Standing up for the overworked, underpaid customer service person

Friday 7 December 2007, 8:46AM
By J. James

In October this year people had a chance to voice their feelings regarding the quality of New Zealand’s customer service sector. Recently released, the survey sponsored by Kiwihost, New Zealand’s only customer service training provider, revealed that 33% of respondents found kiwi customer service not meeting their expectations. The survey also found that dissatisfaction dropped the older the individual and that women where more ok with the level of customer service than men. (see scoop for full survey details)

The survey is timely given that at this time of year, as temperatures rise both inside and out, our poor over worked and most often underpaid front line retail staff has to put up with flared tempers, and so many inane query’s all while keeping that friendly smile and pleasant welcoming manner, that one would have to have the patience of a saint to last through the day.

Any one who has ever worked on the front line of retail, call centres or any service industry knows that dealing with the public is energy intensive, often involving standing for long periods of time at checkouts and counters, while customers fart around, complain and generally dump their stress laden day on to you.

Generally in this country, and definitely in the town of Nelson where I live and used to work, wages for customer service roles specifically retail are low and often the stress and exhaustion involved especially at holiday seasons can far outweigh the financial rewards.

In a country with escalating gaps between haves and have nots, its timely that both employers and customers alike begin to realise that without front line staff little business is actually possible, therefore paying front line customer service staff a liveable wage would ensure better customer service and better customer service can often be the single over arching factor in giving your business the competitive edge over that of your rivals.

However exploiting people through skimming profits off staff by keeping them on minimum wages is something that seems to be a national past time where I live and it often shows in over stressed grumpy employees who often wonder why they should expend more energy out than that which is coming in from their low hourly rates.

The notion of partnership has always been an unequal one between employee and employer, yet despite growing awareness of the importance of front line staff, this unequal partnership is still one that forms the foundation of business in this country.

As we come into the madness and rush of Christmas, itself an intense time of traditionally hot tempers and hot melting weather, the two can form a combustible mix which is often projected at the over worked underpaid checkout operator and shop assistant.

In light of the recent survey, its timely then, to take a moment and consider what its like for front line staff having already smiled and served one hundred people before you.

Imagine how you would feel having to stand there all day, in some cases knowing they are giving more to the business then they are getting back.

So this Christmas, if you haven’t decided to participate in “buy nothing Christmas”  take a moment and give recognition that the person serving you is a real person who has a life too and would most likely want to be somewhere else but is indentured by our low wage and high cost economy to do the job of serving you.