Dear supermarket checkout attendants, cafe workers, and shop assistants. Please stop calling me "sir". You have no reason to do this, and it's irritating the hell out of me. In no other context would you conceivably consider addressing me in this way. You are maybe five or six years younger than me; in the worst cases ten to twelve.
Come on, I'm clearly youngish, informal, mostly pretty scruffy looking. Do you really think that's how I want to be talked to?
So maybe it says you're supposed to do this in your training manual. Or your manager told you to do it. As part of your commitment to service, always address the customer as "sir"; this conveys the appropriate degree of respect.
It doesn't. At best, it makes me feel old. At worst, it comes across as patronising and condescending. Especially when you, the carefully-groomed, attractive woman in your early twenties, keep using it, in between chatting to your fellow "baristas" while you make my coffee. "Sugar with that, sir?". "So, yeah, dunno, I was thinking of going to the Matterhorn". "Will that be all, sir?".
Because, if once is too much, four or five times makes me want to slap you. And I'm particularly addressing this to you, smarmy supermarket junior manager type with the slightly different tie from your fellow employees, and your I'm-showing-the-trainee-checkout-worker-how-to-serve-customers manner. You think you're impressing your poor protege with your knowledge of the customer service handbook by firing off five or six "sirs" as you zap my groceries? This customer just thinks you're a wanker.
People, your handbook was written in the United States, where there are different standards of formality. And even there, "sir" is far from de rigeur in most settings. The place I've spent the most time in is Miami; there, in mid-range department stores, the woman calls you "baby" (and only if you're really white--anybody vaguely Hispanic looking is "mi amor"). As a customer and a person, I prefer that.
You want to know how to provide "good customer service"? Very simple - be polite and efficient. Don't piss about. And I have to say, you in the supermarket are mostly doing a brilliant job in this respect. Yes, you're mostly first-generation immigrants, and you mostly refrain from the "sir" bullshit; it's the homegrown, facetious, wannabe manager boys who pull that out.
While, we're on the topic, cut the small talk. Do you really want to know how my day is? You care if they're keeping me busy? Didn't think so. And, let's just say you were unaccountably fascinated by what I might have been doing this morning, do you think the next person in line is going to wait around while I describe it to you? So let's just lose the pretence and move swiftly on, ok?
To you in the clothes store, I must make a special appeal. Yes, you do have to be approachable. But don't overdo it. Remember, I'm male--I'm confused and intimidated by being in a clothes store. I need to browse the racks from a safe distance, like my ancestors on the savannah making sure there weren't any sabre-toothed tigers lurking before they went after the mammoth.
You can flag your availability, but be discreet. Something like: "You're ok there, right? Just let me know if you need any help" is fine. It'll still freak me out a little, but as long as I can get away with a "sure" in reply, I won't actually need to run out of the shop.
You don't care if my weekend's been busy either--so don't ask. And yes, you guessed right. I'm a guy, and I did see the game. I could even discuss in depth whether the third sin-binning was justified, or why the lineouts went awry in the second half. But that's not why we're here, so why bother?
You really want to be helpful and sociable? Tell me something about the item I'm looking at. Is it down from $89.99 to $69.99? Manufactured somewhere other than China? Made with fully unionised labor? Its material particularly warm in winter/cool in summer? The cut flattering to the shorter man? All of these things are important to me; they're useful information, what I'm looking for when I'm poking around trying to find the labels.
So, if you tell me these things, that will be of assistance; I'll know whether to go chasing after the mammoth. You might even have a sale on your hands. Just don't pretend to be my friend. And whatever you do, don't call me "sir".
OK, so right about know you're all thinking that I'm some oversensitive middle-class twat. You're doing your best, service jobs are low paid and menial, how are you supposed to know what different people prefer? Well, I believe I have done my time, and do have some insight. Three years working in a gas station, where I had to suffer gits in their BMWs pulling up and telling me to "fill 'er up, mate" ("I'm studying philosophy!", I wanted to say).
I've worked in cafes, bars, youth hostels, all kinds of service jobs. And, you think you don't get no respect as a checkout worker--try working in the carnival industry in the USA and Canada. There, not only does the populace despise you as a dirty carnie, they feel justitifed, in fact honour-bound, in trying to cheat and steal from you.
Consequently, I have a lot of sympathy for the service worker. I much prefer the system in restaurants or bars in the US, and even anal old Canada, where a tip is expected for the person who serves you. This allows you to give a portion of your money directly to that person--and the harder and better they work, the more they get.
I just have no time for the needless--and phony--self debasement that is promoted in the pages of the corporate training manuals. This does nothing for the customer, and is only truly embraced by the smart-assed types on the way up the management ladder. I would be happy to see a tip or commission component in all service jobs, so the employee is able to not only be rewarded for working harder, but also learn what customers really respond to (mostly, being treated as a human being).
So, please, act normal. Use your common sense and stop believing the guff they tell you. And, unless you're really trying to piss me off, stop calling me "sir".
Categories: rants, customer service, New Zealand