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Posts Tagged ‘Customer service’

The man in the chair beside me at the hair salon

In beauty, behavior, business, cities, life, men, urban life, US, work on February 26, 2014 at 12:36 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Alex’s salon is smaller than our living room, barely 200 square feet, with a large window facing north onto Grove Street, a quiet part of the West Village of Manhattan. He used to be on Carmine Street, a few blocks east, but, as it always does in New York City, the rent went up.

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So he moved into this space — once a clock repair shop — and re-made it, adding black rubber flooring, a long, narrow metal bench and all the newest magazines.

His salon has three chairs. Such a tiny space, situated on an unusually short, quiet city block, with one assistant sweeping up hair or shampooing, creates a sort of immediate, comfortable intimacy. Strangers a few minutes earlier, clients often end up trading business cards, sharing jokes, laughing together at silly videos on our phones.

Here’s a young executive about to take his pregnant wife on a “babymoon” to the Turks and Caicos. Here’s a woman in her 50s scrutinizing the edges of her pixie cut. Here’s a woman in her 70s, regal and serene, her hair a mini bouffant.

Some men — like my husband (who used to go to Alex when Jose had hair) — prefer a barber shop: quick, in, out, cheap.

Some women prefer the girly refuge of an all-female salon, where they call you honey and bring you cups of tea and it feels more like a dorm room than a business. And some women really don’t like being seen by men, let alone men they don’t even know, with a head full of foils or their eyebrows slathered with dye, mid-tint.

Let alone running across the street looking like a crazy person in this deshabille to plug the two-hour parking meter.

I also like supporting a man who’s stubbornly stayed in business for decades, holding out against brutal rent increases and, this year, a bitter, snowy winter that kept many clients home instead. His shoulders, he once confided, ache every day from the physical demands of his job.

So much of quirky, small-business, independent Manhattan is disappearing beneath the boot of greed and real estate development; streets like nearby Bleecker — once filled with dusty, intriguing shops — are now jammed with tourists buying pricey crap from the Big Name Designers who have totally taken over.

Regulars like me — more than a decade — still ask after Alex’s earlier assistants, like Bree, who long ago moved to San Diego and got married, or Eddie, a gentle soul with bright blond hair, who now works at a salon uptown.

Everyone comes to Alex: gay, straight, Wall Street execs, fragile old ladies from Queens, museum curators, publishers, writers. Few places in New York City — where every zip code has its own tribal markings and style codes and few stray beyond the precincts where they fit most comfortably, whether in Dockers or Prada — bring together so many different kinds of people, generally happy to chat with one another.

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Last week, the man sitting beside me quoted Chaucer in Middle English, an experience (of course!) I loved and could identify with, as I’d read Chaucer in Middle English when I was in college.

Everyone is welcome here.

He has a young autistic client who freaks out if he sees the odd mask on the salon wall, so Alex makes sure to cover it up when he comes in. I’ve seen very old, very fragile women in wheelchairs, their patient attendant waiting for them, come to him for their color and style. I’ve seen him lean in and quickly offer one a gentle kiss even though he talks a tough game, and he brooks no bullshit. Make no mistake.

It’s New York City, filled with hundreds of more-glamorous competitors for my business.

I could get my hair cut and colored anywhere else.

But why would I?

What sets your hair on fire?

In behavior, children, cities, culture, domestic life, family, life, parenting, urban life, US on June 27, 2013 at 12:28 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Leaf Blower Vac

Leaf Blower Vac (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I flipped my script the other day.

Totally lost it.

My temper, that is.

My husband is a Buddhist, so I’m very aware of all the mature, adult arguments for staying calm, breathing deeply, counting to ten before reacting, (or to 100), that we are all in control (hah) of our emotions and can always choose another reaction beyond anger.

Whatever.

It was a combination, with the usual final straw: endless noise of garbage trucks, leaf blowers and children shrieking plus a delayed assignment I feared might head south, (and with it my budgeted income).

