At least once in their lives.
Life is hard, and part of getting into the service sector is dealing with the price of the low bar for entry. Service requires soft skills to excel when helping customers; some things can be learned, but many skills are just inherent. They’re learned only through experience and come from an understanding of empathy.
Of course, being good with customers doesn’t mean you’ll have an easy time.
Some people are hard-wired to handle interactions with others quite well. That doesn’t mean that introverts are bad at customer service, or that extroverts are somehow better suited for the task. Working in service-oriented jobs takes compassion and patience to handle even the easiest interactions, and being in a position of authority is even more demanding.
The truth is that most employers are only interested in filling roles, not finding the best fit. This is why so many food service and retail employees look checked out (heh, pun) all the time. Honestly, I completely understand. I’ve worked in service-oriented roles for almost a decade, mostly because I was never qualified to do much else. I moved from job to job as I found better opportunities or needed to move somewhere else. During my time serving customers, I’ve discovered something… I grew as a person. Serving strengthened me in more ways than one.
So here are a few things that working in service-oriented jobs can change people for the better.
Patience Is Key
At many points in life, you’re going to need to be patient. Not just willing to wait for something, but to be willing to wait, and be content with waiting.
Most often, people coming into your store or restaurant are going to know what they want or need, and they’re going to tell you. Those are the easy customers. You’ll be able to get them what they’re looking for in no time at all, but they aren’t the only types of folks that drop by.
I can’t count the number of times that I’ve stood in front of a customer and waited for them to get around to telling me what they needed from me. For instance, a customer that walks up to the front counter of a fast food establishment to order their meal, only to freeze at the last moment. You can’t rush them, or prod them for information. They require you to stand there and wait, all while those behind them stare daggers at you for taking so long. It isn’t your fault that it’s taking so long, but that doesn’t matter.
The customers behind the one right in front of you may be important, but the person standing just on the other side of the counter is equally important. Nobody should feel like an obstacle to overcome; that person standing there is just as much of a person as you are, with their own dreams, values, and loved ones. Learning how to be patient and realize that there may be a day when you’re in their shoes goes a long way.
Pride Is Your Enemy
Pride is okay in small doses, but it can be damaging to you and everyone around you. A while back, I resolved that there were two things I would never do for work:
- I would never work for Wal-Mart
- I would never work in food service
Well, times were tough, and I had to make some choices. After a temporary position I had been filling had closed, I was put out of work. I lived in a college town where getting a low-paying job anywhere was hard work, because so many college students were competing for the same positions. I applied for months to different employers, with nothing to show for it.
I applied for dozens of jobs, and the responses (when I got any at all) took two forms. Either I was overqualified, or they were looking for someone who would be around for years. One particular position in town wanted to hire a college student to replace a college student employee who had been working there for eight years while pursuing her pharmacology education.
So after a month of being out of work, I went to Wal-Mart to apply. I have nothing against those that work for Wal-Mart; I just didn’t want to work somewhere that would treat me as poorly as Wal-Mart is often proven to. I needed work though, and being picky wasn’t an option.
I didn’t get a job there though.
Fast-forward to July of last year, and I found myself in a similar predicament. We moved to Oklahoma City, and I needed to have work to help make ends meet. I tried applying everywhere that looked like they’d need help, even Wal-Mart again, and I always struck out.
But I still hadn’t tried food service. Guess what job I ended up getting?
The thing is, I don’t hate it like I thought I would. I work with some truly great people, and while it isn’t what I want to do for a living, it’s helping us pay the bills and put money away in savings. We can live relatively comfortably thanks to my paltry paycheck (on top of Jennifer’s much-higher wages).
But working in any sort of service requires you to check your pride at the door when you clock in. No matter how rude the customer is, or how entitled they act, you are required to treat them well. Unless, of course, you’re willing to risk your job. Those same people that treat you like dirt are the same kind that would gladly get you canned if it meant they could get something out of it, whether it’s a refund or the sense of satisfaction from screwing someone over.
What makes it even harder to swallow your pride is that those entitled customers come from all walks of life. You may think that they’d only be the well-to-do older folks, but entitlement comes in all forms. Even young kids have treated me like something they stepped in because they realized they could get away with it.
That’s life though. It won’t always happen, but it’s best to learn as early as possible that pride is a dangerous flaw. It keeps you from realizing your full potential and changes how you interact with others. Pride turns you into the type of person that looks down their nose at others. It makes you into the person that says “I would never stoop so low to work there”.
I always hated hearing “time management” from a boss. In my earlier jobs, I often heard supervisors throwing that term around, claiming I needed to work at getting better at it. They were right, because I definitely had trouble with it.
It took time for me to improve, but working in service taught me how to handle tasks in a timely manner, because I wasn’t given an option. Everywhere I worked, we were always short-handed and lacked hours to give to our workers. Getting time on the clock meant that I needed to be as effective at work as possible to be competitive, and my coworkers and I were always competing for hours.
If you have time to lean, you have time to clean
Being competitive and effective at work meant that I was always considered for promotion over others I worked with. Learning how to effectively manage my tasks helped me with my hobbies even. It’s what allowed me to build Falcon Game Reviews to what it is today. Service-oriented jobs are great for teaching this skill because you’re often not given much time to just stand around. There’s always something to do, because so much of the job is focused on helping customers, and everything else has to be relegated to the back burner, until customers aren’t around.
Becoming A Better Person
The key thing to remember here is that working in a service-oriented job won’t necessarily make you suitable for any other work, and unless you apply yourself, you’ll never grow from that work either. Simply showing up and being a warm body won’t help you gain any useful work experience. The most important thing I learned about customer service work is something I didn’t learn from work at all. I didn’t learn it from my bosses, coworkers, or myself; I learned it from my parents.
I learned to apply myself completely in whatever I set myself to. I do that in my work, my hobbies, and even in my marriage to Jennifer. I give it my all, without the expectation of any return. It hasn’t steered me wrong.
And if I could impart anything on someone reading this, it would be to always be good to the person on the other side of the counter, whether you’re the one serving, or being served. You don’t know what’s going on in their lives, so be good to them. You might make all the difference in the world.