From the Blog

Customer Service Fantasies

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I think our common human experience dictates that we all, at one point or another, have been pissed off by someone in a customer service position. We may have positive encounters some of the time, or even a majority of the time, but those positive experiences are never enough to offset the dread of having to deal with customer service. Companies don’t have customer service departments to “help” customers, they are the low paid front line to to keep customers the hell away from the company. Companies don’t want to deal with your shit.

I have a bit of a different perspective as I’ve spent a good part of my employed life in customer service positions myself. I’ve never had to talk someone down from frothing, red-faced outrage over a broken toaster, but I’ve had to represent companies in polite and impervious ways, with a veneer of concern that barely covers the deep, dark depths of my apathy. It’s hard work.

I recalled my various customer service positions as I waited in line at the post office not long ago. It was near one of our urban college campuses here in Portland, and it was lunch time, so it was very busy. Waiting in line at the post office is now one of those few times I have to wait in line for anything. And this was a very long line, so it gave me ample time for observation and quiet reflection.

It actually wasn’t a very long line. It was just that everything took a long time. And with most post offices, you can see the counter, the post office workers behind it, the patrons in front of it, and the line stretching out before you. In situations like this, I can maintain my sense of composure for a good five to ten minutes. Even if the line is slow. I can still feel like a fully formed human being, waiting in line for up to ten minutes.

On this occasion, after ten minutes, the line had not moved. It was still the same two customers at the counter. And the same two workers shuffling around behind the counter. And that’s when I began to wonder about humanity. What are these people doing? What could possibly take ten minutes with no apparent activity? Were they mailing fissionable material? A flaming birthday cake? A live walrus?

Fifteen minutes. The line started stacking up behind me. There was no apparent urgency from behind the counter. And why would there be? For post office workers behind the counter, it doesn’t matter how long the line may get, their jobs will pretty much be the same. It’s no concern of theirs if the noon time crowd runs out of time on their parking meters or goes over their hour lunch break.

Another worker appeared and poked around the counter. For a hopeful moment, I perked up and wondered if they would open another register. But no. She disappeared into the bowels of the post office.

Twenty minutes. My ears were getting hot. Finally, finally, the line moved and a college age woman stepped up to the counter. All the demoralized people in line all shuffled one step forward. Because the room is open, and we could see and hear everything taking place at the counter, I was able to observe this woman’s predicament.

She had a text book she needed to mail. And she had an envelope to put it in. The problem, however, was that the book…it didn’t fit in the envelope. And she didn’t know what to do. She had waited in line for twenty minutes like the rest of us. Did she not, like I was able to do, memorize the whole rack of packaging and postal products including dimensions and prices? There aren’t a lot of interesting things to do while waiting in line at the post office.

And now she stood at the counter, stymied and bewildered as to how to mail this book. Now I will admit I am long past college age, and am a cranky old bitch at the ripe old age of late-mid-thirty-something. However, I do remember knowing how to use the post office back when I was in college. I don’t recall that I acquired this knowledge through the hard knocks of life.

It was at that moment that I wished so hard that I could use ESP or telepathy or demonic possession to take control of the postal worker’s mouth to speak to this woman. “So you have a book that is too big to fit in your envelope? That’s a shit sandwich you got there, buttercup. If you stood in line for twenty minutes and couldn’t figure it out yourself, I’m afraid we can’t help you. Next in line!”

The next person, was also a college age woman. She had a boutique shopping bag and two loaves of Dave’s Killer Bread. I know this, because I was behind her for twenty minutes. She unloaded everything on the counter and said “I want to mail this.”

Wow. Really? Twenty minutes to ponder the last time you saw a loaf of bread with a stamp on it in your mailbox. I know the world has changed and we have less opportunities now to interact with people and the “real world.” Hence my then boiling frustration at waiting in line with all of humanity at the post office. Perhaps these college students are studying law or are pre med or something. But in the real world, wouldn’t an individual need a basic level of functionality to get through life? Or in the very least, an embarrassed sense of decorum that attempts to conceal their profound levels of helplessness?

Does this sound petty? Or cranky? What did I say about me waiting in line for more than ten minutes? Especially because of stupid people? In that amount of time, I probably would have figured out how to package a goddamned loaf of bread to send it through the US Postal Service.

Again, I so wanted to be that person behind the counter. I felt a kindred with with those post office workers realizing, this is probably what they deal with all day. How nice it would be to actually say what you were thinking, instead of that required, vacant politeness.

I would look at this woman and say, “Sweetheart, try harder. Next in line!”



    I used to have a couple of those up in my cubicle when I last worked customer service. I wish I knew what happened to them…

  2. new Portland band name: Buttercup Shit Sandwich.

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