectful behaviour, it fails to provide any peace.