Isn’t it about time we stopped worrying so much about the customer, so that we don’t forget to respect our own staff?
Working in retail, restaurants and bars can be some of the most demeaning jobs. Customers shouting you down, managers thinking they own you and supervisors getting on their high horses. But, staff working in these sectors are often on their feet for hours on end, getting talked down to all day, and are hugely under-appreciated on minimum wage with inconsistent hours week on week.
Often, people working in retail, bars and restaurants are students struggling to pay rent and buy food on the small loans the Government offers to help. Or sometimes people that have a passion for the type of sector they’re in (fashion, food, cocktails) and are trying to work their way up the ladder. Due to the severe lack of job opportunities in the UK, regularly a part-time minimum wage job is all that’s on offer to people desperate to make ends meet.
Whatever the reason for someone working in these industries, the phrase “the customer is always right” has been heard by all. A troubling sentence that gives off the impression customers who perhaps only buy from or use the company a couple of times a year, know better than the staff who work for the company day in and day out.
Ethan Deplitch has previously worked in a bar and at a cinema, and he does not believe in the term. “The inventor of the term ‘the customer is always right’ is, in fact, the customer themselves,” he says. “Whilst most people within these sectors always adhere to helping customers out as much as they can, some individuals will try to use this as a scapegoat to seek a higher ground from the employee. And it’s so. Fucking. Annoying.”
“The inventor of the term ‘the customer is always right’ is, in fact, the customer themselves,”
Claiming that the customer is always right instantly puts them in a privileged position over the person serving them. The worker is suddenly less knowledgeable, a lower class, and ultimately disrespected by customers.
Chris Savage works in retail, and he agrees that the mantra simply isn’t true. “Customers are not always right,” he says. “I’ve found some customers who think that just because an item is in front of a price tag, they should get it at that price. Said item could easily have been put there by another customer or themselves. Other cases can include wanting a refund with no proof of purchase, or to exchange an item that isn’t exclusive to the store with no receipt. Customers are usually very pleasant and understand when they may be in the wrong. Others can ruin your whole work day, just because you’re following company policy.”
This is the knock-on effect that many customers can’t seem to grasp. When you have a go at a staff member simply for doing what their manager has told them to do, you’re instantly pushing negativity on to someone who quite frankly doesn’t deserve it. They’re working hard to make sure every customer’s experience is as positive as it can be, and getting very little in return. A simple smile and an understanding that perhaps you’re not always right can go a long way to someone who’s working their arse off. Plus, be nice to the staff member and chances are they’ll be more likely to want to help you and try and find a compromise.
Charlotte Organ has worked in retail, as well as bars and restaurants, and she sees the same issue in both sectors. “I feel that often customers who have never had a job in the service industry can be very entitled,” she explains. “They are not understanding of when things don’t go the way they planned (i.e. something is out of stock, or there’re no tables available etc.) I also think the change to contactless card payments has made a lot of people less polite – rarely do I get a thank you for pouring drinks from people paying by contactless.”
As Christmas nears, that sense of entitlement from customers worsens. Here’s a thought – when you’re being dragged around the shops on a Saturday doing Christmas shopping, rather than taking your frustration out on workers, appreciate that they’re likely knackered from working ridiculous hours so that you can enjoy your festive weekends. Appreciate that they’re missing out on time with family and friends in order to be of service to you. Be grateful that you’re able to spend your weekends with your loved ones – even if you aren’t much of a shopper.
Dave Morris summed it up the best way he could. “The customer is always right, but most of the time they’re just right wing.”
This Christmas, appreciate your time with your family. Be grateful to the people working double-time to make sure others enjoy the festivities. Remind yourself that retail, bar and restaurant workers are fellow humans. And most of all, you’re not always right, trust the person that works for the company day in and day out, chances are they know better than you.