It has come to my attention that there are two types of adults in the world: those who still eat chocolate bars, and those who stopped in their teens. I fear I may be becoming the type of adult gravitating towards the latter; I like an Oh Henry now and then, but beyond that, nothing.

I serve only three types of customers, working the graveyard shift. Despite my best efforts to instill within myself disbelief that yuppies still exist, I see them every morning, usually starting to trudge their way to the offices at about six in the morning. Construction workers come next, usually in horribly noisy diesel trucks that scream into my drive-thru headset. The last of these three types of customers is military, but I do not have any problems with them, because they're quick; drive-thru only, concise, off to work right before the yuppies rise up from their neatly designed apartment coffins. Believe me, if you ever work where I work, you'd be able to tell who still eats chocolate bars and who doesn't.

I am glad for regular customers. I find it odd that the people I see most frequently at my place of work are the ones that break the monotony of it all. They tell me stories; what they did last night, how work's going, they didn't get that fucking raise they'd been promised. I can relate: I offer them small anecdotes about what I did last night, how co-worker X is getting to me, how I didn't get that fucking raise I'd been promised. And because of the partial anonymity inherent with customer-employee relations, I find it oh-so-natural to withhold nothing, not dress up any story, the sort of self-backpatting and woolpulling reserved for, say internet acquaintances and in-laws. "Oh yeah, just about finished school. Trying to figure out a master's thesis. Going to Borneo to discover new and indigenous tribes. Yep, definitely hoping to irreparably change their ungodly ways for the worse. Things are great!"


Give your customers the straight dope: why lie? The truth is, you don't really care about them (but maybe you should), so why make the effort to weave an elaborate tapestry of half-truths, flat-out lies, and omissions to slake your own discomfort with these people? It is doubtful that you'll be having a dinner with them, a social gathering in which you'll be forced to release the truth upon them: that your delvings into theoretical physics have not, in fact, moved and shaken the very vestiges of the scientific community. Don't bullshit. Be appropriate, and politeness is always appropriate. Hello. How are you? That's great! You off to work this morning? Oh yeah, I'll be here till the early morning. Damn right, another day at the office.

You've been to a McDonald's before, right? Not exactly the paragon of prodigous and exemplary customer service. Do you know why that is? Neither do I, but I can hazard a guess that it's related to, firstly, the horrible slave-driven work conditions and the simple truth that, for many of the restaurant's employees, it's a first job. Tell me: how often do you see smiles there? Up on one of the menu-boards (that's what the legal, technical term for them is) it says: Smiles: FREE.

I don't deliberately go for an assholish persona but I'm sure that's the general consensus among McDonald's employees. I want my smile. I want politeness, smiles, and for employees to graciously want my business. Besides: it never hurts to smile. So when you're behind a counter at a restaurant, clothing store, or anywhere in the known universe where you provide a service for another person, smiles are, of course, of very high priority.

There is a young woman who works the night shift with me, let's call her "Jane," because it's a fairly non-threatening name. "Jane" does not have her customers on the very top of her priority lists. Often, she shirks her customer service duties in favor of our other duties, like cleaning the store, or checking equipment. This is a definite no-no. In a customer service environment you drop whatever you are doing, to serve your customer. If you are wiping down a table, folding a pair of pants, or holding the planet earth on your back, drop it, drop it all, so that you can devote 110% of your attention to your customer. Think of it this way: if you walked into a store, money in your hand, desperately wanting a new pair of Nikes, and you saw the shoe store's staff sitting around, talking, giggling, folding things, playing with the cash register--how much would that dampen your shoe enthusiasm? For me, I probably would boycott that store, set up picket lines and firebombings. It's all about being appropriate and polite; after all, none of us like talking to a person's back.

I'm not talking about strict guidelines about working customer service. This is what I've learned so far. Maybe extenuating circumstances will come into play later. But I doubt it: how very basic is this advice? It should be inherent to any job. Politeness, courtesy, smiles.

After a time an employee comes to know his or her customers. You begin to tell if they do or do not eat chocolate bars any more. This is of utmost importance. Know your customers! Do they expect some courtesy and idle chit-chat? Are they quick, and want their order before they even arrive? Do you, as a representative of the company for which you work, expected to perform feats of telepathy? Is your customer just deepdown crabby and bitter? Hey, a smile might soften them. You get comfortable. Think like they do. Do they work unbearably hard? Are they tired even before work? Help them out: give them something to be energetic about; a joke, lighten the mood. Ask them if they like chocolate still. Tell them something funny you've read. Tell them about what you do in your spare time: hell, tell them about everything2, if you think it's a worthy topic at the time.

Everything I've written about is integral to doing a good job at your place of employment. I don't care what service you're providing, what you're selling, if you're a Sandwich Artist. If you are unable to conform, at least in a small way, to what I've outlined above, get a new job. Live in a hole. Read a book. Be unemployed.


I've been working at Tim Hortons for six months, or thereabouts; I don't claim to have any sort of mastery of my customers. Before that I've worked as a janitor (the proper and businessy name was "facility maintenance"), in support ("Yeah, have you tried rebooting?"), in security, ("Excuse me, sir. I'm going to have to ask you to leave."), and now, in a restaurant. Too many times I've seen the people I work with not take their jobs seriously at all. They hold their position because it provides them income to buy shoes and cell phone minutes. I don't care much for these types. I have personally seen these girls flagrantly ignore customers; make excessive giggly noises; act overly tired and decrepit. They don't enjoy the job, it's just a means to an end. It's all about the money, and that's valid, but in a place where you do receive some (meagre) tips, you'd do well to try a little harder to please the customers.