After doing an eight-day silent retreat two years ago, I returned to normal life with a much deeper appreciation of – and deep hunger for — silence. Silence unbroken by, (as I write this, another fucking jet has just screeched over my head, thanks to changed airport traffic patterns since we bought this place), endless, endless, endless noise.

I wait all year, desperate to flee our small apartment, to enjoy the additional 60 square feet of our top-floor balcony, at the treetops, where I work, read, nap. Relax. In New York, we get summer from May to September, at best, and I’m eager to enjoy being outdoors, finally, day and night.

After the umpteenth scream from the kids playing below, (shared space we all pay for), 100 feet below my balcony, whose parents were both deafened and stupid, I called the management company for our co-op apartment building to complain.

When the manager there called me rude and hung up on me, I thought my head would explode.

Only in New York has anyone ever dared to tell me “You’re rude” when I’ve lodged a complaint. Whether I am, (and it’s entirely possible by the time I call, completely fed up), or not, is not the issue.

If you’ve chosen — and I did 2.5 years as a retail associate — to serve others for a living, part of your job is to resolve problems. Politely. You don’t call someone names because you don’t like what they’re telling you.

I can’t stand being interrupted, not listened to when there is a legitimate problem — and being name-called on top of it.

The results are not pretty. Not pretty at all.

I have a temper.

Which any of you regulars here already know!

In our family, anger was too often the primary language, the go-to choice. Instead of actually explaining that something we’d just heard — or acknowledged we’d said — was hurtful, we’d just hop the express train to full-on hostilities. I can still quote verbatim, decades later, some of the  phrases family members tossed my way.

It creates an opposite-but-equal reaction, then as now.

Fuck you!

No, fuck you.

I know my temper, and my very quick rise to rage on occasion, is both a professional and personal liability.

But people who didn’t grow up in the toxic stew of anger have no idea. Emotional armor becomes normal, and a vicious retort your quickest and most reliable/legal self-defense.

I could meditate for another fucking century  — and being disrespected would still make me crazy.

Selfishness — screaming brats in a public space — drives me crazy. The laziness of not disciplining said brats, by their parents or their kids’ friends’ parents, drives me crazy.

A lack of accountability drives me crazy.

We ate out recently in an indie restaurant recently that had done something (blessedly!) radical — posted prominent signs saying “Your children are welcome. We expect them to behave in a manner that allows all our guests to enjoy their meals” (or some variation of that.)

We plan to be return soon.

Here’s a great post by Dara Clear about his anger:

The bottom line is you don’t want fights and conflicts to choose you. It’s a much stronger position to be in when you are in control of your entry point into the fray. But how do we encourage that control when our anger is screaming war cries in our ear, urging us fearlessly into battle? As the cliche has it, let cool heads prevail. When you are under attack are you willing to bypass your ego and consider a non-violent response? Equally, can you still feel empowered if you haven’t raised fist or voice in anger? I think the idea of self-empowerment is at the root of the expression of anger and I would argue that there are people who love their angry selves because it makes them feel so empowered. But we need to get beneath the anger to work out what’s really going on.

This essay, from The Rumpus, is one of the very few I’ve ever read by a woman admitting what rage does for her, that rage is her:

For years, I would say that my father gifted me with rage. This may sound like “I tripped into the door again” dressed up in riot grrl bravado. But I am never sugar and spice and everything nice. I am piss and vinegar and what the fuck do you think you’re looking at?

When a friend needs to get stuff out of her asshole ex’s apartment, she calls me. When a landlord suggests that, instead of asking him to expend “money and energy” on fixing my toilet, I simply turn off the water pressure when I’m not using it, I photograph every code violation (however minor) and call the board of housing. I bankrupt him. When the resident creep in my building mails me a letter saying that he’d like to be my “friend” (quotation marks his), I don’t just knock on his door, I throw my shoulder against it. I tell him it doesn’t scare me that he knows where I live. I know where he lives, too. He doesn’t so much as look at me again.

