Smiles for service industry
Nicole Michels | Thursday, January 16, 2014
Shopping this holiday season was rushed. I returned home from school four days before Christmas break, and, because I didn’t really think about most of the gifts before I returned home, I had a lot of work to do. And I had to do it quickly.
Dec. 21, I shopped in downtown Chicago with one of my friends who stayed at our house for the weekend before completing his return from Notre Dame to Mexico. I didn’t find much wandering around in the rain, and I returned home tired and empty-handed.
Dec. 22, I trekked with my little brother to the Old Orchard shopping mall, the nearest cluster of stores to our house. Found a lot of presents, but in these two days of shopping I really felt the plight of the retail employee, exacerbated by the holiday season.
After working at a store for a while, employees can distinguish the typical customers of their stores the moment they walk in their gigantic, glass doors. High-end, low-end, novelty, sport and other stores all get customers: the good, the bad and the ugly.
I worked a few service industry jobs back in the day. I worked as a book restocker, online order filler, bicycle shop employee, retail sales associate, audiovisual department staff and cashier. I’ve also interacted with parts of the general public as a tutor, Congressional intern, NGO intern and of course, as the Observer’s Assistant Managing Editor.
I’ve held these positions for a summer, for a few months or for a semester. Other people work in those same positions full-time, and soon after we graduate most of us will also be dealing with some contingents of the general public. And let’s face it, the general public is frustrating.
This winter break, I learned it makes a world of a difference to ask the harried guy ringing up my friend’s purchase in Chicago’s downtown Macy’s about his day and his weird, frazzled customers. It cheers the airline customer service representative to be treated like a person, instead of the human manifestation of my frustration. It makes the day of the snowboard shop employee in Winter Park, Colo., when I call his shop and ask for his manager’s contact information so as to leave a glowing review of his service.
All we have to do is pay attention. It doesn’t take much more than a smile, a kind word, a “Hey, how has your day been? What weird customers have wandered in here today?” to make someone laugh.
Maybe you haven’t been in one of these service industry jobs, maybe you will never be in one. Regardless, especially around the holidays, throw them a smile. You might make someone’s day.