Coffee, Work

Depression & The Customer Service G-Spot.

I can admit I don’t always provide the best customer service. I’ve been a supervisor for just under a year and have been stressing myself out to the point of nausea and private mental breakdowns just trying to make sure the deposit isn’t short, the tills are all balanced, shit’s getting done and my partners in service are getting their breaks on time. On top of that, I’ve been learning how to do the basics of my job — it’s way different and more intense than Second Cup ever was. I often forget to make eye contact with customers because my mind is quietly exploding behind my eyes as I try to figure out how to manage my time (and everyone else’s) effectively.

Let me paint you a picture. In my Second Cup days, I would only have myself and one other person to worry about. Occasionally, on very busy days, there’d be a third person working with me. We’d all usually start around the same time, and running breaks was a breeze. The store I called home would be pretty busy in the mornings but would calm down a lot around 11 or so. The closing shift was even easier. Nowadays, during morning shifts, there are usually five or six people starting at all kinds of different times, and my store is busy ALL THE DAMN TIME. It’s high-volume, high-intensity, and I’ve heard it burns through supervisors like nobody’s business. I mean, I came from a damn drive-thru store and I’m still baffled by the traffic my store sees in a day.

I’m ALMOST burned out completely.

I won’t lie, I have had some nights that I go home and immediately burst into tears because I don’t feel like I know what the hell I’m doing. I’ve had days where I was two seconds away from declaring it was too much and jumping over the counter and running away screaming. I stay because I enjoy punishment, I fear success, and I love the shit out of my coworkers. Really. If not for them, I would probably have demoted myself, found a job that doesn’t involve people, and then quit faster than you can say “latte”.

For a couple months, I was at the end of my rope and actively fashioning it into a noose with which to hang myself. Then, slowly but surely, things began to change.

For one thing, one of my Newmarket coworkers got himself a transfer to my store. He’s one of those baristas with style and grace and everybody loves him. He makes you a better barista just by being around him, and watching him with customers makes you want to try harder to be better. A positive influence. For another, gradually reducing my caffeine intake has actually resulted in better quality sleep and I actually feel like being nice to people these days. On top of that, my coworker Meghan reminds me of myself when I was at Second Cup.

I wasn’t always stressed out and angry. I used to greet customers with a genuine smile, I knew their drinks and their names, and I loved them all. Some of them even bought me birthday presents one year, and when I announced I was leaving, they wished me luck, gave me goodbye cards, and one lady even brought me dishes and cutlery for my new place in case I needed them. When I was being abused, I confided in one lady who offered to take me in if I needed a safe place to stay. Turns out she had been in a similar situation when she was younger. Another customer became my roommate. Truly wonderful people. So why do I think the customers at my new job won’t care if I make an effort?

It’s not a short answer. I could go back to the beginning and tell you all about how I’ve never been good enough, or fast enough, or pretty enough to be worth anything. I could point out where my crippling fear of people started, and tell you that for my first few months working at McDonald’s I didn’t do anything but clean tables because I couldn’t look people in the eye when I spoke to them. I could tell you that leaving my bf and moving to Keswick broke something inside me that’s only now being rebuilt, but reliving that shit will only depress me, and I’ve got no time for that today.

Delivering world-class customer service when you’re actively managing your depression isn’t easy. It’s even harder when you’re supposed to be the supervisor and people are looking to you for guidance. You’re supposed to set the example, and be the role model. Here’s the thing, though. As much as it stresses me out, and as much as I truly believe I’m failing at it, I actually enjoy the challenge. Why else would I have pursued and accepted the promotion? Why else would I show up on time every day, even on days when the only thing I want to do is sleep and cry?

Because I love it. Because I want to be better. But sometimes, people make it REALLY difficult.

