Dear Customer: an open polemic, I mean – letter.

Dear Customer,

I’m glad you exist, fundamentally. Because you exist, I have a wage. And because I have a wage, I can feed the two furry little mouths that depend on me, keep a nice house and do things with my friends. I can acheive personal goals. Money’s good stuff, really, and your existence makes that happen for me. So thanks.

But there’s a few aspects of your behaviour in this late capitalist relationship that have me on the grumpy side most days. Some of the time, I spent all of my lunch break bemoaning how you’ve neglected your half of our connection, and my coworkers echo my sentiments.

Rather than getting angry in a non-constructive way that will be undeniably vehement and probably have me dropping f-bombs everywhere you’d care to step (though who are we kidding – I daresay that’ll happen here anyway!), I thought I’d break down your problematic behaviour into key areas.

Messing everything up. So, I’m sure you actually think I get paid to tidy up after you, but here’s a curious thing: I don’t. Very little to no extra time is allowed in my day to tidy up the floor and racks when you leave unwanted items and clothing everywhere. Instead, I have a lot of other duties that take up loads of time, and when I’m finished doing them I’m usually out of hours – and then I turn around, and there’s a pile of clothes some lazy arts student, overprivileged BMW driver or bored middle aged house husband has left for me to pick up. Also, when you leave items on the counter and chime “just pop that away for me, will you? There’s a love!”, that’s not some sweet bonding experience for me. That’s about two to five extra minutes of work that I don’t have time for, and your cute intimation that we’re friends so of course I won’t mind at all is actually a lie you’re using to prop up your own terrible sloth. I’m not a love. I’m a person restrained from chasing you out of the store with a phonebook only by her love of income.

Fucking with my sorted racks. When I’m shelving clothing, I move everything off one big rack onto a smaller rack, into sections. This is so I can put it away quickly so I can meet a quota. It is very important that I meet my quota – it helps me keep my job. When you stand in my personal space, remove clothing and put it back in the wrong place, that means I have to handle that garment again. It adds time – for the love of god, I repeat, IT ADDS TIME. And the more time I spend unravelling the work you’ve created for me, the less time I have to get through everything else I have to do. Are you seeing a pattern?

Being over familiar. I am not your sister, daughter, neighbour or friend. I am your sales person, and as such, I expect that our transaction will be pleasant, mutually respectful but emotionally distant. When you get up in my personal space, address me with false intimacies, touch me, unduly compliment me, ask me questions about my personal life or pass comments about my appearance (“don’t worry about being fat, sweetheart, all the nice fat girls get the good husbands that stay,”) please don’t act as though stung when I ask you to refrain or I am icy or uninterested. I will of course smile sweetly at your babies, pretend I care about your holiday in Portugal, and remember the names of your sick relatives, but I am not actually that interested. Sorry. I turn up, I drone, I go home and get a pay-check. That’s about as deep as it gets, and I sure wish you’d keep your distance.

Asking for personal favours. No, I will not give you a discount because you are a regular. Nor because you have a nice smile or you’re flirting with me. If you’re a friend and you ask me for a discount – really? Shame on you. Asking someone you care about if they’ll give you a discount, especially in front of other customers, puts them in an impossible lose-lose situation. If I say yes to you, I risk getting in trouble with my boss and my stability at work, setting a precedent for other customers, and if I say no? I risk upsetting you and the emotional equilibrium in our relationship. Just don’t ask and things stay easy for everyone. Asking for mates rates has always been a pretty dick move.

Stealing. Look, I have no moral problem with stealing. I don’t think it is a particularly effective political tool for smashing capitalism though – and I think that the activist kids who do it ‘for that reason’ need to get a fucking grip and learn about stock loss anticipation before they think they’re making even one shred of a difference. Unfortunately, you aren’t. Not a dent. They saw you coming, they jacked up prices, and they made a margin for your five finger discount so that it wouldn’t matter. It just isn’t an effective tool of resistance. Plus don’t be a jackass – you just like free shit and you feel you shouldn’t have to pay for it. Fine. But here’s the thing – while I see no moral prerogative to err away from thieving, I think that it doesn’t make much practical sense for all the work it creates for me and my co-workers. Seriously, it is a nuisance and it makes my day much harder. I hate the whole theft tension it creates – watching people as they go into change rooms, checking bags, never trusting anyone. I hate having to check collars, keeping my eye on people I’d prefer to trust. And then, of course, where do you think all the stock loss margin comes from? Not profit. It goes to higher prices, comes out of staff hours, out of benefits for us. In a big company, the buck will always be passed on to those who can probably least afford to cop it. We suffer – not you, not the bosses. The workers. If you want to resist, look into healthy unionisation and improving workplace conditions and getting rid of those vile workplace agreements, rather than a childish thumbing of the nose that does fuck all. Also – stealing from charities and co-ops is possibly the lowest thing I’ve ever had the misfortune to witness.

