Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Dante's Tenth Circle

It is my opinion that Dante must never have had to work in customer service, or there would have been an entire tenth circle of hell described in the Divine Comedy. As a military man during the intense political conflict between the Ghibelline and Guelph factions in Italy over the legitimacy of the Roman Papacy, we can surmise that Dante may have been more tolerant of criticism from his peers, due to the heirarchical and strict nature of the military. Yet while he was not participating in battles, he was also a member of the physicians and apothecaries guild, and was employed as a pharmacist. His choice to be a part of the working world does not seem to have been influenced by the need to work, since his family was of the middle social class, but was ultimately a sacrifice to be made in the name of Dante’s political career. To hold a public office and be eligible to vote on important matters, one had to be employed by one of the city’s commercial guilds (a hold-over from the time when the guilds ran the politics of the city, before the time of career politicians). So whether Dante liked it or not, he was subject to the whims and fluidity of the customer service industry, even though it does not seem that his choice to be a part of the work force influenced his literary achievements, and it is obvious that the Divine Comedy was largely inspired by the political and religious ideals of the time.

In the Inferno Dante lampoons politicians, thieves, heretics, and the generally corrupt population of the world, yet there is no mention of the world’s true criminals. I’m referring to the segment of the population who feels that it is tolerable behavior to harass, berate, and emotionally abuse those who work in the service industry.

What I would like to know is why these horrid people behave this way. God knows that we all feel completely entitled in this day and age, but do we really need to take out the negativity in our own lives on the people who are serving our food and ringing through our boxes of shoes? When I was a child, I was taught that when someone does me a favour, no matter how small it may seem, to thank them and not to complain if it is not done entirely correctly. Everyone knows that I LOVE to complain, and that I can find fault with almost anything, but I am the last person you’ll hear to criticize my server if my food is a little cold or they take ages ringing through my purchase. In the meantime I continue to be polite to my server, and wait until I have left the establishment to voice my concerns. What I’ve learned from this is that if you are polite to the people who are serving you, then they have no reason to be impolite to you, therefore you will get better service, and even if they are rude to you then you know that you are the better person.

Yes, they are being paid to be there, but harassment is not covered in their contracts, and they do not get a bonus for not bitch-slapping rude customers. If they did, they would all be rich, and would no longer have to work there.  No amount of money covers the random abuse that cashiers worldwide are subject to, so why should customers expect to be allowed to yell at them. Do they like being yelled at when they are at work? I think not. The majority of the time, these people are only doing their jobs, or at least trying to, and it is the uninformed customer who is the reason why their jobs are so difficult. Understanding on the customers’ part is important in any store, which is why I make it a point of trying to explain store policy to any customer who comes within earshot, in the hopes that someday this knowledge will make my job, and that of my co-workers, easier. If a mistake is made by a cashier, chances are it is because they have not been trained properly (which is all too much the case these days with the high staff turnover that many businesses are experiencing), or that they are simply exhausted from having to put up with people who just don’t understand the basics of customer etiquette.

So here are some handy little tips, that I consider to be key in being a good customer (as you should all be striving to be!):

  1. Read the signs; they’re there for a reason.
  2. If you don’t understand something, then ask someone who does.
  3. Don’t complain. Chances are the cashier can’t do anything about it, and your negative attitude is not going to want to make them bend the rules for you.
  4. Don’t pay in pennies. Seriously. Roll them up and take them to the bank!
  5. Don’t start in on your life story. Trust me, they don’t give a damn.
  6. Don’t come in 5 minutes before closing, unless you’re actually only going to be 5 minutes. They all want to go home and live their lives, just like you do!
  7. Most importantly, just be nice, and if you can’t do that, then just say nothing at all 

To finish it all off, a rather apt quote from everyone’s favourite French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre: “Hell is other people.” You tell them, Jean-Paul!