Customer Service: Why you should be nicer to retail workers.


At some stage in an individuals lives, there will come a time where you have a testing job in customer service. Whether it be serving Happy Meals to ungrateful children crying about the toy they got, or patiently biting your tongue while yet another customer gripes at you about something that is out of your control, many customer service and retail jobs may not always be the absolute highlight of our days.

Now we all have bad days – there’s been times I’ve rolled my eyes at terrible customer service, and times I’ve been on the receiving end of rude or tired customers. Either way, it’s not fun. But here’s a list of reasons why we should try and remember to be nice to retail workers. After all, they probably already got 99 problems, and yours is just another one.

1) Retail workers could also be doing better things with their day.

You might be annoyed you have to ruin your Sunday by going grocery shopping, so when the checkout chick (or dude) is scanning your items, you’re probably rolling your eyes, checking your watch and snorting impatiently through flared nostrils. “How are you today?” The checkout assistant will ask in a monotone voice. That monotone isn’t anything to do with you so don’t take it personally. While you’re probably annoyed you’ve wasted an hour of your time buying mundane things like toilet paper and washing powder, this assistant has probably already scanned those items numerous times over the last few hours and is ready to go home. After all, who willingly wants to be spending their Sundays serving cranky people who are mad that the weekend is almost over? No one.

2) Retail workers have to smile and act like the customer is always right. Even when they are clearly not. 

Ahh this one is an old favourite. ‘The customer is always right!’ Whoever coined that phrase is clearly wrong. Any retail worker that’s good at their job, knows there is nothing more infuriating than a know-it-all customer acting like they are superior.

Scenario: A lady came storming up to me in my workplace (a cinema) the other day.
“Do you enjoy making people wait out in the cold? You opened the doors late today!”
Regardless of the fact I’m not God so I don’t have control over the weather, nor am I Satan who would receive enjoyment out of making people suffer, I had to politely let her know we open our doors at 9.45 am. She was complaining to me inside at 9.46am.
“Well you should advertise that!” She replied huffily. I pointed towards the door where I said it was indeed written down.
“WE ALL CHECKED, NONE OF US SAW IT!” She shrieked, her face bright red.
In this case the customer is wrong. But you have to nod along, pretend you lied about the opening times being on the door and try and serve her with a smile that probably looks more like a grimace.

3) Retail workers have to deal with cranky people ALL DAY.

Following on from the above point, sometimes there are days, where every person in the city is in a bad mood, and they just happen to enjoy taking it out on the poor soul working behind the counter. Okay this may be a slight exaggeration, but working in retail or customer service can sometimes make you feel like you’ve got a flashing neon sign above your head stating: “Please yell at me. Call me a moron. Throw any other insults my way. Blame me for everything that’s going wrong in your day. No, seriously, that’s what I’m here for.” 

That’s a very big flashing neon sign.

Would you personally want to keep smiling, talking to and dealing with a person who’s blatantly rude to you and probably just insulted you because they’re having a rough day? I’m going to take a wild guess and assume probably not. So there’s no reason to take it out on the wrong person. They may be getting paid to help you, but their pitiful wage does not even begin to cover all the panadol they’ll need for the headache cranky customers are giving them.


4) Retail workers do not make the rules/prices:

Things are always going to be too expensive no doubt. When taking a family to the movies (2 adults, 2 kids), you’re already looking at $50 and that’s not including popcorn or drinks.

Just like I don’t decide what time doors open at the residence where I’m working, I also don’t decide on prices. In fact 9 out of 10 times, I’m probably feeling bad about charging you what seems like a ludicrous amount of money. And here’s another tip: complaining to me, and then demanding me to tell my boss to change prices is still not going to work. My boss gives about as much fucks as you give about how long it took me to get out of bed that morning. Which is none.

If you’re going to a shoe shop to buy a new pair of heels, you’re probably going to expect to be spending a bit of money. You won’t be going up to the counter, having the shoes scanned, and then upon hearing the price,  throw a tantrum that would make a two year old proud. Because you know when you purchase those shoes, it’s hardly the fault of the person serving you. If you want to blame anyone, blame the designer. Or you know, yourself for buying the shoes. Likewise if you go to the movies don’t blame the random person behind the candy bar for the price of a bag of Malteasers. Chances are they already agree with you that $6 a bag is ridiculous, and chances are they are also secretly thinking you’re a moron for not stopping at the Woolies up the road first and buying a $3 bag. Just sayin’. The staff are not food nazi’s. If you buy your confectionary from another place and then go into the cinema, I’m not going to go all Gandalf on you and not let you pass.

5) When you can, help make their job easier.

Is it necessary to tip you popcorn over the floor? I don’t think so. Is it really hard to put your used tissues in the bin on your way out instead of leaving them for someone else to clean up?  I mean, really. That’s just gross.

When you walk through a clothes store, and you’re rifling through shirts and one falls, does it make you feel better just casually kicking it under the rack for a worker to find later? DOES IT? DOES IT REALLY?  Is it worth yelling at a worker because something doesn’t fit you/something broke/something was manufactured wrong etc? It may be a good way to release your own personal rage, but chances are you just made someone else angry or feel like shit.

I used to also work at Factorie, a clothing store. One time a lady came up with me, furious her new jumper had a hole in it.
“WHAT IS THIS?” She yelled, shaking it in my face.
Biting my tongue to stop myself from pointing out the obvious (‘It looks like a jumper to me’), I told her she could exchange it. She did, and was about as ungracious as Amanda Bynes is to the rest of humanity. Handy tip: The people at the clothing stores don’t make the clothes, nor design them. The damage to your new jumper was NOT DONE ON PURPOSE. How about a polite ‘thanks for your help’ and everyone can be on their merry way.

Customer service workers aren’t peasants put on earth to listen to your griping, deal with your anger, and politely agree with your insults. Do not underestimate the simple gesture of kindness and what a polite ‘thank you’ or smile can do to turn someone’s day around.

Article by Tahlia Pritchard who has been working in customer service jobs for about five years too many. You can watch her daily mental breakdowns after a shift at the cinema unfold on her twitter. 

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