With the primary focus of my current position being high-volume customer service, I inherently have exposure to people of all walks of life.
As the bulk of my previous customer service experience was on the phone, the face to face contact associated with my current role was a new experience.
Admittedly, when I first started in the role, I often times judged a book by its cover. That is, if a person was professionally dressed in a nicely pressed suit, I was likely to treat that customer with more respect and probably, a better quality of service.
On the other hand, if a customer walked up with dishevelled clothing and had scruffy hair and facial hair, I dismissed them immediately and gave curt responses. Hypocritically, outside of work, my general appearance is of someone with barely two cents to rub together. I often use this approach purposely, such as when I’m attending open homes. With the rare exception, I’ve found that real estate agents do not follow-up people who look like a hobo.
With time in the role, my view has changed completely. I have met countless arrogant and abusive customers that are extremely well-presented. At the other end of the spectrum, I have met some of the most delightful people who are legitimately down on their luck.
For example, I had an interaction recently with a young man on a late night shift at the train station. He arrived with dirty clothes and covered with tattoos, including on his face. I struck up a conversation with him as it was quiet time and there were a few minutes before the next train arrived. He surprised me with a softly spoken voice and pleasant demeanour. He explained that he had just finished work labouring and admitted to having limited work options due to his facial tattoos and chequered past.
He went on to say that he had children and was doing his best to provide them with a decent life in the hope they would pursue a better life that he had led to that point. I wished him the best and saw him off on the next train. It was clear this young man was not necessarily a victim of his circumstances but had surely made some poor life choices.
On the other hand, an extremely well-dressed woman arrived on her platform the other day, holding the hand of a young child in a private school uniform. The woman ran up the stairs just as the train departed. This woman launched into a tirade at me for not holding the train for her. Every sentence was punctuated with expletives. I calmly explained that the train had left on schedule and I hadn’t noticed her on the stairs when I sent the train off. Well, I tried to explain anyway, as she cut me off with a ‘Just f**k off!!’ and stormed away. I’m old enough not to be bothered by abuse but I felt for the young child, who looked embarrassed throughout the ‘discussion’.
Probably though, the child will grow up with the same view that treating people with disrespect and aggression is the approach to get things done. I can assure you, I have gone the extra mile for someone who has treated me with respect and is polite. I rarely do so for those that are up in my face demanding action….and probably attention.
Let’s be honest, some people are just horrible, regardless of their appearance. A suit doesn’t necessarily mean that a person will be a total arrogant prick. Neither does being poor make you extra gracious and thankful for help. A deadsh**t is a deadsh**t, however you dress them up.
Basically, my point is that stereotyping people on the appearance is not a good approach. A person should be judged on their actions and behaviour, not because they can’t or can afford to drive a nice car or live in a fancy house. I have lived in rich suburbs and poor suburbs and overall, people are just people. One just has a fatter wallet.
I now approach every customer with the same friendly manner. I thrive on the positive customer experiences and let the negative ones slide off my back. I suggest you do the same.
Lastly, I want to leave you with a video from Australia’s X-Factor. A woman named Dami Im arrived on stage. From the video, it’s clear that the crowd and the judges made the assumption she would be hopeless by the way she looked. Not only did she blow everyone away with her audition, she won the title! I won’t lie, I always get tears watching it.