Close your eyes and imagine this scenario with me...
It's been a long day. You're stopping by your favorite quick service restaurant for dinner after running some errands. You have frozen chicken in the back because you just went grocery shopping and you have a lot of papers to grade when you get home.
You want something fast to eat after your long day teaching and you're just craving your favorite fries with special sauce. You pull into the parking lot of the fast food establishment in mind only to find the drive-thru line wrapped around the building. You glance back at your groceries, the frozen chicken on your mind. You could go home and make a soup. It was buy-one-get-one.
No, no—the fries. You need them. You had to teach works cited pages today...boring! You decide to park and run inside. Maybe that will be faster. Inside, the line doesn't seem that long, but it takes forever to get to the counter. You order your food. Children are yelling in the playground.
The dining room is crowded, but you somehow manage to grab the last ketchup packet on the condiment stand. The employee calls your name, you grab your bag of food and rush out to the car. You're about to leave, but as you reach into the bag to snag one of the oh so precious fries, you realize—no fries.
Now, you have to go back inside to get the fries. The frozen chicken in your car is thawing more and more each minute. The yelling children inside were so loud. You have so much to do tonight. You just want to go home and eat your fries. But you don't have the fries. You paid for the fries, but you don't have them.
"Where are my fries?" you demand at the employee.
"Oh, did you not get your fries? Do you have a receipt?" The employee looks like a deer in the headlights. You're really mad now.
"Yes, what are you, incompetent?" The employee blinks at you.
"Obviously. I will be speaking to the manager about this."
"Let me just grab the fries for you." The employee walks away.
"So you're just going to give me fries? Nothing else to make up for it?"
The employee comes back with another bag. You take it from them, say nothing and storm back out to your car.
Now take a minute and imagine this scenario...
It's been a long day. You've been at school all morning and you're stressed about all the homework you have to do when you get home. But first, you have to work this closing shift. That one person is also is working tonight. That one person is so annoying, but not as annoying as all the children yelling on the playground. You haven't quite mastered tuning this out yet. However, you're determined to have a good shift.
The shift lead is a good one tonight. She lets you listen to music after the restaurant closes when you have to scrub all the floors. Focus on the positives. You get to work the drive-thru headset later—your favorite! You deliver a to-go order to a flustered-looking person and go about your other tasks.
A couple minutes later, that same person comes back inside. Oh no, something must be wrong. What did they order again? You didn't see the receipt, just the name. You make eye contact and smile, ready to help the customer.
Except—"Where are my fries?" What did they order? Did we forget the fries or are they trying to pull a fast one and get some extra free food? "Oh, did you not get your fries? Do you have a receipt?"
Why is this person being so rude? This is a simple mistake with a simple fix.
You'll just confirm on the receipt and—"Yes, what are you, incompetent?" Yes, they didn't get fries? Or yes, they have a receipt? Where's that receipt? You blink, waiting to see if they produce the receipt.
You're not incompetent...you got a raise a few months ago. People here like you. You don't completely hate your job. You get good grades in school.
"Obviously." Wait, what?
"I will be speaking to a manager about this." You know the manager will ask them the same thing.
You decide a two dollar order of fries is not worth losing your cool over, so, "Let me just grab the fries for you."
You walk over to the bagger and ask for an order of fries. You hear the customer yelling something at you as you walk away. You will yourself not to turn around and entertain their rudeness. You hand the new fries to the customer, but as you're about to apologize for the inconvenience, they grab the bag and storm away.
"What was that about?" your co-worker asks. "Just some rude customer. Why are people like this?"
While this specific scenario is made up, I deal with instances similar to this on a weekly basis in my job in customer service. Sometimes it's mild rudeness, but other times it's escalated to much more than this example.
At the quick service restaurant where I work, I've witnessed grown men and women absolutely lose their cool over small things like missing sauces. I've witnessed a person blatantly lying about food they're missing and making such a fuss, they literally get two of their orders for free.
I've witnessed a person make unreasonable requests, like for example, "I ate all my fries while I was waiting for you to fix my incorrect sandwich so now I want new fries."
I've witnessed a person order a medium meal, change their mind after paying and now wanting a large meal, only to complain they have to pay the difference in price between the two items. I've witnessed people in the drive-thru yell at the employees because of their wait time when the fact is that no matter what we do to promote speed, sometimes they just have to wait because there are a lot of people in line and we are busy.
I've witnessed people yell at employees for incorrect items or missing items, which can be upsetting but is an easy fix.
One experience I'll never forget is when a customer yelled at me, saying, "That's right, walk away, go kill some chickens."
I was walking away to get my manager, a fact that I told the customer after they said, "I've been waiting ten minutes in this line. I can't believe I'm paying for this! I shouldn't have to pay for this."
I can't just comp their whole meal because they're upset we're busy. I explain the situation to my manager, he grabs a couple coupons and says that he'll handle it. I mind my own business but see my manager and the customer having a calm conversation, much in contrast to my interaction.
"They didn't yell at you?" I asked my manager. He said no and that the customer was very understanding that they had to pay for their meal and accepted the coupons as an apology for the long wait time. I was taken aback and repeated the rude things they had said to me.
"Wow," I remember my manager saying, kind of shocked. Another customer who had witnessed both interactions (and was a regular at the store we all saw every day) spoke up and defended me, saying that she heard what they had yelled at me and that it was very, very rude.
Why are people like this?
I know that it's possible to handle these customer service interactions in a kind manner. I've witnessed customers come back to the counter holding an item and explaining calmly that it was not what they had ordered. I've witnessed customers bring their receipt back and point out that they had four orders of fries but only received three.
I've witnessed people come inside after using the drive-thru and nicely ask for their missing sauces. When these people approach me, I'm always more willing to help because I can be apologetic without feeling defensive or personally attacked. So what makes these people different?
It all comes down to respect.
Each person on either side of the counter deserves respect. However, it has to be mutual. I'll be much more willing to show you respect and do everything I can to fix your problem if you show me respect in the first place.
How do you do this? I'm glad you asked.
First, remain calm. I know you're upset about your incorrect order. You can calmly explain the situation without personally attacking me in the process. Explain what was supposed to happen and then explain what went wrong. Say something like, "I ordered fries with my meal, but they weren't in the bag." Then I can apologize and fix the problem more quickly than if you had yelled at me, insulted my intelligence and made demands for a manager or other compensation.
I realize that customers are people with their own lives who have their own things going on that might be a factor in their attitude toward me and the employees. I realize that they might just be taking it out on me and the employees. But that doesn't make it okay to be rude.
You have to realize that the employees are people with their own lives who have their own things going on, too.
For whatever reason, there is a disconnect between the general public and service employees. But the fact is, we are people too, just like you. When we get yelled at, it still hurts. When we are called incompetent, it feels like an attack. When we are treated with kindness, it brightens our day. When we are sincerely thanked for helping to fix a problem, it feels nice.
When we deal with a rude customer, we cope by telling our co-workers about it, and maybe even eventually laughing about them. We collectively shake our heads at their approach to the situation. We sigh each time someone asks to speak to a manager. We rejoice on the inside when the manager tells the customer the same thing we did. We talk and that is now the only thing this customer is known for if they ever return. We are over it.
Don't let this be your legacy. It's time we learned respect.