Category Archives: Market

Olivia Legaspi, a student at Haverford, writes about what working at McDonald’s has taught her about privilege [hat tip: Rod Dreher]. Legaspi, who suffers from PTSD but needs to work to fund her college education, notes that while at Haverford, she and her fellow students are encouraged to “to ask for help when we feel we need it, speak up when we feel uncomfortable, and prioritize our own well being over most other things,” at McDonald’s, she has to put others first and doesn’t have recourse to those strategies. On balance, she says, this was a good thing:

Before you encourage someone to practice “self care” in its current definition, think about in what situations this is actually useful or feasible advice….I’m grateful to have worked at McDonald’s: It taught me how better to handle my anxiety and how to put myself last in the name of efficiency and a common goal. McDonald’s strengthened my character, my work ethic, and expanded my capacity for resilience, valuable lessons which could not be learned in the “safe spaces” of Haverford’s campus. We must remember that putting oneself first is the essence of privilege, and that, in order to grow, we must leave this selfish mindset behind.

I’m temperamentally disposed to agree with her. Working customer service jobs can be a valuable part of anyone’s upbringing. If Legaspi had focused the unfairness of her situation, I would likely be writing a post about how she overlooked the positive aspects of working. So while I’m about to disagree with her, I do so in the spirit of supplementing, not negating, what she’s saying.

My disagreement: We should beware overlearning those lessons. While “putting oneself first”–or more accurately, being in the position to do so–“is the essence of privilege,” it’s sometimes necessary. My ability to go to the dentist and afford the visit is also part of my privilege. But I’m not going to abstain from those visits because others cannot enjoy the same treatment. (And to be clear, Legaspi is not saying I should. She is saying, in part, that recovery, survival, and self-care involve interacting with the real world, and that world is not going to out of its way to accommodate her needs.)

Service work doesn’t always expand one’s “capacity for resilience.” It can sometimes be degrading. Legaspi doesn’t deny that, but sometimes the solution to degrading circumstances isn’t always putting the customer (or whoever) first. Sometimes it involves engaging in the resistance necessary to keep one’s dignity in the workplace, or at least make the job more survivable. Legaspi doesn’t tell us whether or how she may have “resisted,” and I probably am too eager to see “resistance” where it isn’t, or to say it should be resorted to when it needn’t. (For some labor historians, an employee going on a bathroom break can count as “resistance to dominant structures of exploitation.”)

Still, Legaspi’s lessons need to be balanced against what a lifetime of such labor might entail. As Megan McArdle said in a different but relevant context,

I’m thinking it’s a lot harder to get out of bed on Monday in year 13 of your stint as a janitor than it was on day 300–and that it’s harder to get out of bed on Day 300 if you know there’s probably going to be a Year 13.

I’ll repeat that overall I agree with Legaspi. I am trying only to warn against the uses to which it’s possible to take her argument. I’ll close with the words of one person who commented to her column and with which I agree:

I’ve also worked unpleasant jobs: some of them early in my career when I didn’t have a choice, and had to stick them out; some of them much further along in my career, when I had the resources to wish my unpleasant boss well and quit. I wish those sorts of jobs didn’t need to exist. I wish nobody ever had to shut up and smile and take it, from an unreasonable boss or customer. But allowing the difficulties you encounter to shape and form you in virtue and discipline is a great thing. And having the wisdom to understand that this is what’s happening is even better. Well done.

Category: Market

I’ve commented on a couple of occasions that the US Postal Service doesn’t deliver packages to our house. The reason they give is that there is not sufficient room on our street for them to turn around. It seems to be left to the discretion of the carrier, because when we have someone other than our typical carrier they do deliver packages.

This became a really big deal during my wife’s pregnancy, because we were waiting on some medication sent from Arapaho and if it both (a) didn’t fit into the mailbox and (b) arrived on a Saturday, that would mean that we wouldn’t get it until Monday. We were already worried about the pregnancy at that point, and that didn’t help our state of mind. I was checking the mailbox every day at two o’clock ready to drive to the post office at 3:30 if need be. It turned out to be a non-issue because it arrived on Friday, did fit in the mailbox, and the pregnancy was not a successful one for unrelated reasons.

Even so, after years and years of hearing about how great the USPS is while UPS and FedEx only deliver packages to about three metropolitan areas or somesuch, it’s funny that the first time we have run into this problem is with the USPS and not UPS and FedEx, both of which delivered to everywhere we have lived up to and including the town with less than 5,000 people in it. But the USPS won’t come up our street. Which, to be fair, seems like an unusual circumstance.

Except we’re not alone:

In the past, the United Parcel Service would leave the parcels at your doorstep. Instead, USPS wants to cram it into your mailbox. But if you miss your mail for a day or the package doesn’t fit into your mailbox, you’re out of luck… the parcels end up back in the dead letter room at your local post office.

