Re: Why you should never say “It’s not my job” (even when it’s not).

… from the office of MOM

Watching some young people (you know who you are) out in the working world, I sometimes wonder where their parents are. Then I wonder where my bosses are. . .

I understand that the concept that “the customer is always right” is no longer taught in many workplaces, however, I think that the expression has gotten a bad rap (I know I’m dating myself here). It doesn’t mean – and has never meant – that the customer gets his/her own way all the time. And there is a reason why it’s good for you, the employee, to learn rules that seem counterintuitive in the beginning.

Here was the scene at the grocery store last week: I was bagging for a 20-something cashier who was telling a customer that she had picked up the wrong item for the coupon she wanted to use. The customer said something to her that I couldn’t quite hear, but began with: “You should…”

At this point, the cashier threw her head back and snapped, “That’s not my department.”
The situation escalated as the customer angrily snatched back her coupon from the cashier’s hand. The cashier responded with, “So rude.”

The next few minutes were very uncomfortable for everyone as the groceries were bagged up. Then the customer left in silence.

I was not in a position to chastise the clerk (she was senior to me), but I did ask the customer if she wanted me to get the item she needed. She declined. And afterwards the cashier apologized to me and the next customer for having to “witness” the exchange. But, there was no need to have this scene happen at all.

Here’s the thing: I hear “You should blah blah blah….” all day long. Most people think I might be a manager because of my age (you couldn’t pay me enough to take that thankless job). I always try to listen carefully and then I promise that I will bring their concern to the manager or to the department. I try to follow through. Why? Because when a customer says, “you should…” they really mean “Your company should.” It’s not personal. They are usually not angry with you. They may seem to be directing their frustrations on you, but most people calm down as soon as they think you care about their situation.

If the customer is not reasonable and remains angry, I will call a manager over. This usually works. Getting the manager is another sign to the unhappy customer that someone hears their concerns. If the problem is resolved, then everyone is relieved.
If the manager can’t solve the problem the customer is taken off the line by the manager and brought to the service office to handle the problem away from the other customers. The problem might be solved or not, but it’s now away from you. This step-by-step approach diffuses difficult (and potentially threatening) encounters with unhappy people.

Another reason why “It’s not my department” or “It’s not my job” is never a good answer is because you, the employee, should know whose job it is and where to direct a customer to a solution to their problem. If possible, you should walk the person to the right department and introduce him to the employee he needs to talk to.

Finally, the purpose of etiquette (or manners) is not to follow rules blindly, but to make people feel as welcomed and comfortable as possible. Think of how you want to be treated as a customer. Do you want to be trapped in a line with an explosive situation unfolding in front of you? Do you want your questions answered? Do you want your advice to be considered? Yes, yes, you do.

Now, here’s the secret: If the managers of the company don’t care about your suggestions or problems – they do want your money. If they are good managers and want to move up in the company, they will straighten out the problem. If they don’t care, then nothing gets changed, but that does not relieve you from making an effort on behalf of the customer.

Whether or not, the customer gets what he wants in a particular situation, you will achieve the following goals: 1) You will have made another human being feel he matters. 2) You will keep other customers – within hearing distance – from wishing they were in another store. 3.) Your managers might recognize that you are management material and promote you.

Some customers are mean and ugly no matter what you do, but that brings us to the best part of these rules. It’s true that you can’t say “it’s not my department,” but you can always THINK it all you want. And after you refer the issue to the manager as calmly as possible, you can COMPLETELY forget about it and the bad customer. It’s now your manager’s problem. Then you have control over your work area once again. Harmony is restored and it’s over. There’s no need to let it spoil your day.

Living well isn’t about money or position. It’s about knowing how to handle what comes your way (and improving on it). In that way you flourish no matter where you are. 🙂


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