Angry customer aggressively complains to service worker while they seem stressed by the situation

The Cost of Service with a Smile


Imagine you’re an 18-year-old working their first serving job in the restaurant industry. You approach a table by greeting them with a kind, “Hello, how are you doing today?” just to be rudely interrupted by, “I’ll have a water and there better not be any ice!” What that feels like to customer service workers is rejection and the neglect of being treated like a person, not just a worker.

A custom that has been around for over 100 years is the term “the customer is always right” which has caused a rise in entitled consumers and more aggression towards service workers. There is nothing wrong with going out of your way to make a customer experience pleasant but, there is a danger in not recognizing when you have gone too far and as a worker you are being taken advantage of. This also sets a bad example towards employees where it implies that if employees disagree in any circumstances with what a customer says, the employees are now the ones at fault.

“Just because the customer has the right to their opinion on the way their meals are prepared, they have no right to treat their waitress/ waiter/ cashier however they please, that is wrong,” states Jethro Blair and fellow service industry worker. “I can agree to a certain extent but, as far as the way you treat someone who is providing you a service, that does not give customers the right to treat workers as if they are lower than them.”

Unhappy customer aggressively complaining to service worker

Over time, these workers learn to not take these interactions personally and have stopped taking the time to connect with customers on a human basis. What most people over time have neglected to realize is how emotionally draining working in the service industry entails. A term that a lot of people may be unaware of is called emotional labor where workers manage their feelings and expressions to fulfill the emotional requirements their job entail. These actions draw on our deepest sense of self and there are two emotional labor strategies called surface acting and deep acting.

Surface acting is response focused where employees forcefully have to put on a mask to suppress negative feelings to create an expected positive response from another. Daily surface acting has been a cause to increases in anxiety, tension, sleeping problems and even substance abuse. Deep acting is the action of determining what felt emotion we choose to feel such as thinking happy thoughts. These actions can help reduce strain but is still associated with exhaustion and stress which requires more of an effort than authentic expressions. Deep acting comes with its burdens about how we aspire to feel and often times involves deceiving oneself as much as deceiving others. We as service workers have the choice on whether we view our own well-being as a workable challenge or get locked into spirals towards depression and burnouts.

“As a part of your job, I feel we have to keep a smile for the most part but there are some instances where as humans, we should be able to stand up for ourselves whether we are on the clock or not,” states Cassie Spenso, a first-time service industry worker. “As a society, I think it’s important to realize that we are all people and those who are service workers are just as strong as the rest of us, therefore we need to be careful of everything we say to people.”

Customer angrily complains to workers while they seem stressed by the exchange

As customers, there is a responsibility of upholding the idea that people working in the service industry are people first and employees second. Over the course of time, people have forgotten to treat others like people with simple gestures such as keeping eye contact, responding to the questions you are being asked or even asking how their day is going. As humans, we are able to connect with one another with simple conversation but most often, we operate out of belief that interactions are only transactional and it is just another customer, waiter, or just an “other”.

Angry women shouts at service workers while employee calmly stands during exchange

There are countless possibilities of taking the risk of moving beyond the safe, predictable roles and honestly meeting whomever we’re with. When people are given the opportunity to reach out to others with honesty and trying to connect with their fellow human and miss, it’s disappointing and degrading. When we allow ourselves to acknowledge our own and others humanity, others will start to notice, and this will hopefully start a chain reaction. It’s time to be gentle with ourselves and others and appreciate that none of us are living one-dimensional stories. Opening up to each moment is a continuous lifelong practice but, the process is the goal.

TED Talk “Service Isn’t Same As Hospitality” Anna Dolce Dolce

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