Every holiday period, I light a candle and say a prayer for all the retail staff working during the Boxing Day sales, writes Deirdre Fidge. This year, let’s treat our checkout chicks, hotel receptionists and waiters with kindness.
“If a person is nice to you but rude to the waiter, they are not a nice person.”
So wrote comedian and newspaper columnist Dave Barry in his 1998 book about ageing, Dave Barry Turns 50. Years later, his observation still rings true.
A person’s true character is often revealed during customer service encounters — say, if a supermarket queue is long or their cafe meal arrives late.
Let’s say your breakfast arrives without the extra hash browns you ordered. Sure, you could berate the waiter or scream at the kitchen staff — I get it, hash browns are delicious — but are you really that demanding and petty?
Ask anyone who works in customer service about their job and I guarantee they will tell you a “horror story” or two (or 10) about the perils of their industry.
For example, Tallulah, a Melbourne-based woman currently working in retail management, told me how a customer recently called one of her staff members “the Anti-Christ” because their store sold a quirky range of gift cards that included expletives on them. The customer physically threw the cards at the employee.
On another occasion, a woman caught stealing items from Tallulah’s store called her a “f***ing bitch” after she was confronted, and walked out holding the goods.
Almost half of retail staff exposed to abuse at work
She’s not alone. A recent survey of members of the Shop, Distributive Allied (SDA) union found 44 per cent of retail staff had been exposed to physical or verbal abuse on the job.
In one instance, a Melbourne shopper exploded at a shop assistant when she had to wait like a commoner in the queue for a self-serve checkout!
“You cross a line when you start to abuse people, either verbally or physically,” said SDA national secretary Gerard Dwyer. “We’re just asking people to keep it cool for Christmas and show a bit of respect.”
Will the world end if you have to wait a few extra minutes for your skinny latte? No, no it won’t. (Unsplash.com)
Of course, the next few weeks will be wildly busy for retail staff, thanks to huge crowds pouring into stores for the annual Boxing Day sales.
Combine that with school holidays and folks taking leave for summer, and you’ve got a nice little recipe for retail madness.
But, regardless of your stance on consumerism, take Gerard Dwyer’s advice and spare a thought for the people serving your lattes and bagging up your discounted sheet sets — it’s not an easy gig.
This sales season, show a little compassion
And yet, it seems somewhere along the line we have forgotten how to empathise.
People often forget the chain of command in retail — shop staff rarely have any influence on stock or prices and yet they frequently get blamed for any issues customers may have.
Joel, a former retail employee in Melbourne, told me about the time a customer threatened to report him to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) because the store he was working in didn’t have the particular DVD they wanted in stock.
Another customer Joel encountered became furious on discovering that Prince CDs had sold out shortly after news broke of the artist’s death (I suppose we could chalk that up to grief).
The next few weeks will be busy for retail staff rostered on for the annaul Boxing Day sales. (ABC News: Giulio Saggin)
I spent seven years working in retail myself. One year, an angry customer stormed that I had “ruined Christmas” — apparently it was my fault personally that Apple did not make purple iPods that year.
These stories might sound funny (or dated, in the case of the iPod reference), but surely nobody deserves to be yelled at or threatened when they are at work?
So if you or someone you know needs a little refresher in common decency, here are just a few reasons why you should treat customer service staff with kindness this holiday season.
1. They are very, very tired
Despite online shopping becoming more popular, employees of physical stores are still run off their feet every holiday period. Last year, Australians reportedly spent $2.3 billion at the annual Boxing Day sales event. In one day!
That is a lot of novelty pens, which is what I assume people with money spend their dollars on.
2. They don’t get to enjoy public holidays
For casual employees, summer shifts can be incredibly busy. They might be lucky enough to work a day or two at an increased public holiday rate — but that varies between states and businesses depending on their registered agreement.
Does the odd day of working at double-time really make up for the lack of sick leave, irregular shifts and disgruntled customers?
3. They get shouted at, and worse
That recent SDA survey I mentioned found 44 per cent of retail staff had been exposed to verbal and even physical abuse.
SDA national secretary Gerard Dwyer said there were many examples of physical altercations from customers including items being thrown at people.
Holidays can be stressful for everyone but try to maintain some perspective. If you’re at a busy cafe and they get your order wrong, is it really the end of the world? (Spoiler alert: no. It’s not.)
4. They experience sexual harassment
A study published earlier this year by researchers at Sydney University found an alarming number of young women (and some men) working in the service industry had experienced sexual harassment by customers.
The research showed much of the harassment went unreported because staff believed it was an employee’s “job to be friendly” or they thought their manager wouldn’t take their complaint seriously.
I’m suddenly having flashbacks to when I was working at a popular hi-fi store and an older male patted me on the head and grinned “good girl”. Don’t be that person.
5. They are human beings
Enough said. Please be nice to customer service staff!
Do you have an experience you’d like to share? The SDA survey is still open until the end of January 2017. You can find it here.