***

Anger is an arrow: a sharp point with a clear path. Once it has struck, there’s a victor. A victim. My mother’s arsenal is stocked with fluttering laughs, “Oh honey” and “please, don’t.” Just be quiet, she says. He’s had a bad day. Don’t bother him. Don’t bang the cabinet.

What makes you totally lose your shit?

The wearying, growing toll of “emotional labor”

In behavior, business, cities, culture, journalism, life, Media, news, urban life, US, work on March 26, 2013 at 2:18 am
emotion icon

emotion icon (Photo credit: Łukasz Strachanowski)

It’s a phrase some of you might not know, even as your every workday includes it:

Does your job require you to manage your emotions, or the way you express those emotions, to meet organizational expectations? This is called ‘emotional labor.’ People in a service-oriented role – hotel workers, airline flight attendants, tour operators, coaches, counselors – often face the demands of emotional labor.

Arlie Hochschild created the term ‘emotional labor’ in 1983 to describe the things that service workers do that goes beyond physical or mental duties. Showing a genuine concern for customers’ needs, smiling, and making positive eye contact are all critical to a customer’s perception of service quality. These types of activities, when they’re essential to worker performance, are emotional labor.

When you face angry clients, or people who are generally unpleasant, emotional labor can be particularly challenging. A large part of that challenge comes from the need to hide your real emotions, and continue to ‘smile and nod your head,’ even when receiving negative or critical feedback.

Companies often place a great deal of strategic importance on service orientation, not only to external customers but to colleagues and internal clients as well. While emotional labor is applicable to many areas of business, the consequences are probably greatest in traditional service roles. However, in an increasingly service-oriented marketplace, it’s important to understand how emotional labor affects workers, and what organizations can do to support and manage any issues.

People who serve others in customer-facing jobs — like waitress/er, bartender, nurse, flight attendant, public transit workers and retail staff, to name only a few — shoulder this significant burden with every shift.

When I took a part-time retail job, which I describe candidly in my 2011 memoir, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail”, I didn’t really get how hard emotional labor is. Now I do!

Part of it is the assumption, if you work in a service job like retail — and a snotty assumption increasingly made in a time of growing income inequality — that the person serving you has never attended or graduated college or traveled or can speak foreign languages. (All of which our staff of 15 could or had.) We really didn’t need to be spoken to sloooooowly in words of one syllable, as we so often were.

And then there was the bad-customer behavior — which we were expected to ignore, or greet with indulgent smiles — The tantrums! The insults! The whining and finger-snapping and eye-rolling.

With a grateful sigh, I left retail work on December 18, 2009.

English: Managing emotions - Identifying feelings

English: Managing emotions – Identifying feelings (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But my writing business is pushing many of the same buttons.

A few recent examples from my freelance writing life:

– The young PR official from a company I’m profiling who Tweets my visit, (alerting all my staff and freelance competitors to my story), and then, (oh, irony), accused me hotly of “betraying” him by finding and interviewing sources he hadn’t pre-selected, approved and overseen. His naivete in tweeting leaves me shocked and furious, but in front of him, I pretend it’s not that big a deal because I really need to get this story finished.

–An editor assigned me five stories then told me she was leaving her position the following week. I felt a mix of confusion, annoyance and fear I might not get paid without her there; instead, I simply wished her well in her next project. (And, funny thing, the final two fell through, and cost me income I expected to earn. I did get paid, six weeks after invoicing.)

– A lawyer, a partner in a major D.C. firm, a story source, talks for 30 minutes — then tells me “this is all off the record.” In an email, he insists I print every word as he wrote it to me later, a promise I make but know I can’t keep because I don’t edit these stories. I’m now scared he’ll make my life hell, annoyed at his lack of understanding of how journalism works and sick to death of people threatening me!

Technically, I don’t have to do this for any employer (that would be me!), but I do…because maintaining my composure in the face of endless bullshit, no matter what I actually feel about it, is still just as essential to keeping sources cooperative, getting editors to answer/return my calls and emails and making sure I actually get paid.

