Is the Customer Ever Actually Right?

People are the worst part of service jobs

Jayde Atchison // Contributor
Sarah Haglund//Illustrator

One year ago, we collectively slid our windows open at 7 pm and cheered as a thank-you to all essential workers. We were all saddened by the sudden lockdown, but we came together to demonstrate appreciation for those that risked their health and wellbeing to help us stay afloat. Posts on social media about the importance of being patient and kind to essential workers were shared on stories and timelines. We agreed that kindness was the solution to surviving everything. But the pandemic lasted longer than our patience, and new protocols began to eat away at our tolerance for change. 

What was supposed to be a two-week fling with the virus became a year-long affair, and we finally began opening up “non-essential” environments. After 163 days of being laid off in September, 37 books and 132 home workouts, I donned my personalized lifeguard hoodie and went back to interacting with the general public. As much as I enjoyed my first summer off since elementary school, I was ready to be more productive with my days. 

At first, people were accommodating to our new regulations and incredibly thankful to be able to swim again. While I cleaned every high-touch surface between groups, I was met with smiling faces waving away my apologies for the weird times. I was naively convinced that the pandemic had changed all the regular crabby patrons for the better. This train of thought didn’t last long. 

After the novelty of returning to the recreation centre again wore off, people took their COVID frustrations out on the people most easily accessed—the lifeguards. Demands to open the change rooms, allow more people to swim per session, and clean faster were thrown at me each shift. Whenever someone approaches me with a COVID protocol complaint, I want to remind them that I did not create the virus, nor do I have any control over how we operate. If the company was a ladder, my position is the lowest rung. Once upon a time, I only looked out for pool safety, and now I am a part-time lifeguard, part-time sanitizer. 

I understand that people are tired of altering their whole lives, whether it’s to swim, shop at their favourite retail locations or go for brunch. We all want to return to a level of normalcy, but until that day, we need to be mindful of those in public service jobs. Every shift we work, we risk our health so that people can access the things they enjoy but don’t necessarily need. Being asked to wear a mask is not unheard of anymore, yet I still receive backlash from the ladies in the locker room when I remind them they are within six feet of each other and need to put one on. Yes, Barbara, even while you change your clothes. 

Society is often told “the customer is always right” when it comes to service jobs. I want to kick that sentiment straight into the dumpster, light it on fire and send it straight to hell where it belongs. Employees are just trying to keep everyone safe, even those who don’t always seem to deserve it. Demanding we allow you to stay longer or bend our rules “just for you” is not helping anyone, including your greedy self. If you find yourself waiting two minutes longer than you usually do to access the space, try to breathe and remember—we clean so thoroughly for you

The pandemic has opened up a new portal that allows us to see people’s true nature. Some of my patrons are as close to angels as I will ever get, and they give the term “understanding” a new meaning. However, taking their anger out on the employees with no authority seems to be the new normal for others. I have seen a shift in employees standing up for themselves (professionally, of course), and we are no longer allowing people to get their way simply because they said so. We are becoming more critical of what is more important—the sale or the wellbeing of employees. I only hope that when the masks come off for good, we remember the customer is not always right—they’re just loud.

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