retail-worker-gI recently discovered the web site Not Always Right—it’s basically a place where people who work in retail post their encounters with horrible customers and I’ve gotten hooked on trolling through each recounted conversation.  It’s probably why I haven’t written a blog post in a while…that and fact that I’m really lazy.  The format of each entry is pretty standard: the customer says something stupid, asinine, or crazy and the working stiff tries to politely help them and then it quickly devolves into the customer screaming and storming out.

The whole thing reminds of all those years I worked in retail (I’ve survived two tours of duty at two different Barnes and Noble branches) and my own horror stories from dealing awful customers (I used to quote that line from Clerks: “This job would be great if it wasn’t for the customers.”) I think my experiences have shaped my own behavior when dealing with people in customer service and I’m proud to say that I’m never one of those people who go off on retail workers—even if the service is lousy. There’s an old adage that you can learn lot about a person by how they treat people they don’t have to treat well.  And what’s a better example of a person that you don’t have to treat well then someone making minimum wage and who you’ll probably never interact with again?  It’s a modern morality litmus test.  Scream at some kid working at Best Buy about how they’re stupid and incompetent because they can’t find the printer ink cartridge you need fast enough and more than likely you’re an egotistical asshole who I can guarantee has never worked a low paying retail sales or service job.

But I’m stuck wondering if I’m really a nice guy or if the reason I don’t act like a complete ass is because I know what it’s like to be on the other side.  If I hadn’t worked retail, would I still act respectful to these people?  I’m sure there are perfectly pleasant and cheery people who have excellent manners and been blessed never to have worn a nametag and punch a time clock (somewhere out there).  I’m also sure that there people who have worked under those same conditions and are still rude customers.

Maybe the whole point isn’t that someone has to have worked at the very bottom of the totem pole—we’ve all been in situations in life where we were the people that don’t have to be treated well.  Maybe it’s that you’re able to step back, imagine what it’s like in the other person’s position, and treat them how you’d like to be treated.

[Pic via]