Being self-employed offers no protection from emotional labor! We’re all in the service industry now, kids.

Do you perform emotional labor in your job?

How does it affect you?

“Malled: My Unintentional Career In Retail” — On Sale Today!

In behavior, blogging, books, business, entertainment, journalism, life, Media, Money, women, work on April 14, 2011 at 11:06 am

Finally!

My new memoir, which tells the story of retail work in America, is out today from Portfolio. It’s been getting terrific reviews — Entertainment Weekly calls it “an excellent memoir” and Herb Schaffner, a columnist for Bnet compares it to the best-seller “Nickeled and Dimed”, calling Malled “reality journalism at its best.”

I’m thrilled by the reception it’s gotten, with interviews and reviews, so far, from USA Today, The Financial Times, The Washington Post, the Associated Press and Marie-Claire. I’ll be a guest on NPR’s Diane Rehm show, with two million listeners, on April 19; on Marketplace and on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show on April 20.

I’ve also been invited to write a guest post for the Harvard Business Review blog.

My goal in writing this book is to make retail work — and the 15 million employees who make their living doing it — better understood. We all shop! The American economy, even in a recession, relies heavily on consumer spending, but we rarely talk frankly about what that demands of those workers, many of them part-time, with no benefits, earning low wages with little chance for raises or promotions.

I worked as an associate in a suburban New York mall, with some very wealthy customers, from September 2007 to December 2009, so this is also a portrait of the deepening recession and other workers who are taking low-wage work to make ends meet. I interviewed many others, from Costco CFO Richard Galanti to consultant Paco Underhill to best-selling author and owner of five elegant clothing stores, Jack Mitchell.

Like me, like this blog, “Malled” pulls no punches. It’s sometimes funny, sometimes dark, always honest.

And, yes, there’s plenty of outrage!

Wal-Mart has so far spent $2 million fighting an OSHA order and $7,000 fine to make their stores safer during sales  — after an associate in their Long Island store was killed when shoppers stampeded over his body.

Is this really what we want for our low-wage workers?

The sad thing is that such treatment is considered normal. In 1892, F.W. Woolworth disdained the notion of paying his workers a living wage — his business model, discount goods, simply didn’t allow for it.

I hope you’ll check it out at malledthebook.com, where you can read the introduction and Chapter One free.

You’ll also find there a listing of my many upcoming readings and events, most in and around New York City and some in Toronto; I’m talking at 10:00 a.m. on May 28 on the downtown campus of my alma mater, The University of Toronto.

The book also has a Facebook fan page; I hope you’ll “like” it and spread the word! If you enjoy “Malled”, I’d love it if you’d write a review at amazon.com

And here’s a funny/spot-on flow chart on what it takes to get a book published…

Working Retail? A Shopper? This Book’s For You

In blogging, books, business, entertainment, journalism, life, Media, news, women, work on March 24, 2011 at 1:37 am
Mall in Jakarta

Mall life....some of us survive it! Image via Wikipedia

Three weeks from today my new memoir, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” appears from Portfolio, the imprint of Penguin Press focused on business.

It tells the story of my two years and three months as a sales associate at a suburban New York mall for The North Face, an internationally known brand of outdoor clothing. In it, you’ll also hear from many other associates nationwide, and from consultants, analysts and senior executives — like Richard Galanti, the CFO of Costco — working in the nation’s third largest industry and largest source of new jobs.

If you’ve ever worked in a retail job — or any job with the public (God help you!) — you’ll find something in it to identify with, especially customers from hell, whether entitled finger-snappers or the perpetually dissatisfied.

I started out, as many retail workers do, psyched. New job, new industry, new skills, new co-workers. It was all good!

A few years later, shaking with rage, I actually ran and hid in the stockroom one afternoon after the umpteenth whiny shopper hit my last strained nerve.

