Customer service is tough, but worthwhile

I was an awkward, stuttering teenage girl when I first began working at a small-scale grocery store. After years of continuing in various customer service jobs, I realize that those experiences have ensured that I’m nothing like the timid and soft-spoken person I once was.

They’ve allowed me to accurately judge and handle unique situations, improving my communication and social skills not just at work, but life in general. They’ve equipped me with the ability to think creatively, become well-spoken, and be authoritative when needed, among other skills. This one-of-a-kind learning is why I’ve stuck around in the service industry, despite the downsides.

One LinkedIn article bleakly voices that there is no greater myth than the notion that customer service is easy. As of this year, the average Canadian customer service representative has a meagre average salary of $29,560. I don’t disagree with these setbacks, but despite them, the perks of developing greater social skills and professionalism are all too important for me to think that these struggles aren’t worth it.

One memorable moment that honed my communication chops involved an elderly regular at the grocery store I currently work at. Despite several “sorry’s” and apologetic smiles, she was not at all appeased over the shortage of several items she had come for. I originally thought I did just fine with my response but it later dawned on me that an elder, who is likely less willing or able to travel longer distances to shop and who remains a loyal customer despite that, deserves more than such a dismissal.

During my three months in fashion retail, I listened to and aided customers who were outraged over our store policies. It wasn’t easy, but I’d learned from the years of client service already under my belt that tense situations like these require patience, tact, and confidence in oneself.

Whether you work as a waiter, tech support, or retail associate, every interaction is a lesson in its own right. The picky man who wants his TV repaired? You’ll learn how to please him and others of his nature in a way that’s unique compared to how you might satisfy a millennial for the same issue. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll win people over in everyday life by recognizing what works for individuals based on their age, attitude, body language, etc.

I went from using poor and ineffective excuses such as “Sorry, we’re all out of those in size 10,” to better reading individual body language that signalled to me what approach I should take. Once you figure out what social cues to look for, the right response comes easily. Through trial and error, you learn what skills are useful in what situations and vice versa.

Nowadays, I do a much better job at understanding someone’s mood even outside of work, which is great considering that I’ve been previously told that I come off as ignorant multiple times (oops!). I’ve become more confident in my problem-solving skills and oral communication — I am no longer that girl who’s afraid to thank to the bus driver for fear of being judged or sounding weird.

Today, there’s an undeniable, gritty sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when I realize exactly how far I’ve come, in terms of social skills, from working several years in the service industry. While this may seem baffling to those who are naturals at it, it’s a victory for me and countless others who have improved their social skills thanks to what others see as a hassle — customer service jobs.