There were a lot of things about my former roommate Hubert. There were times I was mad at him and times when it was very personal. But I don’t think I was ever so impersonally disgusted with him as when he bragged about making the girl who fielded his call to American Express cry. His anger and AmEx was justified, but nothing justifies making some poor girl getting paid $7 an hour cry for a mistake that wasn’t hers.

The discussion over lunch yesterday was getting back what you give. It started off with a discussion about how Internet conversation has made our society more less social rather than more. Before I could raise my objection, the conversation turned into the politeness of society-at-large, there we found agreement.

I’ve heard it said that women can partially judge the worthiness of a man by how well he treats people that he is not trying to impress. For instance, even if he treats her like a queen if he treats the waitstaff, his mother, and people on the street like crap that’s something of a warning sign. How well a man treats people above him has as much to do with cunning as genuine kindness, but how well he treats those beside or below him is a mark of his character. This applies to women as well as men, though to be blunt in my experience this is less a problem with women than with men.

There is very, very rarely any reason to become visibly and audibly angry at a food service worker, for instance. I cannot think of a single way that will help anything. If someone doesn’t care about their job they won’t care that you are mad at them. If they do care about their job but are ill-trained or incompetent but well-intentioned, do you think that getting angry will suddenly make them know and understand their job responsibilities better? No matter where they are coming from, it doesn’t help.

From your own point of view, as the customer, it is very rare that you’re going to get anything yelling that you can’t get with more adult behavior, except perhaps a spit sandwich. Sometimes you might get a freebie just to avoid a scene, but is that really worth making an ass out of yourself? Really? How cheap a bastard are you, exactly?

This goes quadruple for yelling at someone at the other end of a help service line. When I was fielding calls at CignalTV, we honestly treated angry customers as sport. You want to yell at me cause your service is out? Have a ball, but I’m not going to do any more to help you than I have to. In fact, I may even do less than I am supposed to. If the higher-ups hear about it, they’ll see the host of nasty comments left by previous call handlers about how irate you are and will assume that you’re a crank. I’ll even add a comment there myself, providing cover for the next guy that doesn’t want to help you with your problem. It wasn’t my job to be your verbal punching bag.

It’s a different thing to be upset or angry at the situation. The other day, for the third time straight, I was given the wrong breakfast sandwich at McD’s. Today on my way home from work I stopped by and told management that they needed to talk to their morning shift about getting the orders right and explained that it makes customers angry when they realize halfway down the freeway that they paid $2.25 for a $1 breakfast sandwich they didn’t want. Now who do you think he’s going to take more seriously, the guy that explains why he is upset or the guy yelling at the cashier that’s probably just looking for a freebie? Whenever someone called Cignal and was angry at the product (an outage or a billing error), I’d do whatever I could to help them. But it’s another matter entirely when you’re taking out your frustrations on the guy standing in front of you.

This really is one of those things that I feel very strongly about. While I disagree with my coworkers about the socially deleterious aspects of the Internet, I couldn’t agree more with them about increasingly uncommon courtesy.


Category: Market

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