Tue. Jan 25th, 2022

If you’ve ever worked in retail, you’ve probably heard this phrase a thousand times over:

“I want to speak with your manager”: the battle-cry of the unsatisfied customer—or more times than not, a far worse entity.

However, before diving into a social media-esque rant about how much people suck and how retail workers just want people to take their pumpkin spice latte and go on with their life (looking at you, Michelle), the reader is entitled to some background on this situation.

I have experienced this first hand. As a student in desperate need of the money to eat and survive, I have worked retail and restaurant jobs over the past four years. This probably isn’t a surprise; education costs are always rising and the mythos of the broke college kid are all too real as I open my bank account today to see $1.45 eagerly awaiting me.

From Starbucks and chain restaurants to call centers, I’ve seen just about every type of complaint. Diverse as these jobs were, there was always a through-line mentality.

The customer is always right.

An innocuous phrase. A pithy retort to be thrown at the likes of the employee.

No. No, they are not always right. Neither are the employees.

This is the systemic problem with the current consumeristic model; no matter how long you’ve worked in a job, profession or place, any average Joe off the street can come in and complain and they are automatically right about the situation; the employee’s reaction is always offense, feeding into an endless cycle of resentment and lack of decorum.

As stated earlier, this being read as an airing of emotional grievances is not my intent. This is supposed to simply make aware the fact that your displeasing experience may be completely valid, but you should never insist upon knowing more about how my job works than I do. My goal is to educate about a different perspective and ultimately change mindsets of consumers and employees alike.

During my tenure at Starbucks, which I affectionately referred to as “The Bucks,” there was a particular regular—let us call her Michelle. Every day, Michelle would come in, order her coffee and leave. Most days she was okay, not overly polite, but did not try to be rude. One day that all suddenly changed.

Michelle came in, her usual 6:30 a.m. routine, touting her fashionable clothing. I prepared her coffee per her usual laundry list of requests and put it out on the end of the bar for her. She took it and sipped slowly. There was a brief silence. Something was wrong.

The next thing I know is a coffee is whizzing past my head, and she was screaming that I didn’t make it right. Normally, I would have simply offered to remake her drink—we are contractually obligated to do so, but given her outburst, I ran to the back and got the manager.

While my manager dealt with the fury of Michelle, I stood there and listened to all the accusations ranging from how I insulted her to how she could do my job better than me. You know the deal.

This one incident is not isolated, but is rather an allegorical way of explaining the behavior that has come to be normalized by consumerism. Customers routinely act like this at service establishments across the country, and I cannot really blame them, for they have been inundated with the mentality that they can behave like this—that no matter what, the customer is always right.

This mentality needs to shift, and thus it is good to always side with restaurants and businesses that withhold services from rude customers. If you do have a complaint, there is no reason to treat an employee like a dog for it. Most of the time, we will recognize your dissatisfaction and work with you to make it right.

For this shift to happen, two things must occur: First, customers need to understand that employees do make mistakes, but that is not free license to talk down to others. Second, employees need to recognize they are not always right, and that when a customer is dissatisfied, help them become satisfied. Maturity is needed on all sides if we are ever to move beyond the petty bickering that occurs.

In other words, follow the Golden Rule: Recognize your own faults (regardless of which side of the fence you fall on) and work to change the mentality surrounding consumerism; then we all exist in a more pleasant society. Toxic mentalities will only lead to greater dissatisfaction and contempt for the other, and to change them will result in better products and experiences for all.

Alexander Breth is a fourth-year student majoring in English writings. He can be reached at AB834895@wcupa.edu.

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