Is it so hard to drudge up a smile from the pit of a person's being? So you're tired. Give a tired smile. You're sick. Give a sick smile. If it's genuine, it's still a good smile. It's like shaking hands: a great place to start. Babies smile without prompting. It's as if we're born with the ability to seem, act, and be happy. So why not smile?

"Jane" smiles and speaks with a lilt in her voice that conveys boisterous joyfulness. She's got a caustic sort of personality: she can easily grate on my nerves. If I'm exposed to her cloying lifestories for any more than three or four hours, my whole being itches and gets sore. But she gets customers, regulars who come in to see her all the time. I can't deny it, no matter how much I dread being around her. The dayside people may have a tougher job, but that's no reason to haphazardly disrespect customers, deliberately or otherwise. "Jane" irritates the hell out of just about everyone, but she has the customers down to a science. And that's just good business.

Have you called your friendly, neighborhood corporation lately. Your phone will answered by a recording made by a female actor with a cheerful contralto voice. She'll ask you what language you speak? You push a button. Push another button for customer support. Push another button, and another, and the cheerful contralto will lead you through the options until you figure out your option doesn't exist and then she'll try and summon an actual, live, human being, who are apparently scarce even when there are five billion of us. You will be put on hold where you will be told about the "unusually high volume of calls" (it's a weekday) and then listen endlessly to a commercial where the cheerful contralto will remind you how lucky you are to be dealing with the corporation which has you on hold.

Customer service? Yeah right! Didn't used to be like that. Let me take you back to another day, when I wore diapers and the world was a lot simpler. My grandfather was a salesman. He started selling pots and pans in 1919 to pay for college (he was an orphan) and by the end of his career was vice-president in charge of sales for a small children's book publisher. He liked big, powerful cars, particularly Chryslers. His idea of a sensible family engine was a 440 and that was at age 73. In 1956 he was at the top of his game, a top salesman earning a top salary, travelling some, but less and less.

Back in the day salesmen travelled, and they travelled by car. The interstate system had begun during the Eisenhower administration, but back in the day a two-lane road was a national highway. Four lanes was a major luxury, motels were locally owned, McDonald's was nowhere and a salesman on his route took twice as long as the same journey would today. You had to carry samples and books are heavy. And like I said, Grandad liked powerful cars so he could pass when he wanted to. His ride of choice at this moment was a '55 Desoto Fireflite. Top of the line, Hemi V-8 with two-four barrels, push button activating the first Chrysler Torqueflite automatic transmission. Power seats, power windows. Tail fins to the skies, thanks to Chrysler's stylist, the great Virgil Exner. It even had air conditioning.

Understand that air conditioning was very, very rare in the 1950s. Most homes weren't air conditioned, which is why older homes came with screened in porches. Sometimes people would sleep out there to get away from the heat. Air conditioners weren't very common in cars until around 1970. My father's 1969 Dodge Dart hung the AC exhaust below the dash, because there were no provisions for AC ducting back then. Now that doesn't mean perpetual suffering, as cars today were. You had little windows that rotated at the front of each door. Turn one of those in on you, get up to speed and you could be decently comfy even on a hot summer day. In the mid-sixties Mercury offered cars with a power rear window, to make sure the air flowed through efficiently. When you pulled the 'Vent' knob (really a drawbar) of a '53 Chevy a whole scoop rose up at the base of the windshield. Any hot-rodder will tell you that's a grand place to grab a lot of air, because that's where a lot of scoops end up.

But that wasn't enough for my Grandfather, so he ordered his with air conditioning. It might have been the first car in Akron so equipped. The unit was built by Carrier, and resided in the trunk. Right behind the back seat ran an electrically driven compressor, fan and heat exchanger-- the stripped out guts of the unit cooling your bedroom. What a boon for a salesman on the road, who travelled for hours every day and was expected to smell good when making a call. Only the air conditioner didn't work. It worked for about ten minutes then quit and nobody knew how to fix it. Not the mechanics who knew every intricacy of a Carter four barrel. Most of the dealer's mechanics hadn't ever seen an air conditioner before. They pulled out their shop manuals and tried their best. They even had the local Carrier rep over to advise them. No matter what they did it was no dice. It would work for a couple minutes then choke up and blow hot air.

So one day Grandad found himself passing through Syracuse, New York, which is where Carrier used to be located before they shipped the factories out to China. He made his sales call and then decided to drop in on the plant. Maybe someone there could help him.

Things were a bit different in the 1950's. He pulled right up to the gate. When the guard came over he told him about his problem with the air conditioner. The guard came over, calls were made and Grandad was instructed to pull his DeSoto into a garage in one of the plant buildings. An engineer came out to inspect the car. A couple more engineers and a plant manager came out. A half hour later a smiling engineer came over and told my Grandfather it was fixed.

He spoke the truth. The air conditioner was pumping out lots of lovely, cold air. The problem was simple. We all know that air conditioners drip water condensate. A vent tube for the condensate had been provided, but it had been clogged during the undercoating process. Because the water couldn't drain, it froze preventing air exchange and sending hot water into the cabin. All it needed was to be unplugged, something the dealer's mechanics did not know because they'd never seen an automotive air conditioner before. My grandfather drove away happy, and in cold comfort. A service bulletin was issued so mechanics would know what to look for.

When some corporate web site talks about 'old fashioned customer service' put them to the test. Drive up to the plant with our broken down X34282Dv3 and see what they'll do. Odds are they won't send an engineer out to see what's wrong.

For a quick look at DeSotos of that era see: A slide show of DeSotos Here's a nice '58 Here's a desoto history A history of the '55s, which Betty Grable drove. The '55 pictured at the top is just like the car in question:

Shaogo tells me that refrigeration manufacturer Hoshizaki gives good phone tech. And recently I received old school customer service from Insinkerator. So there is hope.

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