So instead of delivery, the Amazon customer has to go to pick up the package at the Post Office. That’s a line even more dreaded than Wal-Mart’s. Americans hate standing in the USPS line. And this is what’s happening to thousands of Amazon customers around the nation.

Instead of enjoying the delivery of Amazon Prime, you’re now faced with the hell of waiting in the line at the Post Office.

What sounded like a good idea on paper is a disaster for the Amazon customer. I wonder if Jeff Bezos and the other leaders of Amazon know what they’re doing to their own customers.

The person from whom I got the link has also had problems with the USPS both at home and at work. I don’t know if there has been an official policy change, if the carriers are expected to cover more ground and therefore don’t have time to get out of their car, or what. Either way, it’s making them look kind of bad.

The article is about Amazon. It’s possible that Amazon is aware of what’s going on because sometime earlier this year, they stopped using the USPS. Now almost everything is arriving by way of FedEx. Which is great for whenever I order from Amazon because now it arrives at our doorstep. I still have to worry about trips to the Post Office when I get something off eBay, though.

The funny thing is that at a previous time in my life, I might have even preferred picking up packages at the Post Office. I remember at various times worrying about a package being left at my doorstep and taken. It only happened once, in Cascadia, but it was a doozy*. UPS and FedEx wouldn’t let you say “Just leave it at the depot and I’ll pick it up” which always annoyed me. Now they seem to have ways to do that, which is great. It took them too long, though, and it doesn’t help us any.

The whole thing is made a bit more complicated by the fact that the recipient isn’t the customer. So the sender has less reason to care whether it’s unsafe to leave a package at my doorstep, or the USPS won’t deliver to our house. Sometimes they give you the option, but usually only if you’re willing to shell out. But it’s definitely preferable if they were to simply be able to look at your address and have a note that says “residents prefer to pick up package” or “residents would prefer the package be left in this particular spot if no one is home.”

* – It was a computer monitor, and other things. It was shipped in the original packaging which probably made it a more enticing item. On the other hand, I had considered our shipping situation there relatively safe because they would leave it on the back porch. So it wouldn’t be sitting streetview for hours on end. Someone may have seen them take it to the back, though.

Category: Market

In my last post, I argued that it didn’t “seem right” that a police officer would make up an “offense report” because she was refused service at a fast food place. I was also uncomfortable with the fact that she seems to have somehow gotten personal information from someone who was disinclined to provide it. I finally suggested that businesses should have the legal right to refuse business to police officers just because they’re police officers and still expect the same level of protection that any business or person ought to expect from the police.

I guess a fair question to ask of my OP is, what would have been a right way for this all to have turned out? That question can be broken into two others.

  1. What is the most the officer could have done to pursue her complaint and yet meet my standards for appropriate conduct?
  2. What would have to be true of our legal system for me to be okay with what the officer did do in this case, which was to write up an “offense report”

To answer the first question, my preference would be that the officer complain to the fast food company, using whatever avenues that already exist for a customer to issue a complaint in a related case. By “related case” I mean a case where a person is denied service for a reason not prohibited by law and where the proffered reason appears to be the real reason. In other words, I’d say it’s a different matter altogether if, say, the police officer is black and the employee says they don’t like to serve police officers but the real reason the employee is saying that is arguably that the officer is black.

My answer to the second question depends on what access any private citizen would have in a similar case. Let’s say someone refuses business to me because I am a public employee, and let’s say I have my name tag/badge that shows who I work for. Let’s also say it’s obvious from the situation that they’re not discriminating against me because of my gender, race, ethnicity, or religion. If I can call the police and the police can write up an “offense report,” then I concede that a police officer ought to be able to do the same if it happens to her/him.

I still don’t concede that I or the cop have any right to obtain contact information from an employee who declines to furnish it, especially because no crime or anything civilly actionable is being alleged. Is a crime, or at least an something civilly actionable, being alleged? Maybe. In the comments section of my last post, I referred approvingly to the idea of an “‘implied contract’ associated with being open for business” mentioned in this BHL post. Not being a lawyer, I wouldn’t know. But if it is something that I could allege and use to invoke the writing of an “offense report” and to obtain personal information from someone who doesn’t want to give it, then I suppose that an officer, as a citizen, ought to have the same prerogative.

That said, even if a cop then has the legal right to pursue the matter, I’m less certain as to whether he or she ought to pursue it. The privileges cops enjoy come with the responsibility to be judicious, and that sometimes means taking certain slights in stride. But that’s a different issue.

Now is probably the time to say that I do think it’s wrong to refuse service to someone without a “good” reason. What counts as “good” is probably in the eye of the beholder, but unless the cop in this case is leaving something out of her account, I don’t see a “good” reason to refuse her service.

