If you’re really lucky, you’ve never had a job that required you to deal with the public. You’ve spent your entire working life in the company of your co-workers or maybe just yourself, and not once have you ever had to pick up a phone or approach a front desk or open an e-mail with the expectation that some stranger was just about to unload an entire lifetime’s worth of misplaced frustration and general dissatisfaction on you for what may or may not have been (but most likely may not have been) a legitimate reason.
If I just described you, then again, you should know that you are really, really lucky. You probably had enough money to prevent you from needing to work when you were in high school, and then that money paid for an awesome education, and then that education resulted in an amazing job where on your first day you got an office with a door and someone to answer your phone calls for you.
Maybe like .4% of the people who read this blog have had that experience. The rest of us have worked in some form of customer service at some point in our lives.
While my current job is technically part of customer service, I also work for a multi-national corporation paying off a multi-billion dollar acquisition debt. As a result of this debt, most people are relegated to positions in which they must do more than one job with half the resources in a third of the time. This is what’s called saving money, and I participate because a) it’s better than unemployment, b) it gives me someplace to go every day, and c) I’m hoping that my mastering of this magical formula pays off with a fatter salary somewhere in the impossibly distant future. See? You thought I was a pessimist.
I’ve certainly worked in worse parts of customer service. Being a barista at 9am on Saturday morning was pretty bad. Bartending for frat parties was fucking awful. Answering drunk phone calls at midnight sucked a lot, and I did that for over a year. I still have to talk to people on the phone, but now I talk to business customers and actually, I deal with more e-mails than phone calls. Although my current job description is far better than some I’ve had in the past, there are moments where I still feel like setting someone’s car on fire and then running away to a hole in the woods where I can live for the rest of my days without anyone fucking bothering me anymore. That would be nice.
So, right. Customer service can be a real shit job. But I’ve done it for long enough and thought about it hard enough and perhaps accepted it pathetically enough that I’ve come to realize its inherent value. Yes, there is value (besides a paycheck) to a job that asks you to act as a receptacle for emotional and verbal abuse, to expose yourself to the unrelenting stupidity, self-entitlement, and lunacy of most people on the planet, and to behave convincingly as though you really are thankful, sir, and may you have another.
Customer service makes you a more patient and reasonable human being who is capable of understanding the vast machinations of a world that so rarely has anything whatsoever to do with you. Customer service allows you to shake off insults with a shrug and move onto the next challenge like it ain’t no thing (chicken wing, heh). It reminds you that disappointment is inevitable but that a little kindness can move mountains, and that even when the most considerate and thoughtful efforts fail, really, so few of the bad things that happen to anyone are ever personal.
If you have any one-on-one Internet experience with me (meaning via e-mail, IM, or some sort of social networking application), you know that I am pretty thick-skinned. This isn’t due to some genetic gift of being totally fucking cool about everything; from the moment I was aware of embarrassment (probably age 2, when my babysitter berated me in front of a room full of other kids for laughing so hard that I peed my pants) until oh wait I’m still like this, I’ve had a talent for repeatedly mining the most humiliating parts of my life for their full, nauseating potential. Do you ever do that thing where just before you fall asleep, you think of all the bad things you’ve done and all the people you’ve hurt and all the moments you wish you could do back and change because even thinking about them now makes your heart beat faster and the taste of bile rise in your throat? Yeah, that’s me. Like, all the time. But that’s how I affect me. When it comes to other people, I’ve realized that how they feel is their responsibility, and while they usually don’t communicate their feelings in the most effective ways, I am not really a part of their problem. I’ve spent far too many years listening to people bitch about anything and everything to let some Internet troll affect the way I live my life. I don’t respond to assholes. I don’t read comment threads. I know from experience that so little of what these people have to say contains any real value, and instead of torturing myself with why people don’t like me, I let them have it out among themselves, masturbating their personal rage into a freakish, all-consuming fervor. They’ll tire themselves out eventually. And then they’ll move onto the next target. There is always a next target with these people. Like I said, I have very little to do with their behavior at all.
This is the lesson I wish I could impart to the people I work with on a daily basis. Not necessarily the people in my group; while some understand the concept better than others, we all do the same job. I mean people in other departments, the ones who send me whiny e-mails and IMs to ask why me or say this is hard or claim it’s not my job and I don’t wanna. I tell these people the same things I’ve been telling customers for years. I know. I understand. But this is the way things are, and when you consider the alternative, we’re damn lucky to be doing anything at all. So walk it off, champ. We’ve all got shit to do. Some of us even have health insurance, and isn’t that great?