Surviving Customer Service

It’s done. It’s out. I’m moving on.

Surviving Customer Service: Maintaining Sanity In The Work-A-Day World has been unleashed:

If you’d like a copy of your very own and not wait for it to unfold slowly, wander on over to my store to get one.

So, to celebrate (and further erode my sales) I’ll be putting up a chapter every Friday so you can see what’s been occupying my time (and annoying the shit out of me). I’ll start with the foreword writting by my good friend and guy who proved sometimes it’s not the customer by trying to charge me double for an item just yesterday, Dan McCaffrey and the introduction to the book.

Thanks for all the support over this project.


I’ve just finished calculating the grim sum that tells me exactly how much of my life I’ve wasted in that field that some joker, obviously in the throes of hideous black sarcasm, has dubbed “customer service.” As for the calculation, I won’t divulge that shameful number, but suffice to say it’s enough to have ruined my entire life.

My life is a complete wash due to the employment I have managed to trap myself in a few times. The crushing psychological derangement that has gripped me thanks what I’ve seen on the front lines of customer service has utterly eradicated any hope for a normal life.

I admit it’s slightly embarrassing to carry on this way, especially when I know of fellow soldiers who carry their burden with far more grace – not to mention far less melodrama – than I. My good friend Chris, for example, was working in customer service long before I was ever a condom factory lawsuit, and yet he trudges on, only a little psychotic, and virtually harmless once you take away his guns and meth.

But hey, I’m sensitive, which is really just a way of saying I despise people. People, of course, deserve to be despised, and it’s really not good for one’s health to always be smiling and polite, when really you would rather murder the slack-jawed imbecile standing in front of you. Such is the tragedy of receiving a paycheck in return for being nice to people.

I wish I could say that my customer service story has a happy ending, much as I wish I could say the same for Chris. Alas, we working men must continue to trudge through a sea of shit-heads, on our noble quest for a paycheck. (As I write this I am laying in bed, with my head poking up from the sheets just slightly, because today is pay day.) So enjoy a few laugh at the expense of those of us who suffer from our jobs and remember: The laughter is what keeps away the killing.

– Dan McCaffrey

Written from an undisclosed location,
August 2008


Congratulations! Whether a barista or barrister, phone jockey or personal assistant lackey you are now a proud member of the customer service family! Customer service is one of the most exciting and growth oriented careers you could embark upon. The daily stimuli of interesting people; the self-confidence you’ll acquire when you help them solve their problems; and the exhilaration you’ll feel at the end of the day when you and your colleagues discuss the exciting events that give meaning to your life. But, before you can jump headfirst into the customer service fun pool, let’s get familiar with the important skills needed to turn yourself into a customer service superstar!

I think that paragraph contained enough bullshit to satisfy those management dweebs, don’t you?

If you think I’m worried one of those ass-kissing phonies read that last sentence, trust me, they never read more than a paragraph of anything. Especially when it fills their rotting melons with the ‘action’ words they live for. So there’s your first lesson: write a first paragraph filled with buzzwords and flowery enemas and fill the rest of the report with dirty limericks.

I’ve just cut your workload by a third and amplified your drinking time ten-fold. What? You don’t drink? Well, you may not drink now but, trust me, you’ll spend your first meager paycheck at the closest bar. So get to know the bartender. You’ll want to run a tab.

How do I know so much? How can I be so self-assured? How come my monthly bar tab is a third higher than my mortgage? Customer service is my life. And my life is a swirling cesspool of shit and I’m just a kernel of corn.

I’ve been a member of the customer service industry for 588 C.S. years (a C.S. – or Customer Service – year is 49 times longer than that of any other profession and no, it’s not a coincidence that we age 7 times faster than dogs. We work harder, do more ass licking, and fetch aimlessly all without the benefit of a flea bath). In that time I’ve come to one irrefutable fact: The customer is always right. . .out of their minds.

Sometimes they truly are members in good standing of the Tin Foil Hat Society but other times they’re schemers looking to pull something over on us. I’ve had customers run me ragged while switching expensive items into boxes of cheaper items. I’ve had customers become indignant when I’ve stopped being their personal slave (remember, it’s customer service not customer servitude). I’ve had bosses put me on shitty details to extract petty revenge. I’ve been threatened, followed, robbed, cajoled, pushed, hit, screamed at, sworn at, thrown up on, cleaned up the vomit, docked pay, cheated hours, fired, accused, searched, banged, bruised, ripped, stitched and had teeth knocked out.

And that was just my first week.

I hope I’m not making your choice of Customer Service Representative as a career sound bad. There are many things about customer service that are fulfilling, exciting and interesting.

For the first month.

After that, it’s a mind numbing, soul sucking, patience melting pit filled with people who couldn’t make a decision if the choices were shit on white bread or shit on the other side of the slice. I’ve sold high ticket items and things that cost less than a candy bar and have had the same,

“Why can’t I just kill these people?” moment.

