Throughout the pandemic, I have been at the intersection of high-level tech and ground-level social interactions.
I can’t name the location of the store, the carrier it services, nor the owner of the franchise it operates under. Whatever reasons (that aren’t based on legal concerns) can be explained by what I’m about to tell you. Because though I haven’t had to deal with any lousy bosses, the customers have made being an essential worker so much harder.
These are the stories about those people, especially with how they hardly considered the people who serviced them to be human. They are the deniers, the conspiracy theorists, the Luddites, the selfish, and the overall idiots. The people who instilled into my coworkers, managers, and myself thoughts and feelings antithetical to our work. This eventually produced a feeling that the customers made me feel dumber every time I interacted with them.
These are the stories about those people, especially with how they hardly considered the people who serviced them to be human. They are the deniers, the conspiracy theorists, the Luddites, the selfish, and the overall idiots.
Admittedly, I have had a particularly hard time working at the store. Though in my defense, I had been hired in late January 2020, six weeks before the pandemic hit the United States. Three of those weeks were spent in training. Even back then, we have to admit that COVID-19 was treated as “stuff going on in China and Italy”. When it did hit, it was unnerving enough that our store was closed for a couple of weeks. But at first, it felt terrible but controllable.
Once we were considered frontline essential workers and allowed to reopen, things started to take a turn. We weren’t actively selling anything because of the pandemic, just handling software fixes and people paying their bills. But then there was a false sense of security once the number of active cases began to subside. That’s when the other customers started coming through the doors, in a boiling-the-frog sort of way.
The first problem would be the supply chain, which affected the delivery of new phones to our store. Though some people were annoyed by it, they mostly understood that these were difficult times. Management was tracking the door swings and expecting us to sell, yes, but it wasn’t the end of the world. Problems began to arise when the moronic customers (to put it in the nicest way possible) began coming in.
They weren’t interested in buying anything, they didn’t act like civilized people, and they wanted us to fix their problems for free. These were problems that they usually caused in the first place. While some district managers understood and empathized with these situations, the company line was that we were to stay out on the floor if we weren’t on lunch break. In Shakespearean terms, this was “the most unkindest cut of them all”.
So let’s do the emotional math, folks:
Introvert with anxiety issues
+ Sales job with clearly defined goals and commission structure
+ Supply chain issues affecting store deliveries
+ Customer Support punting their responsibilities onto salespeople like said introvert)
× (Customers + Low intelligence + Lack of empathy + Shouting a lot)
÷ Not enough people to run the store.
What does that equal? Me, who wants to curl up in bed as soon as I get home from work! Though admittedly, I did forget to add two key elements to the formula: wiping down all points of contact and enforcing social distancing standards. Most people complied, though often not before guilt-tripping or giving us a hard time for mentioning it.
This brings things back around to the horror stories involving the customers. Partly because of how draining these interactions could be, my memory has gone completely haywire this past year. So it was a little embarrassing for me to corroborate stories with the manager who got me the job in the first place. But most of the worst ones have the aforementioned theme in common: the customer doesn’t want to even think of buying anything. They just expect us to fix their stuff for free and with a smile.
This brings us to a couple of the “Karen” stories I’m sure you were expecting. Though as you can imagine, it wasn’t always the middle-aged moms with bad haircuts giving us trouble. There was a garden variety of small-town archetypes ready to give us a hard time. Having one customer wondering negative thoughts aloud to you is one thing; having people constantly insult your job and the products you sell are another. And considering there was a pandemic going on, some of them wore their masks loosely enough to make me genuinely fear for my safety.
Plus, they were just messing with the supply chain. For example last July, a lady had wanted an iPhone with a storage size we didn’t have in store. So I ordered it for her with free shipping. During the shipping process, she changed her mind. Rather than just cancel and order one to her liking, she decided to also leave a scathing review that affected my commission. Luckily I only had to deal with her once, but I was kind of cheated out of about $15-20 due to her pettiness.
More infuriatingly, they implied I wasn’t doing my job to cover their hides. Another example was from several months ago when some crusty fisherman helped his daughter upgrade her phone. During this process, the customer’s ID needs to be scanned for it to even start. Well the very next day, he comes in complaining about something he needed to discuss with Customer Care. Simply not taking an obvious no for an answer, he demanded I look up his account memos.
Even when I did that (the notes were ridden with him swearing at them), we had to tell him to call Customer Care. Coincidentally several hours later, the district manager called the store about a customer’s claim that I signed him onto a financing agreement without his permission. I was lucky for the manager to side with me and the cameras to prove what happened. I’m sure that there are many more stories that have more severe consequences. But honestly, thinking about these stories more would worsen my stress and anxiety, which the pandemic provided in spades.
Just like with most things tech-related, there is an undeniable cornucopia of what weighs us down. Part of this may have been my fault because I could never master the Retail Face.
Just like with most things tech-related, there is an undeniable cornucopia of what weighs us down. Part of this may have been my fault because I could never master the Retail Face. Perhaps as an introvert dealing with pandemic-related stress, I was a poor fit for a sales job. But I would like to argue that I am perfectly capable of acting professionally, no matter the customer. Then again, part of me expects to be treated in kind. So after several hours of dealing with customers aggravating us with self-inflicted technical issues, the metaphorical mask gets thrown in the dumpster outside. Though it might be some extraordinary coincidence, the customers who have to be told to put on literal masks would think we have it out for them.
The elephant in the room was an obvious generation gap between the staff and customers. Most of our customers were at least several decades older than any of the store’s employees - including the manager. Aggravating this was that the store was in a rural area during an election year. Our standard clientele wasn’t what Yeats described as “[a] tattered coat upon a stick”. They were a fountain of technical incompetence, forgotten passwords, ratty 80s haircuts, and dated 50s social interactions. Oh, and their attempts at humor were cringe-worthy too.
I look forward to the times in the store when we can work with civilized, adept customers. This happens enough that I haven’t been tempted with serious thoughts to quit. Most of the time, however, I feel the happiest when a customer leaves almost as soon as they enter the store.
I look forward to the times in the store when we can work with civilized, adept customers. This happens enough that I haven’t been tempted with serious thoughts to quit. Most of the time, however, I feel the happiest when a customer leaves almost as soon as they enter the store. It’s honestly kind of insane when you think about it, wanting to work in a store that doesn’t sell anything. But I believe that after spending even a day working with our customers, it is perfectly sane to never want to see them again.
I’m aware of the phrase “salesmanship begins when the customer says no”. But considering the times that we live in, perhaps we need to rethink between sales and customer base. Especially in a portion of sales where most of the clientele don’t want to buy anything. Maybe the “new normal” will have far fewer people yelling at me because they don’t know to work a flip phone. If that turns out to be true, I look forward to it.