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The Razor's Edge
by p.l. frank

The New Face of Customer Service

If there is anything that is screwed up these days it is the pervasive public displays of rudeness and incompetence. This has become a real problem in the American workforce, particularly with people who have chosen positions in which they interact with the public.

The fact that a good deal of the rudeness is coming from people who choose to work with the general public is particularly interesting. Is anyone holding these people at gun point requiring them to do this kind of work? No, certainly not. They are not forced to hold these particular jobs. They choose to do so. And they are reinforced to continue their rudeness and deliberate incompetence through the absence of any negative consequences. When was the last time you heard of someone getting fired for routinely rolling their eyes, sighing, and talking to customers as if they were morons?

It's not just my imagination. A recent survey done by a well-respected national news journal revealed that 9 out of 10 Americans feel that public displays of rudeness is a serious problem in this country. Ninety percent of the American people believe they are being treated with rudeness and incivility? We have a problem here.

Forget the self-help programs, books, and seminars teaching deeper meaning and offering tips for overcoming the inability to exhale. If you want to really know the reason why we are having so much trouble relating to one another, step inside any retail store or call just about any customer service number to ask a question or place an order.

Now if you are one of those people who works with the public and is patient, friendly and considerate, don't get your feathers ruffled. This does not apply to you and your considerate actions do not go unnoticed or unappreciated. In fact, if you are one of the friendly, helpful people working with the public today, you actually stand out significantly from your colleagues. But let's tell it like it is. Just because you might be acting like a human being, doesn't mean everyone else is. Don't say you have not noticed what is going on out there. Afterall, when you go home from work, you are a customer just like the rest of us.

The New Face of Customer Service

Are my memories completely screwed up or did there use to be a time in this country in which rudeness and incompetence were not tolerated in the workplace? Now I am not trying to idealize the past. We are talking about a time, afterall. when people believed that toast was better to eat than bread when dieting because it had less calories (apparently toasting was suppose to "burn" the calories off of the bread) and that fat could be "shaken off" by strapping one's ass to a washer on spin cycle. No. I am not trying to glorify the past, but let's face it, unlike today, on-going rudeness and incompetence once meant that there would be a warning, and if it continued, you would be fired.

Perhaps it is a result of the enlightenment movement, the raised awareness of different cultures and belief systems, or the fear of lawsuits that have caused American employers to increase their tolerance for less than desirable behavior from their employees. Maybe it is a little-known aspect of affirmative action requiring a quota for obnoxious creeps in the workforce. Perhaps, however, it is a function of overall societal changes. Maybe employers have lowered expectations because young people are simply not being taught things like manners, respect and general kindness towards others, or an awareness that their job performance is a direct reflection of themselves. Whatever the reason, there is clearly an increased tolerance on the part of employers for behavior that offends the very people that the offenders are supposedly there to assist. Just exactly what types of behaviors am I talking about? Some of the more common complaints include stories just like these:

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P.L. Frank enjoys writing both nonfiction social satire and funny, thought-provoking novels.  Dr. Frank has been a researcher in the field of Behavioral and Social Sciences since 1983, and has worked as a university professor and therapist. 

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