The customer is always right, right?

photo by Jay Whang

photo by Jay Whang

Nikol Slatinska

“The customer is always right” — that ideology can be hard to grasp for people who have ever had a job in customer service. Although most shoppers or diners simply choose what they want, pay for it and leave, a select few have annoying habits that manage to make employees’ jobs miserable.
One customer tendency that makes Vida Coffee Co. barista senior Elaine Phillips’ job more difficult is when patrons come in minutes before closing time.
The thing that I want to strangle customers for is buying a drink two minutes before we close. One guy came in right before closing time, when I had everything mostly cleaned up, and ordered 12 drinks,” Phillips said. “I was pretty annoyed as we had to dirty most of the things we had just cleaned, and he acted pretty happy with himself for ordering so much. I do not think he realized we were about to close because he apologized after.”
Phillips then had to find a container for the man to carry his drinks in, and when he came to pick them up, he was brazen enough to tell her she was pretty and ask for her number. While he thought he was being charming, Phillips said at that point she was so tired and mad that she wanted to throw him out.
That wasn’t the first encounter Phillips has had with a customer hitting on her. In fact, most of her negative work experiences have dealt with men coming into the shop and flirting with her in a creepy way. A particular instance involved an older man coming into the coffee shop on multiple occasions to talk to her. It didn’t bother him that Phillips, who was 18, was still in high school. When she told him her age after he asked for it, he replied with, “That means I can legally ask you out.” When she refused his offer, he sat and stared at her for two hours while she worked.
Phillips thinks it’s fun to be hit on sometimes by customers, as long as they don’t overstep their boundaries and know where to stop.
“Just because I am nice to all my customers and smile at them and am kind does not mean I want to date them,” Phillips said. “It is pretty cute though when I can tell a guy is working on his confidence by asking for my number. I try to refuse as nicely as I can because I do admire the confidence it took him to ask me.”
Like Phillips, senior Jasmine White sometimes gets frustrated by customers’ disrespectful habits. She said she gets flack from people almost every shift at her job as a Going Bonkers employee, and that their usual demeanor is either very pleasant or extremely rude and hard to deal with.
“I wish customers would stop leaving their trash everywhere, throwing their money at me when they’re upset with the prices and getting mad at me for things I can’t control,” White said. “Also, asking to speak to the manager who’s going to tell them the same thing I told them.”
Knowing the difference between constructive criticism and maltreatment is important when speaking with a worker, personal finance and investing teacher Susan Lidholm said. She believes that if someone disagrees with a company’s policy, there are different ways to handle it besides verbally attacking the person who most likely isn’t responsible for the problem. Having witnessed instances when people were totally insulting to employees, Lidholm feels there is never a time or place for that kind of behavior.
“I remember one time I was at a fast food restaurant and someone was questioning the quality of the food. They actually told the person at the counter that they were stupid,” Lidholm said. “That, to me, bordered on abuse. It wasn’t constructive or trying to get a problem solved, it was abusive.”
Being gracious toward workers has always been a habit of junior Sera Bai’s since her mom used to work at a restaurant. She thinks rude customers need to be more empathetic and try to understand the workers’ situation. What bothers Bai the most is when customers blame employees for normal mistakes and forget that  they are just trying to make a living.
“My mom used to come home from work really exhausted, and all I wanted to do was comfort her. It made me really sympathetic towards workers who had to interact with all kinds of people, including those who weren’t always respectful,” Bai said. “Yelling at a worker for the food being late or a spill is absurd. It’s like some people expect employees to be superhuman and control every situation in the work environment.”
Similar things to what Bai mentioned irritate Phillips, like when people don’t clean up after their messes or come into the shop and ask her if they sell coffee, when the shop’s name is Vida Coffee Co. A few have even complained that their espressos tasted weird and forced her to remake them even though she had made them correctly. Even though many customers have aggravating mannerisms, a study by bizreport.com reported that 76 percent of consumers view the quality of customer service as a representation of how much the company values them. But it can be hard to value someone who treats others disrespectfully just because they are providing a service for him. In case it’s difficult to understand what Phillips is suggesting, there are things consumers can avoid doing to make employees’ lives a little easier.
White recommends not counting change at the register when there is a long line, not asking unnecessary questions, like bringing outside food into the establishment when there is a huge sign posted in the building’s entry saying that’s not allowed, and handing money into the employee’s hands instead of throwing it at them.
“Do not go to a place less than 20 min before it closes, employees hate those people. Tip if you can. One dollar and chatting with someone lets them get to know you and it will brighten up their day,” Phillips said. “I always look forward to seeing those customers because they make my shift better. Also, try not to leave a mess. Any mess that is made someone will have to clean up.”