Dissents Of The Day

Feb 6 2013 @ 12:00pm

Readers push back against my view of customer service:

Andrew, you’re one of the lucky ones who is actually encouraged to say what you think whenever you think it. It’s part of your brand. And kudos to you for building a career that fits you. But imagine that you worked in a retail or service position where revealing what you really thought of your customers could get you fired. Wouldn’t that take its toll on you? If the threat of bankruptcy forced you to pretend to be nice to people you hated, wouldn’t that drive you crazy? And since when do you prefer faked sycophancy to honesty?

And if I responded to every critical email with a Cheneyism, you’d feel the same way. Or if I never published dissents that routinely take me and my arguments apart? We try very hard to be civil and accommodating to our readers here, even though there sure are days when I want to tell them to take a running jump. A wounding of my dignity? Please. Another asks, “What if I showed up in your blog cave and looked over your shoulder all day making sure you were SMILING SMILING SMILING?” That’s called Christmas – and its totalitarian mood-enforcement is, I agree, a blight upon humanity.

But the right to work and be paid in a store and insult customers or never hide your actual mood for professional reasons? I’m not sure that’s a human right. Another has been in that kind of situation:

I used to work for a hospital call center and my boss was constantly complaining that her employees did not love working there like she did. We made a fraction of what she made. Our bathroom breaks were timed and if they went over 5 minutes we were written up. We were all temp workers with no benefits. They fired people every Tuesday. If you had failed to treat a caller like royalty, and they complained, you were cut.

Sometimes a job is just a paycheck, and that should be ok. For slightly above minimum wage and no benefits you don’t get to own someone’s soul. Have you given any thought to what kind of impact that has on those workers?

I don’t think being cheerful to customers is a violation of someone’s soul. Another:

It amazes me, considering the overall quality of your blog, how often you use words like “smug” or “condescension” as an excuse not to engage those of us to your left. That may sound harsh, but when you go so far as to actually quote the word you’ve missed, I figure I can call it an honest mistake on your part. No, Timothy Noah isn’t talking about the overall pleasantness of customer’s experiences, nor “better” service, nor “how well” employees interact with customers, nor “fascism.” You’ve missed the point. It’s right there in your quote: “fawning.” Please try again.

Appealing to an increasingly stratified customer base is driving compulsory servile behavior, even if they are accessorizing it with Marxist jargon. That’s my idea of hell. I won’t patronize a business that requires employees to check their self-respect at the door. I have to wonder why you like them. I rely on a business’ employees for accessible competence, not to blow smoke up my ass.

You’ve never had one of these jobs, have you, Andrew? I’ve had more than one. And I’ve been to Pret A Manger. And I’ve been to France a couple times and always received great service, in Paris and out in the countryside. If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s phony people. If there’s one thing that will keep me from patronizing a business, it’s the kind of forced or fake cheeriness you describe. You may associate this kind of work ethic or atmosphere with the US, but it’s not one of our better angels. We should encourage people who work for a living to demand dignity.

You have every right to patronize only those establishments that do not require their employees to be polite or accommodating or fawning. And the more people who do that, the quicker things will change. But obviously, you’re in a minority. Most people enjoy fawning treatment when being asked to spend money. What always struck me about America was the ubiquity of that ethic and how much more agreeable the consumer process was here. It was an actual virtue inculcated by capitalism.