“You’re being hostile,” she sniffed.

Truthfully I replied: “You have no idea what hostile looks like!”

Please check out the introduction and chapter one here.

The book — yay! — is getting all sorts of media interest. I’ve already been interviewed, so far, by the Associated Press, Washington Post, WWD, Marie-Claire (May issue) and USA Today. I’m booked on NRP’s Diane Rehm show April 18, and will travel from my home in NY to DC to do it in-studio.

Entertainment Weekly just named it “an excellent memoir.”

Please cross your fingers for its success, come check out our FB page and, if you like it, please spread the word!

When Working Retail Resembles Hell

In business on November 30, 2009 at 6:42 pm
Jabba the Hutt

Image via Wikipedia

I left early today. I might even get fired.

This is what today’s Customer From Hell looked and sounded liked as she railed and shrieked at me. This, after I asked her, politely and calmly (and according to company protocol) that deeply provocative question — “What is your zip code?” Yeah. That’s exactly why she decided to start shouting at me: “Don’t you file your taxes? Don’t you know your own zip code?”

Well, hon, I actually don’t live in the store.

If someone decides to start shouting at you at the top of their lungs, would you just stand there and take it? “You’re being hostile,” she screamed. “You’re upsetting me.” Funny thing, I told her, so are you. Then I walked across the room to escape her special brand of insanity.

Freeman Hall’s new book, aptly titled “Retail Hell”, describes his time in the trenches as a sales associate for a major department store. He lasted 15 years. I simply cannot imagine how.

Three Little Words I'm Longing To Hear

In business on October 1, 2009 at 7:17 am
Krispy Kreme doughnuts being made at the Krisp...

Image via Wikipedia

We’re in a recession, the worst in 70 years. Millions of people can’t get a job. Can’t even get a job interview.

So here’s my thought for the day: if you have a job right now, do it well. If you loathe that job so much you do it really badly, your boss should fire your ass today and put someone in it who wants and will do it both well and cheerfully. There is something fundamentally obscene — like scarfing doughnuts in front of someone who is starving — if you actually have paid employment and treat it, and the people relying upon you to do it well, like crap.

Three times this week I was blown off, dismissed and dissed by people who work in customer service jobs. How exactly do these people get and keep their jobs? A few weeks ago, a clerk at the grocery store gave me such attitude I called for the manager, who, as he was telling the clerk to behave got even more attiude from him. How does that work? The manager literally chased me into the parking lot, apologizing. I told him I’ll never be back. Why would I?

Here’s the deal: I am the customer, and I expect service. And here’s why I’m becoming the customer-from-hell.

I’ve been working a retail job at a mall one night a week (or more) for two years. I almost always (unless you are an insanely rude person and then I’ll find a fellow associate with more patience, about .0002% of the time) give unbelievable service and, as a result, I sell a ton of merch. People are quite often stunned with gratitude that I am: nice, friendly, competent, helpful. I know where stuff is and what it’s made of and why it’s the right choice — or not — for their needs. I smile, I say thanks, I apologize when something goes wrong or we don’t have it in stock. And I am paid badly and get no commission.(It’s cash, it’s easy and it’s regular. All good things.)

Because it’s my job.

So, the next time the machines aren’t working, or you don’t have the product(s) I want or the copy you’re handing me for an important letter is so dark and scratchy as to be illegible, here’s what I need to hear:

“I’m so sorry!”

That’s all. You don’t really have to mean it, although how great would that be if you did actually care? When someone is trying to buy a product or service, they are often short of: time/money/patience/amusement in their day  — or anyone who cares what happens next in that interaction. Should you work in any form of customer service, do us all favor, give a damn and acknowledge that we, the customer, have feelings. If you’re their manager, do your job and make sure they are performing well.

If you have a job — even if it’s a crappy low-level survival job you really didn’t plan to be doing at this point in your life — do us all a favor. Suck it up and do it well. If not, move over and let one of the unemployed 10 percent do it for you.

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