When I started to solely support myself through my writing, I didn’t quite realize that I was going into customer service for myself. Nor did I think I’d ever blog about business tactics. Since I’ve started selling books for my chief source of income, I’ve noticed the word customer has changed in my vocabulary. Before, when I worked in customer service, I really didn’t have any personal allegiance to my customers visiting the various stores I was employed by. They were always considered this sort of demon-like creature spawned from the depths of a certain Hades. Unpredictable, undeniable, complete strangers holding your future in the palm of their needy hands.
When I worked for the movie theaters years ago, the customers were always aghast at the prices, angry about the refill policy, and complained about the slightest disturbance in the dark of the theater. Often when you would tell customers to enjoy the movie they’d say: “You too.” They would then say something like: “Oh, wait, um, I mean, sorry,” then shuffle awkwardly away like a disjointed crab. Customers would often blame me for the prices of the food and tickets. They would tear into me like some sort of donkey pinata from a birthday party, then close the conversation with the typical: “I know you don’t make these decisions, but still, I just wanted to tell you about it.”
Gee, thanks for making me feel worthless about not having any control over a situation, but you thinking that I should.
When I worked at the bank as a teller, the customers were somewhat paranoid about technology and change. Often times, I would have to explain to customers if there was a hiccup in service, or something was taking too long in online banking that they weren’t being hacked like in Mister Robot or Sneakers. Their personal accounts were not the target of some James Bond like villain, simultaneously petting his cat and feeding his shark in a gold mansion somewhere in Eastern Europe. They would notice a service fee on their statement and assume a hacker had involved them in some cyber warfare scheme. Worse yet, that money missing out of their account was a service fee, which became rampant during the recession to simply keep the banks operating and not floundering.
Telling customers you were charging them just to have an account, well, it might’ve been easier if it was some villainous baron hiding in Transylvania charging them that dollar.
When you’re just a grunt in giant cog of a corporation, or simply climbing the ladder, it is very hard to not get disenchanted by how customers treat you. I was always courteous and respectful towards customers, even when they questioned my intelligence, or wanted to kill me. This baseline respect was a product of my upbringing. My parents were very emphatic about manners. No matter the setting, you were always courteous and involved in a stranger’s conversation. This translated extremely well into customer service. Sadly, when most people know they have power in a social situation, they tend to be cruel. Customer service is perhaps the quickest way to give someone this scepter of domination. I know when I would have to impose a restriction or regulation on a customer, they would snap at me: “Well, I pay your bills, how could you do this to me?”
The scary thing for me now is that those customers do now pay my bills. Before it was some intricate revenue equation designed by a human resources juggernaut from one of the giant corporate conglomerates.
Now, it is just me.
When I was working for the movie theaters, my best friend Joseph advanced quickly into the ranks of management. We were both the same position, and worked hard to be assistant managers. My attention to detail and my effort were mediocre at best, but Joseph took it upon himself to climb the ladder and get promoted. I knew he would go far because of how he took ownership of the word “customer,” which to me was more like the term for an infected zombie from a parallel universe. We were both working at the same movie theater when Spiderman 3 was released. I remember me dreading the crowds and chaos, but Joseph was at peace with the business levels. One day, when the lobby was packed like an ant hill, and my clothes were soaked with the smell of popcorn, Joseph said something to me like: “I’m so happy to see so many of my customers.” I knew from that moment Joseph had the right idea of taking ownership over his clientele.
Since then, Joseph now runs his own theater and is a general manager. Even though he was in a situation where customers could’ve been seen as distant numbers because of his current spot in the management hierarchy, he still took pride in them. Today, I do the same thing. Customer no longer has a negative connotation to it. Since I’ve started working for myself, I care savagely about the the people who have supported me financially by investing in my dreams. I would never let them down. I would never show them disrespect. I think if you’re going to be even slightly successful in business, you need to adopt this mentality.
Take ownership of your customers like they were your friends or family. When you first start out, they often are.