The Yomiuri Shimbun Dear Troubleshooter:
I’m a woman in my late teens serving customers at work. I’m worried about handling middle-aged and older customers because they’re much more likely to lose their temper than younger ones.
For example, when I didn’t notice one such customer calling me for help or something, he suddenly shouted: “You ignored me. You should be more attentive,” before leaving our shop. Why didn’t he think of calling for me again?
In another case, when I handed a customer a receipt, he told me: “I don’t need it. You don’t know?” If he doesn’t need it, he should have said so beforehand.
Yet another customer came to me at the cash register and put down some money without saying anything. When I asked him what he wanted, he angrily said its brand name, snapping, “Hey, what else could it be?”
I’m not a telepathic robot or somebody’s slave. Did these older people learn somewhere in the past that they could treat store clerks unreasonably?
My boss told me to apologize first of all whenever customers complain. I have no idea why I need to apologize, as I did nothing wrong or impolite. How should I deal with such customers?
G, Gunma Prefecture
Dear Ms. G:
I feel more and more people, regardless of their age and gender, are shouting over trivial matters or making unreasonable requests. In the days when there were not enough goods and hospitality services, I believe many people thanked others for providing them. Conversely, in an affluent society, consumers who pay money are regarded as being in a higher position than those who make and sell things.
I’m sad to hear your boss said you should listen to whatever people who pay money say to you. But in a way, it is inevitable considering the current economic situation. Of course, this logic won’t help ease the frustration of service staff helping customers at business establishments.
When I was in the United States to study, my teacher researched how employees coped with customers who made unreasonable requests. The research showed employees handled such customers by saying to themselves, “It’s not my fault they’re angry, they had a bad experience somewhere else” and “customers aren’t human” so they could keep working with a smile. My teacher called this management process “emotional labor.”
Based on this theory, when customers lose their temper, shop employees are advised to apologize while feeling pity for such people, as part of their emotional labor. I hope you’ll hang in there with this approach in mind as a necessity of our times.
Masahiro Yamada, professor