Customer Courtesy, Not Just Service

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Dear rude, insensitive, impersonal, disrespectful, arrogant, unappreciative, impolite, mean, disgruntled, underpaid and generally obnoxious customer service agent, receptionist, security officer, cashier, sales representative, police officer, information kiosk employee, airport security agent or phone spokesperson.


That is all.

Thank you and have a day as filled with angst as you have made mine.

                                                                                                                                                                                               — embittered consumer


This is a letter that I will keep a copy of handy in the bowels of my phone, computer, email and yes, I will even have it printed on a t-shirt to readily expose whenever necessary. My letter was prompted a recent encounter with two such un-professionals.

The first of which was an older gentleman who is the lobby attendant at a building I often frequent in downtown Chicago. It is not the most posh address, but it serves a very well-educated and accomplished clientele. Any given morning that I go in, I can expect him to ignore me and stare down at whatever is on his desk (pc monitor, computer or pornographic magazine. Whatever). He never smiles or initiates the morning greeting and always responds with a lethargic tone reminiscent of Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh. I’ve never seen him stand of move from his comfortable swivel chair, yet he has something in his life that keeps him from enjoying the white marble, fine oak-clad elevators and  tranquil atmosphere that surrounds him. I pray for him, but I don’t pity him.

The second individual is clearly an older woman in her 50’s. I am confident that she drinks occasionally and has a pack of Newport 100’s somewhere on her person.  She is the security officer at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I noticed an art piece that was in the window for quite some time was now gone. I wanted to snap a picture of it, so I stopped in to ask how often they change the displays. Maybe it is being shown somewhere else and if I see another one I like, I would know how soon I need to capture it before it is gone. Our conversation was as such:

MEC:   “Good morning. Excuse me, how often does the window display change?”

Security Officer: (pausing from a chat with a maintenance worker, rather agitated that I disturbed their hushed conversation) ”                     “Hmmph, I don’t know”. ( said in a tone that presumes the suffix of “What are you asking me for?”)

Why don’t you know? Don’t you sit there all day? Haven’t you ever seen the window dressings changed? How long was it before the last one was changed? Don’t you think if you are 10 feet from the entrance that the question would have come up? Who else am I gonna ask? I reserved my questions for another time and left the building, leaving a pleasant “Thank you” behind.

Enough is enough. If you don’t feel like being bothered with the public in your public-service job, you should stay at home because you are ruining the day for the rest of us.


A little later I replayed both situations in my head and concluded that one reason for this is economics. People who have invested years in a given profession (like myself; education) are down-sized and displaced. Just  as they reach the home stretch on the run to retirement, they are snatched out of the race and forced to go back to the “start” line. Now at a point in their lives when they could once do their jobs with their eyes closed, they have to begin again. Older mid-to-upper level employees are seemingly demoted to entry level jobs. Disdain begins. While I do understand what brought them to this point, I don’t understand why they haven’t come to terms with it.

I pondered more on the situation and concluded that others stay on their jobs a little longer than they should have. Their grace and patience for that job expired long before their retirement date. Finally, there comes a certain point when they ask themselves “What else am I gonna do?” and resolve to just stay put.

I must also admit that as customers, we don’t always make their jobs easy. Pushy, demanding, rude and disrespectful people dwell among us and there are even a few who see customer service as an entitlement. Sometimes treating them as less than the professionals they are. Snapping on an attendant that asks you to move because you can’t sit there doesn’t change the rule – you still can’t sit there! Huffing and puffing because the blouse you thought was $22 dollars is no longer on sale and rung up for $59.50 is not going to bring the price down. Stop the tantrum, suck up the embarrassment.  It’s beyond your budget. Put it back and move on.

We could stand to have a little more education and courtesy at both ends. We could all smile and watch our tone – especially African Americans who can come off abrasive at times. We aren’t rude, we are just colorful in our speech and often misinterpreted. On that note, we would all be better off being a little more well-versed in how other cultures communicate: Germans are cut-and-dry, Polish people are demure, Brits come off as pompous but aren’t, Italians are warm but a little raucous. Understanding ethnicity goes a long way in appreciating customer courtesy as well as extending it. The old rules of manners and pleasantries need to be revived and taught in training. Both parties should refrain from strident insults and emotional tone.  Stop taking your dissatisfaction out on people who were not hired to be your punching bag or sounding board.

In the interest of fairness, I have drafted a letter for customer service professionals as well. If I get enough comments from such employees, I will post in a seperate blog. In the meantime, let’s be polite to everyone. After all, no matter how good the service is, if there is no customer courtesy. do we really want it?

Twelve West apartment lobby


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