Last May, I ended a seven year marathon of working in one of the largest grocery store chains in the south eastern United States. In that time, I learned a great deal about interacting with the public on a regular basis. Some people pop into your life for a brief moment or two and leave you feeling inspired. The other 99% of customers do their best to make you a jaded, crushed soul who hates everybody and trusts no one. After somehow retaining my sanity and a love for humanity, I terminated my employment, moved up to New York City and began the job hunt.
As of September 2012, I have been a member of a very small and close-knit team at a new age shop in the Village. I spend my days doling out rocks, gems and minerals to collectors of the exotic and metaphysicians alike. My senses are overjoyed every day with the smell of incenses and candles, the tastes of Thai food, pizza, Chinese, diner food or a myriad of other choices from just around the corner, the colors of rainbow flags and chakra banners, and the feeling of all the different rocks upon the shelves. It gives me great pleasure to be able to assist in matters from spiritual guidance to interior decorating. I actually get to use my degree in comparative religious studies! Honestly, I never thought that would happen. The energy in the building is remarkable and uplifting, my coworkers are all fantastic people, and this job is one I could see myself doing for a very long time.
Then we unlock the door, and the customers come.
It’s going on five months that I’ve worked at my tiny little spiritual haven in the city, and I have learned quite a lot. The most relevant to my point today, though, is that customers are customers no matter where they shop…and serving them is always a taxing job.
After thinking long and hard (and by that I mean I’ve made this decision right now because it just popped into my head), I believe I can convey to you best what I mean in a compare and contrast kind of scenario. Let us begin.
Spring 2010: A drunken Florida State University sorostitute stumbles in and out of my line on St. Patrick’s Day. She leaves in a flurry of hot-damn-messitude only to return 20 minutes later and accuse me of stealing money from her. She shut down my line, continually called me a thief and a liar and proceeded to demand the store manager play the security tapes for her so she could see me suitably fired. None of it was true, and whenever she came into my line thereafter, she remained silent as the grave.
Fall 2012: A drunken and heavily medicated (or perhaps not so heavily medicated at the time) trans-woman burst into the shop proclaiming “BLESSINGS! Blessings, blessings…blessings!” Seeing how busy we were, she and her five o’clock shadow did not hesitate to run her fingers through hanging pendants as if they were a bead curtain, speak loud enough to be heard by everyone in the store at all times, and set her sights on me as the absolutely necessary partner for the spiritual circle she needed to create right there in the middle of the store. Did I mention she claimed to be Wiccan? (Note: I know many Wiccans, and none of them are crazy drunken messes like this customer. Just so ya know.) It was not until after I diffused the situation, saved our merchandise and politely got her to leave and was now regaling my manager a week later with the story that I was informed of the restraining order placed on this woman by the store owners.
Spring 2012: While working the Apron’s food demonstration counter (and preparing some delicious basil French fries as a side), a woman came up to watch the process. She asked what the green on the fries was and seemed appalled at the mention of basil. “You mean it grew in the DIRT?! That’s disgusting. I cannot eat something that’s grown in the dirt.” “I’m sorry, ma’am,” I replied. “Would you like some fries without the basil?” “Yes, please. They look delicious.” How I managed to keep my face from showing how utterly insane I thought this woman was will always be a mystery to me, but she loved the fried potatoes all the same.
Winter 2012: While I was wishing a customer a wonderful day after a pleasant 20 or so minutes of discussion and sales, the phone began to ring. “Hello, [metaphysical shop name here], how can I help you?” “Yes, I bought a rose quartz stone from you all the other week. I’ve been making an elixir with it, and it is turning me white!” Befuddled, I tried to understand. “It’s effecting your skin, ma’am? I have never heard of that happening, but I believe you should stop drinking the elixir and see a doctor if something is causing a rash. Let me pass you to my manager who may have experienced something like this before. Hold a moment, please?” The woman began an argumentative tirade with the air as I passed the phone over. My manager agreed with everything that I had said and simply suggested she go see a doctor. The woman then finally reveals that she’s been to a doctor…who prescribed her a skin lightening cream. But, of course, it was our rose quartz in her elixir that was causing the problem. Obviously.
Customers who just want to feel better than you:
Early 2005: It was within my first few weeks working in the grocery store, and I was proud at how fast I was getting the hang of things. For the most part, I was handling customers well. Bagging their groceries like a boss. Cleaning had not yet left any permanent mental scars. Then I met my first ever awful human being. I asked all appropriate ‘paper or plastic’ type questions and bagged her order according to how the instruction videos and my trainers taught me. After finishing her overfilled cart worth of items, she looks down at the cart and says “Not like that! I want them in plastic THEN paper!” “I’m sorry, ma’am, but when I asked you said plastic was fine. I’d be happy to fix it how you’d like it.” I then loaded all of the plastic bags into paper ones while she watched me like a hawk. After watching me repack the entire order, she said “God, don’t they teach you how to do this before giving you a job? These should not be with these. Do it over, and do it right!” The cashier had no idea what to do, and I was starting to reach my level for patience with this woman. I packaged her shit for the third time, asking her at every step if I was doing it the way she wanted, and then told her to have a wonderful day. “You HAVE to take my stuff out to the car!” Finally at the end of my rope, I (as politely as I could muster) told the woman that if I took her outside I would end up saying things to her that would get me fired. She was not pleased, but she was a bitch who seemed unhappy with being alive, so I wasn’t surprised. My manager thought it was the funniest thing.
January 2013: “Excuse me, sir, but what is this feather fan for and why does it have a crystal on it?” I walked over to the two men who had addressed me, and got the story of how one is an experienced spiritual guide and practitioner who wanted to show his friend the ropes. He seemed less curious than his friend about the fan, so I directed the answer mostly to the new guy. I explained the ritual use of the object, the Native American origin of that particular fan, why the artist who makes them chose the crystal that they did and began to touch on how crystals are used in energy work. “Well that’s all very nice,” the experienced practitioner pointedly said as he cut me off, “but I work by talking with angels, so I don’t use…rocks and whatever.” His newbie friend handed me back the fan and said “He talks to angels. I’ll take his advice, thanks.” New age, for those of you that don’t know, is a broad term covering a wide variety of faiths and spiritual practices. Therefore, all new age stores are going to be different. The one I work it sells mostly rocks. It became apparent to me that this experienced spiritual asshat knew what we sold and brought his friend in simply to gloat about how much more of a spiritual person he was than the silly man who works at the rock shop. After making his point, they didn’t hang around.
Really, I could write for years about all of the customers I’ve dealt with in my life. And to be fair, there have been several who have touched my heart with kind words or inspiring acts. I’ve gone out of my way to help some customers who really needed it because they were good people. There are even a select few who changed how I looked at my life forever. These customers with be with me until the day I die, and that truly is a kind of magick.
At the end of the day, though, customer service is still customer service. Regardless of where you work or how much you love the job you have, there are always going to be people who simply don’t understand that you are a human being. Customers will come in and continue to be customers so long as there are things for them to complain about and eventually possibly purchase. All you can do is not let that negativity seep in and jade you to the nice people. Otherwise, you become and asshole just like them, and nobody wants that.
So here, dear reader, is your Monday Fun Day assignment. Be aware of how you behave to people who are trying their best to help you. Don’t hassle your waiters, be patient with people on the phone, and for the love of the Universe try and see the humanity in the person running the cash register. We’ll all be much happier for it.