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Hostilities at the registration desk
I was half an hour into my wait at the government services office when the fight broke out.
I was there because, for some bizarre reason, you can’t just throw out a six-year-old toll e-tag. It must be returned to the authorities like it’s a precious library book. The service ticket machine said expect a 20 minute wait. It lied.
Half an hour in, two middle-aged male customers started a bonkers up-close screaming match.
The animal vocal tone, swearing and threats took me right back to when I had an hipster warehouse office, and the local drug enthusiasts would go at each other in the laneway outside.
There was a security guard, clearly bored out of his mind by months of COVID space management. His face lit up as hostilities broke out. This was his Rocky moment. Arms folded, security face on, he eased between the red-faced fighters and steered one of them out to the footpath.
What kind of 48-year-old starts an afternoon fight with a stranger over cutting into the registration slip queue?
Customers, that’s who. Because some of them are insane despite the old customer-is-always-right trope.
I didn’t start a fight. But I was super pissed-off that people with different tickets would arrive after me, get served and be out of there in ten minutes. When I finally got called to the counter after an hour, the service woman — who looked about 18 or 19 — said:
“Hi. So sorry about the wait. I’m a trainee, it’s my second day doing this so apologies if it takes me a bit longer to sort this out.”
Whatever annoyance I had diffused on the spot. Because what kind of monster would harass an innocent young trainee doing their best?
It’s a useful thing to consider from two perspectives. Firstly if you’re a business with skills shortages. And also, as a customer.
Time to check your privilege
As a customer, now is not the time to demand to speak to the manager. There has never been a greater need to check your privilege.
As we all edge back into life outside the house, you’ll get frustrated when you have to repeat your coffee order. Or wait in a queue. You’re paying good money, and those service staff just don’t get it.
Please, cut them some slack, for your own good, and for society in general. If you’ve enjoyed a reliable salary throughout COVID, it’s time to show your appreciation for thousands of small business owners and their staff who have taken two savage years of blowtorching on behalf of us all.
Now, these businesses are awash with junior trainees and people new to that industry.
That’s someone’s child you’re giving a dressing-down like they’re your palace courtier. Or maybe someone who’s been laid off from a once-reliable career elsewhere, and now they’re re-building their life.
As business put the pieces back together. And we have to deal with a massive shortage of skilled staff, because so many people left to work in other industries.
It’s unreasonable to demand Michelin-star service right away, while businesses rebuild. It’s the customer version of drivers who aggressively tailgate L-platers.
Now is the time for patience. Almost every new worker is giving it their best shot, and coping with random members of the public is tough. More so trying to understand what people are saying through masks.
Most customers are lovely. But as anyone who has worked the returns desk in retail can tell you, there is plenty of evil in our midst.
You can’t find good servants these days
There’s a grim double-whammy for the tourism industry. They’ve taken a hit from two years without overseas tourists.
Plus, they’re getting grief from Australians used to holidaying in resorts in lower-wage countries, where hotels can employ four staff for every guest. Forced to holiday locally, some of those guests are quite displeased they can’t summon up servants immediately.
I spoke to a friend who runs a large hotel currently re-building a large casual team. He told me of a recent guest who called the front desk and demanded someone come up and adjust the clock on his bedside table. Because it was a minute slow.
He described service staff being verbally abused, at entire-restaurant volume, for asking guests to do a COVID check in.
He told me:
“You know it’s bad when guests at other tables come up later and apologise for what the waiter went through.”
In these situations, it’s the right thing to do. To say to someone that you saw them get harassed, and that you appreciate their work, is vital emotional support.
They seem like small things, but every bit of personal thanks, positive online reviews, and modest tipping is an essential building block toward getting our society back to the way we like it.
Supporting your trainees
If you’re running a business that has lots of trainees, don’t hide them. Get them to tell people right away. Some industries give them badges.
That upfront knowledge will defuse 99% of your potential complaints.
Don’t leave your trainees to deal with customers alone. It’s fine leaving them with work that’s a defined, documented process, let them do it.
If their work involves making subjective calls, you need someone nearby to help out. Assume that at least one in ten customers will come up with something that needs experienced intervention.
Small businesses – use them or lose them
So many small businesses are teetering on the brink right now.
The macro data that fuels media stories suggests the economy will come bouncing back. That’s true, on average.
But the money is going to the big guys, who were doing just fine anyway. Your favourite local restaurant, the gift shop you rely on to solve your last-minute problems, the neighbourhood dry cleaner: they are still in trouble.
Watch this video of Stu from my favourite CBD bar Fix, and hear the desperation in his voice.
View this post on Instagram
This is the reality for so many businesses that have done the right thing by their staff for the last two years.
Now is the time to get your hesitant arse out of the house and support the small places you love, and the people who work there.
Use them or lose them.
I was on Studio 10 talking about why 2022 is a good time to start a business and why school leavers should chill out about picking the perfect career. Irish co-host Tristan had issues with Ian’s disrespect for potatoes.
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