“What is wrong with you?!”
The voice on the other end of the line was filled with outrage, and I struggled to keep it together as I clutched the phone between my ear and shoulder. Prefacing my comments with a hard swallow, I said, “I’m so sorry, ma’am. I have a note here saying you were contacted about your order, and it’s obvious that there was some oversight on our part and that didn’t happen.”
“Oversight?!” She was almost screaming now. “You’re in the wrong, and you’re going to cancel my order. Right now. Do you get that? Are you capable of handling that?!”
My jaw clenched. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Then cancel it. Right now. And give me back my money. Do. You. Under. Stand.”
“Yes,” I said as I slammed the confirm button on my computer screen and slammed my teeth together. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”
The woman’s response was the kindest she’d given the whole conversation: silence, then the click of a dead line. Like that, she was gone, $30 richer than she was when she called.
As I drove home after work that day, I found myself close to tears and feeling utterly pathetic about it. It was only the sixth day of being on my own in my new position, and I’d been struggling to be patient with myself. I’d made some mistakes I was frustrated about, and to add to the stresses of work, I was stressed about life. I knew the woman who called didn’t know that. I knew she was angry about someone else’s mistake on her order. I knew she was taking it out on me because she was frustrated. And I knew that, at the end of the day, nothing she had to say to me was anything I should have taken personally. But, compounded with everything else, it hurt a lot. It turned a hard day harder.
That evening, as I replayed the things she’d said in my mind and, admittedly, sent angry mental vibes her way, I had a subtle, yet painful stab of guilt. I was suddenly reminded of an email I had sent about a month or two earlier to a guest relations employee at a local amusement park. I’d left a comment on their Facebook page about something their park was doing that disappointed me, and within five minutes, my comment was deleted and I was blocked from their page. It made me angry, angry enough to send a letter through the guest relations link and tell them all why I was never going to their park again and how I was disgusted at the way I’d been treated. I thought I was being right, but whether or not that’s accurate, the truth is that I was being fairly rude. There was a person on the other end of that email, and I’d laid on them all of my anger and frustration as if it was their business to erase all of it for me.
I’d been, to some extent, that woman who was terrible to me over the phone, and both of us together had been extremely un-Christlike. We’d treated other people, not as the Lord would treat them, but as selfish, demanding human beings would treat them. And, as I’ve learned from three years of customer service experience, we are not isolated cases.
Customer service is one of the most difficult and thankless jobs out there. People like to think it’s easy and that they could do the job of someone else in that position just fine, but they don’t see the emotional stress and frustration that comes along with it. As a customer service employee, you get to the point where you expect people to be cruel and upset, because a lot of times, they are. I remember seeing one of my co-workers super happy one day because a woman had just left her checkout stand, and, quote, “She was nice to me! She was so nice to me!” It was a funny, and yet sad moment to realize that kindness was so much a rarity that it left her shocked to hear it.
The reality is that there’s something about business that causes all of us to lose it. What that ‘it’ is varies case by case. We might lose our cool, our humanity, or simply, our vulnerability. Some of us are pillars of ice as we stand in the checkout line, part of a transaction, not an interaction with another person. Some of us treat the same types of people we’d love and admire in our wards as incompetent fools when they’re wearing their business casual and telling us something went wrong with our purchase. Most of us barely bother to read the name on the cashier’s tag, or ask them how their day’s been going, because most of us, when shopping, are solely concerned about we, ourselves, and us.
Frankly, we don’t love our neighbor as ourselves when we shop. We ignore that commandment as if it selectively applies. We love our money as ourselves, sure. We love our possessions as ourselves. We love our time as ourselves. But not our neighbor. If anybody shortchanges, overcharges, or takes too much time that belongs to us, we don’t love them. We aren’t kind to them. We’re too often too angry and too rude, and we’re no better than the very Pharisees and hypocrites the Savior condemns in scripture.
The injunction to love your neighbor as yourself was no afterthought commandment, nor was it meant to be interpreted as, “Love thy friends and the people that thou admires” as thyself. Our neighbor is every one of the seven billion who live on this planet. Our neighbor is that guy who cuts us off on the freeway. Our neighbor is the homeless man we ignore, the toddler howling in a restaurant we’re eating at and the parents trying to calm him down. Our neighbor is our bus driver, our mailman, our cashier, the customer service rep. on the phone, and the people whose arms we brush in passing on the sidewalk. Our neighbor is the girl we cannot see on the phone, or the man we cannot see reading our emails. They are the person who we, too often, don’t feel obligated to love. And a good sign of our willingness to be like Christ is whether or not we choose to love them.
That love, furthermore, has to be active. It demands activity. Loving your neighbor isn’t gruffly giving them your money and leaving without a word. Loving your neighbor isn’t treating them like a machine without feelings. Loving your neighbor means being kind to your neighbor, opening up to them, acknowledging them, and thanking them. It means being patient with them, and treating them like a child of God, not just a person being paid to help you. Loving your neighbor is being compelled to make them feel better about themselves, not because they necessarily need it, but because they deserve it. Their value far exceeds the value of our bank accounts or good opinions. I imagine the Savior would care far less about bad customer service than the one giving the service.
In a world filled with transactions, credit cards, money, supply, demand, and exchanges, let us not lose our compassion. Let us not, like those in the Savior’s day, fill our temples with greed and demand and leave no room for Him or for His love. Let’s not forget that our neighbor is everyone.
The customer is always right, someone once said. Let’s do better to live up to the maxim, “The customer is always Christlike.” Because knowing what we know, we all should be.