Tag Archives: customer service

De-skilling the American Workforce: Saturday Night at Shakey’s Pizza

This happened about a year ago.

One evening, my partner and I were craving the flavors of our youth more intensely than usual, so we set out to find a Shakey’s Pizza*. MoJo Potatoes on our minds, we entered the restaurant about 8pm. A tad later than our usual suppertime, but we weren’t the only ones with similar plans or eating schedules.

A familiar, mostly jubilant, racket burst forth from the entertainment corner, where kids were trying to best the ski-ball game, exchanging real currency for fake in the hopes of amassing enough to purchase the latest in disposable doodads. A few small groups of adults sat eating and chatting. The smells were wonderful, the floors predictably sticky. We made our decision and approached the counter.

There were three, maybe four people working the closing shift that night. One of them was busy cooking, and another rushed over from minding the soda station to take our order before dashing off to attend to another of their many duties.

We settled at a table and waited for our order, talking mostly of how many MOJOs we thought we could eat. A little while into our wait, an employee came to inform us that they had run out of dough to make the large pizza we had ordered. Apparently, Shakey’s restaurants receive shipments of pre-cut dough, an allotted number for each pizza size. Unable to make more dough of the appropriate size, the employee offered to make us two medium pizzas instead. A generous offer (and a little too much pizza, but we aren’t ones to refuse the prospect of leftovers). In due time, the employee returned with two steaming pies and we dug in. Only on our way home did I begin thinking about what had led to our one pizza transmogrifying into two.

In telling us why there were no more large pizzas, the employee had revealed the company’s business model, which seems to place more faith in market research than in the overworked people left minding the store. Instead of providing restaurants with lump sums (heh) of dough or, here’s a thought, the ingredients to make dough, Shakey’s thinks it best to rely on predictions of how many pizzas of each size will be sold and provide pre-cut dough produced off-site. Had they more faith in their workforce, they might trust their employees to cut (or even make) the dough themselves. There would be no running out of sizes, just running out of dough.

But no. Shakey’s denies their employees the agency needed to improvise. By providing pre-portioned ingredients, the company removes the need for its restaurant employees to have or develop culinary skills. I wonder how easily the person in charge of cooking that night would be able to do so in a different pizza establishment. Are all chain pizza places so proprietary in their ingredients & processes that the people assigned to carry out the warming of the food have knowledge specific to that particular pizza place? Inquiring minds want to know…also I’d like the recipe for MOJO Potatoes, please.

Personal anecdote alert: I worked at Starbucks for a while, and I can’t operate an actual espresso machine because we pushed a button to “pull” shots. The transferable skills I learned there had more to do with customer service and pastry arrangement than making lattes (okay, I can also steam milk pretty well).

I know many of you must have similar experiences–of skills so specific to certain companies that making a horizontal career move means at least feeling as though we’re starting at the bottom again. With so many corporate chains employing so many people, I wonder if it’s becoming more difficult to transition from one service job to another because of the specialized knowledge we learn in order to succeed at each company.

What do you think?

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*Yes, some of them still exist!

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Filed under Contemporary, Power

Self-Awareness, Selfishness, and (No) Shame: Finding a Place in Society

On September 9, NPR’s “All Things Considered” ran a story about a woman who wanted to be a nurse and the challenges she was facing to become one. The story ended with the host saying that this woman was “determined to make a career out of helping people.” This triggered a realization that I am determined not to be ashamed of:

I don’t want to make a career out of helping people.

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Filed under Contemporary

My Politeness is Not for Sale, and You Couldn’t Afford it, Anyway!: A Customer Service Rant

Customer service is one of the worst social interactions many of us engage in because it’s almost always a sham. And we know it. Knowing how fake the interaction is makes it that much more difficult (for me) to participate in sincerely.* 

In a customer service social interaction, politeness is for sale. Along with the (implied) purchase of a consumer good or a service is a built-in benefit of pleasantness on the part of the service professional. It’s a simple commodity-exchange relationship, but (in the U.S. especially) we expect to sugar-coat that with a false sense of cheer. In a normal social interaction, one not so directly contingent on the exchange of money, politeness is something that is almost earned: if one person in the interaction is polite, the other is more likely to be polite as well. But they are not obligated to be–no one is obligated to be. In contrast, during a customer service interaction, the promised payment of money obligates only the service professional to be polite. That person’s demeanor is being manipulated by money.

MY POLITENESS IS NOT FOR SALE! It SHOULD NOT be for sale! That drains politeness of much of its value, and maybe this is why society is becoming more rude in general. If we’ve commodified everything (see Strasser 2003), turning much of our dealings with strangers into fake social interactions that only obligate one party to be polite, and both parties know this politeness is fake because it’s being bought, then why should anyone value politeness in and of itself? Niceness becomes a perpetual sham, and no one will know how to feel it or genuinely be polite, anymore. A stretch, okay, but I see kids running around acting entitled to everything without even having to act polite or gracious, nevermind actually feel those things. And their parents let them! Is our consumer culture, which hinges on various commodity-exchange relationships like customer service interactions, ultimately to blame for this general slide into rudeness? Look me in the eye when we’re talking and put that goddamn phone away!

My main point is that customer service social interactions make me angry because they are so fake, and because they put a price–albeit unquantified–on the manner in which the service professional engages with a fellow member of society. Except, of course, the service professional is not the consumer’s equal, because the consumer has been taught to feel entitled to the service professional’s robotic smile and fake politeness. The service professional is a slave to capitalism’s social consequences. Their behavior is devoid of free will and instead dictated by the possibility of acquiring capital from the customer.

I say it’s time we called shenanigans, and started treating people well no matter what. Alternately, if you’re a service professional and a customer is rude to you, you should be able–even expected–to be rude in kind if the spirit moves you, because why should you have to take it just because the customer is the one with the money? It’s likely not going into your pocket, anyway, but that of the company you work for. And I feel it’s more important that we teach each other the value of engaging nicely with everyone regardless of their social position within a customer service interaction. Regardless of who holds the money, and where it might be spent.

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*This is why my smart, rude customers will complain about my sarcastic attitude. They don’t appreciate that I’m multitasking by trying to teach them a lesson in how to behave and being metapragmatic by commenting on the fakeness of our social interaction even as we are engaging in it. So I guess they’re really not that smart–or they’d rather focus on how rude I’m being because they think they’re entitled to my smile in spite of their disrespectful attitudes because they’re ostensibly paying to be there. Which is bullshit. My attitude is contingent on yours, not how much money you make in a year, who you are, or how much you’re dropping on this visit to our store. Asshole.

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Filed under Commodification, Contemporary