Faffing about at the counter at close. JUST WORK OUT WHAT YOU WANT TO BUY AND BUY IT, PLEASE. You know that we’re closing, and you’ve been told several times. What do you imagine I do when we close up – just skip to my locker and exit merrily, with squirrels and mice scrambling forth to put everything to order? No. There’s a lot more work to be done. Tilling up, tidying up (after fools who can’t use their basic motor functions to put. a shirt. away. When the shirt rack is a metre away from the crumpled heap it has been thrown in) and making sure the banking is in order. This all takes quite a lot of time, and if I am not done by 6pm, I miss my bus. Do you know what happens if I miss my bus? I get to stand in the pitch black and freezing cold for forty minutes at a bus stop ten metres away from where my co-worker was mugged in broad fucking daylight and wait for the next one all because you couldn’t decided between the tracksuit that said princess or the tracksuit that said diva. FUCK. YOU.

Not talking/grunting/giving commands/using your mobile phone while checking out. Under etiquette in the dictionary, for you, it must clearly say “only applicable when interacting with those not of the servant class”. That must be what you think of me, because I’m apparently not even worthy of a polite turn of phrase. Slapping your change on the counter and motioning at your book will, of course, render service. But you’ll also get simmering impotent rage that hopefully shrivels your testes. When someone throws money at you and refuses to engage with you in even the most superficial of levels – I think they call it ‘manners’ – it communicates a pretty basic disrespect for you, and their opinion that they think you a bot, just there to press a button. You have no thoughts, personality, or feelings. You just switch on, light up, and march to their command. Telling me what I’ll do is even better – “that bag, you’ll give me a discount. Now.” Oh I’m sorry, I was under the impression that I was the one with the cheap apron on. Also, speaking on your phone and expecting service is just ridiculous, and is why I wait pointedly rather than checking anything out for the chatting champ. Don’t give me that mystified, entitled expression when you’re done, either. If you want service with a smile, you better learn how to say please and thank-you and wipe that shit-eating self-satisfied grin off your face. Then you’ll get all the smiles in the world.

Asking to see the manager. Look, I know you feel like this is an awesome party trick that will get you what you want – a discount, me fired, yadda yadda yadda. Here’s an unhappy truth – the manager is the one who made these prices and rules up. I’m her minion. I carry them out so I can get paid, so if you think you scare me by banging your fist on the counter and demanding to see my superior then…epic mirth. I doubt anyone will fire me because I asked you to lower your voice when you were screaming in my face about our pricing and leaving spittle in my hair. They will likely placate you until you leave the store, then we will collectively gripe about what a jerk you are. You are the customer, but you are not always (and probably rarely) right. Oh, and while I’m here – playing co-workers off each other is a really piss poor thing to do and I hiss in my brain tank at you for doing it.

That’s all for now, dear customer. I think the underlying theme here is: don’t be a jerk. Please remember that customer service kids are just trying to earn a living in this crazy world the best we can. We don’t earn a tonne, and we don’t get paid enough to put up with bad behaviour. Tidy up after yourself, be polite, use your basic manners and we’re likely to be much more helpful next time you want us to get the ladder to pull down the high box of tins off the top shelf, rather than saying no, looking bored and hoping you’ll do it yourself and spill them everywhere, dreadfully embarrassing yourself and maybe dramatically (but not severely) injuring a nearby co-worker so you feel chronic and everlasting guilt and buy us all cake.

In short, my lovely customer: pull your socks up, and I’ll happily sell you another pair that’ll go beautifully with those shorts.




About laketothelight

Feminist. Tea drinker. Cat snuggler. Canadian marryer. Queer. Fat. Lover of movement. View all posts by laketothelight

One response to “Dear Customer: an open polemic, I mean – letter.

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