It doesn’t matter what you are offering, how great the product, or how helpful you are. After a steady stream of customers has washed over you like a delousing, they will merge into a writhing mass of whiny, delusional, helpless dregs hell bent on shredding your vestige of self worth.

Customer service is very Pavlovian. But instead of salivating at a bell, we cringe at phrases (“Excuse me. . .?” “Can you. . .?” “Does this. . .?” “Do you. . .?” “Hello.”) and panic at sounds (doors, entrance buzzers, shoes on tile, intercom pages, petulantly sighing customers because you took 8.3 milliseconds to respond to their virulent throat clearing).

Customer service is also repetitive. Customer service is also repetitive. You will be asked the same question, repeat the same task, and be asked why you won’t do something that’s not only against company policy but probably the laws of 90% of the free world.

Customers come in every size, shape, shade. You will have ones you have to strain to hear and others you’ll have to step back from so as not to puncture your ear drum. Others will have a scent that will shut down your vemeronasal organ. Some will be the friendliest, most charm oozing, greatest seeming people on the planet.  Others will be dressed like extras in ‘The Night Of A Million Bar Fights’ and tip you at the end of a painless transaction. Yet, there is one thing that connects them. A single strand that unites everyone who walks through the door and up to you with expectation in their eyes.

They all suck.

A good Customer Service Representative treats all alike. Oh sure, there will be customers you like. That’s just human nature. But, trust me, they’ll turn on you so it’s best to lose that useless piece of humanity right off the bat.

They don’t mean to but once they cross that line and become ‘your friend’ they’ll see nothing wrong about asking for special attention. Whether that’s the use of your employee discount or the floor plan and camera layout, when you turn them down they’ll get pissed because they thought you were friends. We don’t have friends. We have carbon based troglodytes with no purpose in life but to chip away at our sanity.

So every day, right after you punch in, during that first fifteen minutes spent screwing off on company time, take some time and go to the restroom. Walk right up to the mirror, screw on your fake smile and repeat your mantra,

“Serve all. Hate all.”

Then swing the sword of service on to the floor of fools where they will attempt to suck out your will to work until you, batted and bloodied, reach for your first shot of scotch.

And we’ll be there to lead you through the minefield of customer service with our solid advice and tricks of the trade. Barring that (which we will because it sounds like too much work), we’ll make up a bunch of things that, if used properly or at all, will quite likely lead to your dismissal and possibly litigation (which, our lawyers are making us state, will be of no fault of ours because you’re a dumbass). So remember,

“Serve all. Hate all.”

But don’t say it out loud until the customer has left the building.

If you’d like a copy of your very own and not wait for it to unfold slowly, wander on over to my store to get one.


10 responses to “Surviving Customer Service

  1. Excellent motto. Short, sweet, memorable.

    And the “swirling cesspool” line is a winner!

  2. does one ever truly survive working in customer service? battle scarred for life, man.

  3. You’re right, Earl, no one gets out alive. Why do you think my bathroom is equipped with a lithium shower?

  4. Did you purposely say “By the Author of Selling
    Catless Tales” rather than “Best Selling Catless Tales” ?

    I remember seeing CT on the New York Times list !

  5. Damn! I’ve worked in customer service for a decade now and you’re making me sick. If this is the introduction I’m going to start looking for a new job today. Very funny.

  6. I’m sorry to say you’re mistaken, Harv. It wasn’t the New York Times list. It was the New Hope Times. And, as we know from Ween’s Pumpin’ 4 The Man, New Hope sucks.

  7. New Hope is a Gay Paradise, but saying that it sucks is really not fair. Certain people in/around/from/living in New Hope suck.

    Present company excluded of course. And Hennessey, too.

  8. The New Hope Times! Wow! If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere!

  9. This is really funny. How long were you working on this? It’s great, congratulations and good luck. What are you doing for PR?

  10. Thanks, Wendy. The writing actually went pretty fast. I got the idea and wrote the intro, first chapter and glossary in about three days. I sent the sample to my agent who liked it and sent it on. The publisher asked for some things (some I didn’t agree with, some I did), came up with a page limit and submission date about eight months off.

    Then I sat on my ass on it because other (read: quick cash) projects came up. I’d dabble at it then about two weeks before the deadline pounded it out so, in total, it took about three months. Everyone was happy so I sat there as they did art.

    We went back and forth and, for the most part, I was pretty happy with their art. I signed off on it and waited.

    For about five months.

    Then it came down that they dropped half their upcoming projects and, yeah, that sucked, but it was the two chapters they fought me to write they said I couldn’t take anywhere else sucked too. Not that I think they added much to the book but they yanked out pages to a pretty thin book to begin with.

    So I spent a few weeks doing some work on it and, because I was tired of it, had fired my agent so wasn’t in the mood to pimp it, tossed it out here just so people stop asking me about it.

    I figure I’ll try to pitch it again at some time but, right now, I’m not in the mood.

    As far as PR, I haven’t done a damn thing. I don’t have anything planned because it would all fall on me and there’s a time factor.

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