Category: Courthouse, Market

Apparently, somewhere in Florida an Arby’s employee refused to serve a police officer. The police officer complained and talked to a manager. The manager laughed and said the employee doesn’t like serving cops. One or both of the the employees seems to have been reprimanded although exactly what the upshot was isn’t entirely clear to me. The company apologized, saying that Arby’s values our men and women in blue, etc., etc.

The officer filed an “offense report” over the incident, not linked to above. Here’s her narrative of what happened. I’ve retyped it, so assume all typos are my own. I’ve also redacted some information:

On this date, I responded to the above location [redacted], Arby’s, to order take-out food through the drive thru window. Upon ordering at the microphone, the clerk seemed slightly rude and short with his responses, but I was having difficulty hearing him so figured there might be a problem with their speaker system. Once I received my total, I drove to the take-out window to pay for my food.

When I drove around, the clerk, [redacted], took my credit card as a form of payment. At this time the manager, [redacted], approached the window an stated, “He doesn’t want to serve you because you are a police officer.” [Redacted] was referring to [redacted] and referenced him by looking at [redacted]. At this time, [redacted] had not processed my credit card and had to be ordered to do so, by [redacted]. I explained to [redacted] that this made me extremely uncomfortable and now wasn’t certain I wanted to dine at the restaurant. [Redacted] assured me everything was ok and handed me my food. [Redacted] even laughed and said he is allowed to refuse to serve me.

I was uncertain of the condition of my food, and felt for my safety, it would be best not to eat there. I responded inside and [redacted] provided me with a refund. [Redacted] provided me with his contact information and store information but [redacted] refused to have contact with me, ignored me and refused to provide his contact information to me.

This incident is being documented for informational purposes.

Somehow, the officer seems to have gotten information about the employee “who refused to have contact with” her, too, because on the “offense report” we see the following info about both employees: birth dates, driver license numbers, domicile address, and place of birth, which in the case of the non-cooperative employee was the Dominican Republic. I don’t know how this information was acquired. Maybe Arby’s disclosed the information from its personnel records (That’s why I’m not linking to the document itself. Too much personal information.)

The employees as far as I can see didn’t commit an “offense” recognized by law. (And one thing we don’t get from this “offense report” is that the officer was refunded her money. At least that’s what the linked-to news account above says.) I think I can also easily imagine a scenario in which the manager, as the father said in the linked to article above, was just joking. I can easily imagine why the one employee might not have wanted to disclose their personal information.

Now perhaps I’m making too much of the fact that this report is called an “offense report.” Those are the words at the top of the form, but the officer does write that the report is for “informational purposes” only. It’s probably the standard form an officer fills out when something happens regardless of whether a crime is even alleged to have been committed. The employees weren’t arrested and as far as I know and hope, they weren’t tailed or followed by the police trying to pin something on them or harass them. And I guess it’s encouraging that the officer just wrote a report and didn’t, say, kill the employees. I’d rather see more report writing and fewer incidents of brutality.

And I do believe all people should be treated with respect. If it’s true that the employees weren’t joking and were really trying to stick it to the customer, then they shouldn’t have done that. And as a pragmatic consideration, you probably want the cops on your side.

Still, the fact that the officer might have responded much more aggressively and chose not to and the fact (if it is a fact) that the employees were rude, don’t put me completely at ease.  Police officers are supposed to “serve and protect” the public. If a member of the public decides they don’t wish to serve officers, that person should have that right, and, I’d add, expect the full protection of the police should, say, a robbery take place.

Category: Courthouse, Market

Tim Harford on chain proliferation:

But an alternative explanation is that large companies [like Starbucks] deliberately open too many stores, or launch too many products, because they wish to pre-empt competitors. Firms could always slash prices instead to keep the competition away but that may not be quite as effective — a competitor might reasonably expect any price war to be temporary. It is less easy to un-launch a new product or shut down a brand-new outlet. A saturated market is likely to stay saturated for a while, then, and that should make proliferation a more credible and effective deterrent than low prices.

A recent paper by two economists from Yale, Mitsuru Igami and Nathan Yang, studies this question in the market for fast-food burgers. Igami and Yang used old telephone directories to track the expansion of the big burger chains into local markets across Canada from 1970 to 2005. After performing some fancy analysis, they concluded that big burger chains did seem to be trying to pre-empt competition. If Igami and Yang’s model is to be believed, McDonald’s was opening more outlets, more quickly than would otherwise have been profitable.

And here I thought Starbucks was trying to bring about the end of the universe.

I can’t say that I dispute the findings of the paper, but I will say that there is a difference between having a Starbucks across the street from somewhere, and down the street. especially in populous areas, crossing the street is a pain in the arse! And it actually can be the difference between my choosing to stop off for coffee, or my choosing not to. It was better for me if the Starbucks was across the street, and therefore required a much-dreaded lefthand turn, but that would have been bad for Starbucks.

