Murch: Customers don’t need the gory details

It’s only Nov. 9, but some people already are feeling the pressure of the holidays. At least that’s the excuse I’m giving them for rude behavior. That’s the only way to explain how short so many people can be with customers – the only reason they have a job.

When I worked retail years ago – and I worked retail for several years – it was stressed by employers that customer service comes first. Our personal lives shouldn’t affect us at work, or at least as minimally as possible. While no one can leave all their worries at the door, you’re there to do a job and do it to the best of your ability. I’d hate to think that complaining is the best of their ability.

At least a half dozen times in the last week to 10 days I have had employees tell me how much they hate their jobs, how unfair they are treated with work hours, etc., when I went in their as a customer. It’s a little like the hors d’oeuvres I never ordered.

I don’t know these people personally, but they were comfortable enough telling me all of their dislikes about work. I never asked about it, but they apparently believed they should share that information with me.

Make no mistake, there are plenty of unpleasant jobs out there, and jobs where you are at the mercy of the customers – who by themselves can be rather unpleasant at times – but complaining about it to anyone and everyone isn’t the way to do it. Normally a shoulder shrug or “what are you going to do” ends the conversation but sometimes you have to be a little rude yourself and just walk out on them when they don’t stop.

Since it’s human nature, or at least partial human nature, to complain maybe we have become a little immune to it. What I haven’t become immune to is the other issue – ignoring the customer.

If ever there was a big pet peeve with poor customer service it’s employees talking to their co-workers about the awful babysitter they hired, or the great meal they cooked, or (in a sad twist of irony) the horrible customer service they had – while they are supposed to be waiting on someone themselves. Or rather, they are checking out customers at the cash register without acknowledging them, all so they can carry on their breakroom conversation at the work station.

We’ve all learned far too much about strangers simply by the conversations they have with co-workers when they should be helping us. We even find out about “killer parties,” and how much alcohol minors can consume, even though they can’t legally purchase alcohol.

Most of the time I just bite my tongue because if I don’t engage in conversation then I’m probably out of there quicker. The exception was the day I was at a register and there were a couple of people in line behind me, including a woman who was probably in her early 80s.

The cashier, and I use that term loosely, was talking to her co-worker about her sex life. Needless to say all three of us at the register were looking at each other in disbelief. I finally told her to please leave that conversation in the breakroom, to which she told me I was rude.

I told her she was coming off as a bad employee and a slut and if she said another word I’d tell her boss about the conversation – and I had witnesses. She didn’t say a word, including thanking me – for being a customer who helped pay her wages, and not ratting out her sex life to the boss.

Now don’t get me wrong, engaging customers is the right thing to do. It gives them a feeling of appreciation when done properly and with the right connection. However, we don’t need to hear about how lousy your day is, how bad the hours are, or heaven forbid about that guy you hooked up with last night. We all have bad days at work, or have to work lousy hours from time to time; some even have bad hookups. We just don’t share it with strangers.