A few weeks ago a very disgruntled customer stopped by the bookstore. He was waiting outside the door before the store opened, and since I was done with pre-opening prep, I let him in a few minutes early. He proceeded to plop a dirty, wrinkled book on the counter and demand a refund.
Problem #1) We don’t do refunds. The store’s policy is on a big sign above the cash register and on the receipt, and we tell people this whenever we buy something.
Problem #2) The book looked like it had been read in the bathroom, dropped in the toilet, and then roughed up a bit.
Problem #3) Uh…rude, much, guy?
I should have just told him to take a hike, but I double checked our policy with our store’s buyer, my more experienced colleague, who came out to reiterate the store’s policy to Mr. No-Manners McGee. The ensuing “conversation” went a little like this:
No-Manners McGee: “I ain’t paying $30 for no book.”
Co-worker: “I’m sorry sir, but the most I can do is store credit.” (total cave! there’s no way we could have resold it.)
NMMcG: “F-you lady, and F this store. I ain’t coming back in here.”
My thoughts: Good Riddance. I could use some coffee.
Disgruntled customers are a certainty in retail or any job that includes a service component, but when they cross the line from being snippy and annoying to just plain rude and verbally abuse, how should I, as a service worker, respond? I realize that not every situation will include an f-bomb, but the lack of profanity doesn’t make rude behavior any more palatable to the retail worker, circulation assistant, or librarian who must “deal” with it.
Fight or Flight or Be Polite?
The Professor, one of his research buddies and I had a long conversation about rudeness and responses over lunch a few weeks ago and our philosophies couldn’t have been more different.
Me: I loath confrontation, but I dislike rudeness even more. As a librarian and a retail worker I’ve had my fare share of encounters with rude people, and my response is always the same: cool but professional inward disdain. I’m a helper by nature, but when someone makes unreasonable demands (that they expect to be med), takes my job forgranted, or exhibits a disregard for the people around them, all helping triggers in my brain shut off. I turn to auto-pilot, going through the motions of meeting their reasonable demands and explaining away their ridiculous requests. I remain professional but aloof. I’m not sure if it’s a defense mechanism, if by staying cool I’m trying to prevent myself from turning into a) a doormat or b) an angry librarian. What I do know is that no one could ever accuse me of being unprofessional and to the casual observer I don’t appear to be anything other than a librarian/retail worker doing her job.
That’s doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck. It does. It super-sucks. I want to be friendly and helpful and nice! It’s in my nature, and it’s just an easier mental space for me to inhabit. But when I encounter an overly rude patron or customer, nice librarian/retail worker is replaced by calm, collected, serious librarian/retail worker who doesn’t smile at you.
The Professor’s friend: He turns into a hard-ass. No nonsense professor. No you can’t take your exam at a later date. No extra points. It’s tough, but I can respect that.
The Professor: He’s definitely of the “kill ’em with kindness” variety. He dislikes rudeness and rude people just about as much as I do, but his response is so much different. He responds to rude people in his professional setting by being nice in return. The Professor is of the opinion that in doing so he’s modeling appropriate professional behavior that hopefully a rude student or colleague will then exhibit later on. He claims this technique has been successful with students in the past, so he’s stuck with it. I expressed worry that he might be acting a little like a doormat, but he claims that he neither is one or feels like one.
I wonder if that’s the secret, maybe? You’re only a doormat if you feel like you have mud on your forehead.