Customer Service workers are people too

Working in the service industry for over a year has given me insight into how the treatment of employees matters more than you realize.


by Aspen Cherrito, Multimedia Editor

Amid the June heat and a five-hour shift, I step behind the shiny ice cream case to help the next customer. I smile as hard as I can and in the most upbeat voice I say, “How can I help you?” However, what they don’t know is that I was taking deep breaths in the back with my coworkers, trying as hard as I can to be patient after helping a large, touristy, indecisive, tip-less family. That my back was killing me from having to reach down into the ice cream case. That my head was counting down the minutes until the shift change. That I really, really, did not want to be there.

This was a daily occurrence at my old job at an ice cream shop. On paper, it may sound like a dream job. You’re surrounded by ice cream all day, you get all the sweets you want. However, no one tells you about the customers. You have to deal with the people who yell at you for something that you couldn’t help, the large groups that don’t tip and you have to put up with it, because, of course, the customer is always right. Making me feel like I was in a way their servant, not a 17-year-old girl trying to save up money. 

I consider myself a people person. However, working in the service industry made me revert back into my shell, scared of how people may treat me. Of course, you get great experiences, like the time a man told me I was “pregnant with happiness.” But then you get the people who will yell at you for not having cookie dough and demand to speak to the manager. These people are the extreme examples, not the normal example of a couple coming in on a Friday night getting a sundae. Hearing from other people, they believe service workers have to love their job, I mean if they don’t they could always get a new one. What is the point of staying miserable?

However, this isn’t the case as I hear from my ex-coworkers. I naively thought that the workers loved their job and wanted to be there, or that they could always just quit. However, this isn’t the case. I was surrounded by college students, graduate students and adults who needed a second job just to get by. Although we loved our job and our coworkers, no one ever really wanted to be there. The long hours, indecisive customers, while we just wanted to chat and do our own thing; clean up the back, pint some flavors, but the customers were always there to rile us up.

Working in the service industry humbles you. The roles are switched — you get to see what it is like to have to wait on others rather than being waited on. You realize not leaving a tip can ruin someone’s day because I promise you that $2 can add up after a six-hour shift. Treating the wait staff as if they aren’t people can make them insecure, they are just trying their best of course, and not having patience can increase the tension between the customer and employee. 

Going out to restaurants with friends is a whole new experience now. I don’t sample as many flavors as I want, I try not to be indecisive, I tip. I do all the things that made my day when I was the one behind the shiny ice cream case. If the staff is a bit short with me or seems stressed out, I assure them that it’s okay. Their life doesn’t revolve around their work and they aren’t super bubbly all the time. Some of the best moments I had whilst working in the service industry were when people asked me how I was and wanted to start a short, but sweet, conversation. I’ve recognized that we all need to be more understanding of everyone. Put yourself in their shoes, understand what they are feeling, treat them like people, they are just doing their job.

All of these things seemed so small to me before I worked in the service industry, but now I make it an effort to be kind to those waiting on me, make sure I tip well and treat them like they are real people. They enjoy the same things as we do, just because they are the ones waiting on us doesn’t mean that they are less human. Working in the service industry, for a low hourly wage is essential because not only does it humble you, but the amount of empathy it teaches you helps you to treat others properly now that you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.