Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Service Economy (Or, F@#$ You Very Much), Part 3

In the previous two segments, I relate the story of a hapless bookseller in a ridiculous customer service situation as a frame to talk about the fate of those working in the service industry (1/3 of the economy). The first installment can be found here. The second installment can be found here. Some things covered: the term “a real job”, the consequences of the policy “the customer is always right”, and ruminations on unions. And so, blah, blah, blah, let us continue:

Happy Happy Happy Happy

So, why do you need me to pretend that I’m happy to serve you?

As any servant knows, if the boss really thought that the Jokester guy was nothing but a joke, then he wouldn’t have even bothered to pass the incident on to the bookseller. Deep down, the Jokester had gotten to the boss, sounded the capitalist alarm. The bookseller could see it working through the boss, coming out in the thought: “Sales are going down because the booksellers are not being pleasant to the customers! My god, I’ll go out of business before Christmas!”  The Jokester had showed the boss that the booksellers were not ‘servicing’ the customers properly! Why couldn’t they all just do their frickin' jobs? Why did he have to go up front and tell them simple things like ‘be pleasant?’ Aren’t they adults? Can’t they figure it out themselves?
Within days, the boss started lurking behind shelves in proximity to the front cash register, spying on the cashiers, making sure everyone was doing their job properly. When he was drunk, he roamed around the front of the store and screeched a too-loud welcome at the customers – “Heeeelllllllooooo, how are you doing? Thanks for coming in today!” then he would turn and glare back at the cashiers with a look that clearly said, “You see that? That’s how you do it, you dumb cattle.” (And yes, the customers would make a bee-line for another part of the store because it was scary as hell. They had no idea who he was or why he was screeching at them.) 

Happy Happy Happy
In the weeks that followed, the boss told everyone: “You need to smile more.” 
Wait, it’s not enough that the customer is always right? It’s not enough that the cashier has to eat whatever bullshit the boss hands them? Sorry, the cashier must also be happy and smiley for you (oh you wonderful little consumer you). In the service economy, the servant is required to constantly give you the illusion that they love their work and that they love serving you (oh you precious wonderful special little consumer you).
Happy Happy
I’m reminded of a line from Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”: “You never saw the frowns on the jugglers and the clowns when they all did tricks for you...”  That’s what’s going on. No one can be happy-smiley for eight hours straight, especially when they are being treated for the most part as if they are worthless.

Ironically, as mentioned in a previous section, the focus for the entire hierarchy is on customer service – the cashier’s smiley face. The entire edifice is balanced on the servant – and yet there is no compensation for it. There is only degradation and humiliation – and the constant reminder that they have no dignity, and deserve none.


O That Disconcertingly Honest Customer Service 
in the UK

When I lived in the UK, I noticed that most retail clerks, and service workers in general, were not required to have that faux Disney smile perpetually pasted on their lips. They went about their business with whatever face suited them best. Some smiled, some didn’t, but either way, for the most part they all did their work efficiently. No pretense about liking your job or liking where you work or liking the people that you serve. There was a refreshing honesty about this. 
David Mitchell (UK comedian, known for Peep Show and That Mitchell & Webb Look) once did a little rant about customer service on QI (a UK game show hosted by Stephen Fry), that cuts right to the core of the problem:

The things that seem unfair to me are the number of people who are expected to pretend to care about jobs they don’t care about. They should be allowed to say: “Look, I’m fulfilling my contract – you can’t put in the contract, ‘Also, you have to seem like you give a shit.’” I think that’s expecting too much. That’s why I really like the fact that we live in a country with such poor customer service. I’ve got to respect that...

You know, you’re right – why have a cheesy grin on your face if you are working in an awful supermarket?

It’s either the sign of a liar or a moron.

(Although, I’d say that it’s not so much poor customer service in the UK as it is honest customer service.)

You can watch it here. Quite funny. 
(I couldn't get the You Tube link to post, for some reason)

Happy  Happy
What I’m trying to say here is that someone working in the service economy should be able to do their job and do it well without the demand that they look happy every second of the day. Someone that demands this of a cashier, demands this of any worker who is dealing with the public all day long, is someone who is unable to face actual reality. (Remember reality? That place where you have a real job? A job where you go to the bathroom whenever you damn well please?)
So, go ahead, sit behind a cash register and ring people up for eight straight hours and we’ll see how smiley you are at the end of that shift. Now do it for two weeks. Now do it for six months. Now do it for ten years. Do it for three decades. See how those smiles just keep on a-comin’?
And, let’s face it, forcing a smile on workers is meant as distraction to the reality of the economy, the culture itself. Very few in retail or related service work like their job; they are selling – for the most part – crap made in China or Indonesia or Mexico by slave labor; they are underpaid, overworked, etc. (You know the drill). Is the cashier’s fake smile the empty facade that helps many in this country get on with their business without too much guilt? What's the smile protecting? A system that works only when a large percentage of the working population live in poverty, go hungry, are depressed?

Happy Happy Happy
 This was said by a Walmart spokesman last November in response to a report about hunger among Walmart employees: “The truth of the matter is 1.3 million people choose to work for Walmart because they understand the company provides its associates with more opportunities for career growth and greater economic security for their families than other companies in America." (Article can be found here)
Oh that ole freedom of choice mantra. But we know better. Most work for Walmart because in many places it's the only game in town.
So, here’s the question that keeps coming back to me: Why pledge allegiance to an economy that requires so many underpaid servants? 

Next Installment:
“Welcome to Costco, I Love You”

No comments:

Post a Comment