A tribute to customer service representatives and a rant to those who insist on mistreating them, as inspired by a few of Monica Gerges' misadventures.
Begrudgingly dragged to the world of shopping - at Cairo Festival City Mall, no less - and forced to endure a few hours of scouring through aisles in search of je ne sais quois, I opted to start people-watching to keep myself amused. People-watching is one of my favourite past times; it really gives you a chance to be aware of your surroundings and of how different people may be, and no, it's not creepy. Anyway, I digress. Looking through a rather small aisle in the children's section in one of those large and fancy 'multinational' stores (which, to me, only means some American brand infiltrating the homeland), my cousin pulled out a few articles of clothing while they remained on the rack, looked at them, and then pushed them back in. A semi-grumbly customer service worker was in the same aisle, hidden somewhere behind an unfathomably large pile of clothes, and told us to please put the clothes back properly - it appears as though he was trying to put the aisle back to its original state after people had destroyed it. My cousin raised an eyebrow, put the item back, and kept looking.
As I observed the customer service rep, I noticed that people interrupted him to ask the most obnoxious questions, such as the infamous "how much is this?" Sure, such is the life of a retail worker – I would know, I've been one – but these endless questions were the result of laziness and not a genuine need for help. How do I dare make such a brazen statement? Well, because the grumbly rep would then grab the price tag attached to the item, show it to the customer, put on a half-smile, and tell them how much the item cost. I giggled as quietly as I could, since the aisle by the wall of the store was so tiny that it didn't leave much room for personal space, and I didn't care to have anyone overhear me. After fielding the ridiculous questions, the rep would turn around to find someone else messing up this section he was trying so desperately to piece back together; I understood his frustration. My cousin and I walked away, roaming semi-aimlessly through other aisles, but something about this customer service rep stood out to me – I knew my interactions with him weren't quite over yet.
Drawn back to the same cute Minnie Mouse dress that first brought us to the tiny aisle, we approached to find its entrance blocked by a woman with her rather large stroller and cute little child. She didn't look pleased, nor did she move to let us in. As my cousin looked around, I remained next to the woman with the stroller; moments later, her husband came up to her and, honestly, I don't remember whose voice was louder or who began bitching first. "He said I can't go into the aisle with the stroller! He turned his back on me!" she yelled to her husband, who appeared to be arriving to give the grumbly customer service rep a piece of his mind. What ensued left me with my mouth slightly open and my eyes glued to what looked like a scene from a really bad reality TV series. "How dare you turn your back on her? How dare you not let her take the stroller into the aisle?!" the husband yelled. "Isn't it your job to provide customer service and clean up around here?" The exasperated worker began politely explaining that the aisle is so tiny that the stroller wouldn't fit, and that no one else would be able to get in, gesturing to the fact that the stroller had stopped me from accessing the aisle. According to the woman's husband, that wasn't the rep's problem and he shouldn't be allowed to say no to her. Again, the exasperated worker attempted to explain that the aisle is a mess and he's trying to clean it - she was more than welcome to enter the aisle but the stroller just wouldn't fit. After what I can only refer to as a bakabort of profanities and safala by the husband - egged on by the woman's recurring statement that he had turned around and walked away from her, which the rep claimed he never did - the husband demanded that the rep grab his manager because, clearly, he's in no position of authority and this needs to be addressed.
I understand that, in sales, the customer is always right - I always hated that principle, but it shut people up and so we often abided by it. What I don't understand is how the manager showed up, put the customer service rep in the wrong, and proceeded to allow the woman to push her stroller through the aisle - of course, the stroller knocked down everything that came in its path, undoing most of the rep's hard work over the past X amount of hours. My cousin came back and mentioned that the woman had a point to be afraid to leave her child in the stroller at the head of the aisle - people around here kidnap children a lot, apparently. But still, I argued, her oaf of a husband could've showed up, stood with the child and the stroller, and let his wife walk in and do whatever she wanted to do. It's not rocket science; they just have an overinflated sense of entitlement.
We walked away from the scenario and, as my cousin paid for her purchases, I found myself gravitating back to the tiny aisle. "Does stuff like this happen to you often?" I asked the customer service rep with an empathetic smile on my face. He looked up and said, "Honestly, I deal with a lot of really aggressive people and people who don't understand that I work here but I'm also a person just like them. She knocked everything down with her stroller." I acknowledged his frustration and mentioned that I had worked in customer service before, outside of Egypt, and understood how frustrating it must be, but I had never seen something like that before. "When people tell me they want to come get something from my store, I tell them to go to another location or to come here on the weekdays. On the weekends, people here are terrible. But, you know, it's the nice and polite customers who acknowledge me that really make my day." We exchanged a few pleasantries and customer service stories as my cousin returned and pitched in her empathetic two cents. Before we left, I extended my hand and asked him his name - Ahmed. "Have a good rest of your day, Ahmed," I said, and he finally genuinely smiled. My cousin's comment as we walked away? "I've never stood around talking to someone who works at a store. You really are a foreigner; you can chat, sure, but don't shake hands with them." "Why?" I responded, "Aren't they people just like anyone else?" Her response was a silent shaking of her head at this foreign creature who had - God forbid - shaken hands with a customer service representative, asked him for his name, and wished him a good day.
No, I'm not some sort of hero in this story; I'm just an ordinary person who understands that human beings need to be treated like - guess what? - human beings.
I've been working part-time jobs since I was a rebellious little 14-year-old who grew up knowing the value of money and always wanted to go out and get a job. With 11 years of work to my name - and not a penny in the bank - I've worked everything from restaurants, administrative positions, freelancing, gyms, and the mother of all workplace atrocities: retail. I can't begin to tell you how awful retail was, from crappy customers to picky customers to annoying customers to messy customers - you really get to deal with shitty situations. On the other hand, I absolutely loved working food service because I love working in people-driven environments, and as long as you're giving people food and doing it with a smile on your face, they're happy. But, whether in Canada or in Egypt, customers seem to believe that their money entitles them - it entitles them to whatever the damn hell they want, no matter how ridiculous it is.
Not long after this incident, I was in the car with an Uber driver with whom I struck up conversation about anything and everything – comme toujours. In talking about his job, he mentioned that people are sometimes difficult - they can be demanding or demeaning, or sometimes just not even acknowledge him at all. Other times, though, he gets clients who are pleasant and willing to sit and chat respectfully - those are the people who make the job worth it. Saad, the dokkan owner by my place, has said similar things in the past. People look down on him as just a dokkan owner and treat him like he's not even human, but it's the people with whom he has genuine interaction that manage to make his days that much better.
Some customer service workers are terrible, I understand, and when we go to a respectable place we expect to get a certain level of service. I get that. But, for some reason, we find ourselves so entitled to take our anger out on sales and customer service reps who, just like us, are entitled to have bad days, are entitled to be treated with respect, and are entitled to object when they find themselves mistreated. We've become so used to the "7ader yafandem" attitude that most humble workers present that we've become beg7een (brazen) in the way we deal with people and expect nothing less than to be treated like royalty. We're all human, ladies and gentlemen, and the guy working retail is the same as the Uber driver is the same as the engineer is the same as the pharmacist is the same as the bawab. Imagine being on the receiving end of that type of treatment and think before you fsh ghellak at an employee. Instead, try taking two minutes of your time to acknowledge them, appreciate them, and show a little love. All you have to do is smile, be nice, treat them like human beings, and you’ll likely get the same in return.
Here's to everyone who's ever worked a job where they have to deal with ungrateful and entitled people who mistreat them; keep working hard, there are people out there who genuinely appreciate what you do.