I had a customer approach the counter yesterday, and I knew immediately I didn’t like him. First off, he reminded me of my ex-stepfather (a vile man who deserves his own explanation post later on). I swallowed my bile and a bit of my pride, and greeted him warmly. He proceeded to tell me he’d ordered four lattes the night before, and they were all made wrong. “They were supposed to be with soy milk,” he explained, “I was having a reunion with some friends and they’re all allergic to milk. Can I have a refund?”

I hate it when things like this happen. My employer has this incredibly annoying “Just Say Yes” policy and the lines regarding what’s acceptable seem a little blurry to me. Since he’d asked directly for a refund, I figured that’s what I should do. I had worked the night before and didn’t remember seeing him (and told him just that), but still… what choice do you have? I gave him the money.

THEN.

He asked for coupons. For his friends, you know, because they weren’t able to have their lattes. My bullshit-o-meter had already been beeping, but now it was going off the rails. I was sickeningly nice about it and gave him the coupons.

AND THEN.

He asked for free drinks. At this point, I’m bent over so far backwards I’m kissing my own ass and I’m thoroughly disgusted at the entire exchange. I indulged him, because some people you know are just going to kick up a fuss if you don’t do exactly what they say. Then he had the audacity to ask Simon to add an espresso to his order.

Afterward, I had a talk with Simon (who’s in training to be a shift supervisor — holla!) and he told me had he been in my situation, he wouldn’t have given the refund but would’ve offered free drinks and maybe the coupons. (Don’t get the wrong idea, he was super nice and non-judgmental about it and having these conversations is part of his training.) Ordinarily, through no fault of his, I would feel incredibly crappy inside about it. I would have felt like an idiot, a fraud, and I would’ve gone home and marinated in negativity for a couple of days. “Why didn’t you think of that?” my depression brain would have asked. “Aren’t you supposed to be the supervisor? Everyone knows you don’t know how to do anything.”

Imagine my surprise when that didn’t happen this time.

I listened, made note of it, acknowledged that it was actually a really great way to be nice and handle that type of situation without getting taken advantage of, and carried on with my day. The trick is in not taking things personally. It’s not a failure, it’s an opportunity to do better next time, handle the situation with more confidence and grace, and still provide great customer service even to those who are obviously trying to take advantage. Rather than being disappointed in myself, I’m proud that I was able to be patient and kind to a customer I didn’t like at all. That’s a huge step for me.

It all boils down to finding the customer service G-spot and using it to your advantage.

Going forward, I’m going to try to be nicer to the folks on the other side of the counter. I’m going to try to stress out a little less and focus on getting to know the customers. Most of them seem like nice people, and in a way it’s kind of fun to act like I give a shit. Maybe I can bond with them the way I did with people when I was at Second Cup.

Maybe quitting caffeine was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

2 thoughts on “Depression & The Customer Service G-Spot.”

  1. Thanks for this perspective. I can also relate to high-stress customer service with depression boiling behind the scenes. Some of my favorite moments were at the Barnes and Noble counter, when customers would come with huge stacks of books, some of them clearly worn and some of them not even found in the B&N inventory, and claim they were “returning” them for a refund. Another man ran a racket w/ his father where one would buy a book, and the other would return it in exchange for another, over and over, as if the store was a library. I remember one lady who had apparently bought about 30 books from the B&N website, and then for some reason decided she didn’t want any of them, and then brought them into the store, where I had to process the return on every single one. She brought her really bossy, glacial friend along who had plenty of very helpful comments on what I owed them through the whole process. I never did conquer the depression, but I’m self-employed now, thank God, and deal with the people I want to deal with, for the most part.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog!

    1. Wow. People scamming bookstores are truly vicious. I actually don’t know how you managed not to rip any heads off during your time there!

      Being self-employed is my ultimate all-time goal, but for the time being I continue to sling coffee and deal with some of the most self-absorbed and entitled people in the city. On the upside, it truly gives me good insight into human behavior and some funny stories to tell at dinner parties.

      Thanks for stopping by my blog in return. I’ll definitely be back to read more of your amazing posts. 🙂

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