I miss the west. So few coffee places out here. But enough about coffee.

I still can’t believe that there are only two McDonald’s in Stone County (pop 30k). Especially given how ridiculously busy one of them is. If nothing else, having another McDonald’s – even one across the street or even just down the street – could help handle the overflow.

In other franchise/chain-related observations, an auto shop with a Popeye’s within walking distance is the best kind of auto shop.

Category: Market

Some study somewhere argues that women bosses get less respect from male subordinates than men bosses do. That’s probably not the first such study and it probably won’t be the last. The study, or at least the news account that summarizes the study, reflects my own experience fairly well, but perhaps for reasons different from what the study suggestions.

For most jobs I’ve had, my immediate supervisors have been mostly women. In the private sector jobs, as you moved up the food chain to middle management and upper middle management, the demographics grew increasingly male while in academia, I’ve noticed that women tend to predominate more higher up on the food chain. But in most cases, my supervisors in most jobs have been women.

I’ve noticed that I probably do treat them differently than I would male bosses. It’s not necessarily that I don’t show them respect, or that I show them less respect. I think I do show them respect (although I’m open to considering whether that’s just a self-imposed illusion). But I act differently. I’m probably more….confident? assertive?….when dealing with female superiors than I likely would be if dealing with male superiors. Something that from a male boss I’d probably interpret as an order, from a female boss I’m probably more likely to interpret as a suggestion.

I believe–but I have no real evidence, just my impressions–that I still enjoy special consideration as a male employee, even though my current workplace is dominated by women at all levels. At meetings, for example, I’ve noticed that my (by a large majority female) coworkers tend to be much more quiet and attentive when I speak. I’ve also noticed an unfortunate tendency on my part to choose to interrupt people. Therefore, I try not to speak that much.

I’ve also noticed that library patrons sometimes heed what I say more than they do what my female colleagues say, even though I don’t outrank them. I can be jovial and lackadaisical with the patrons and they take me seriously, whereas my female colleagues sometimes have to act much more sternly and come off as (…well you know the word…) in order to get the same respect.

With very few exceptions, I don’t run into anything that makes me self-conscious about “being a man in a woman’s environment.” The exception is the sometimes sexist language or jokes I’ll occasionally hear from people in authority against men. I’m not arguing that that type of banter is “just as bad as” misogynistic language. In fact, it happens rarely, much more rarely than I imagine what women in some/most workplaces have to experience. (In fact, I’m thinking only of one instance in particular.) But it bothers me nonetheless.

The study I linked to above, or at least the description of the study, posits something it calls “precarious manhood theory,” or the notion that

manhood is ‘elusive’ and ‘tenuous’. In other words, manhood is not something that is guaranteed to be achieved with age, nor is it guaranteed to remain. Instead, men must continuously prove their manhood.

I won’t discount that, but it doesn’t seem to be my personal experience. And I think that explanation neglects another, plausible explanation. Namely, supervisor/employee relationships are inherently conflictive. Apparent disrespect is often the employee staking his or her own advantage against their bosses. When the supervisor is female and the employee is male, gender privilege undoubtedly works as one of the tools the employee can use. That’s probably sexism–and misogynistic sexism–at work, but it seems more complicated than these studies, or at least popular summaries of such studies, acknowledge.

Don’t get me wrong. Even though I think there’s more at work here than sexism and even though in some cases I might be less inclined to rush to judge the worker than others might be, I’m no longer the knee-jerk, Marxist-leaning laborite I used to see myself as. I no longer believe that the worker is right just because he/she is a worker, and I believe showing less respect to female bosses just because they’re female is wrong.

Category: Market

I suspect that in any discussion about whether unions are good or about whether such and such a policy designed to promote or weaken the appeal of unions is good, most parties to the discussion will profess to support unions.

In my view, the question is less whether we support unions and more under what circumstances we do and what policies we’d support or at least tolerate. As Oscar pointed out in a recent thread, he supports unions, but not the sort of “regulatory capture” exemplified by the proposed union exemptions to L.A.’s minimum wage law (a perfectly reasonable position, in my opinion).

Here are some considerations (pulled mostly from the American context):

  1. Do you support union-shop or “fair share” arrangements, where all employees must contribute union dues? Or do you support “right to work” laws?
  2. Do you support closed shop arrangements, where a prospective employee must be a member in good standing of a union before being eligible to be hired?
  3. Do you support “secondary strikes” or “secondary boycotts” where a union or its members refuse to cross other union’s picket lines or refuse to work for employers that do business with a struck firm?
  4. Should public employees be allowed to unionize? Some public employees but not others? What powers to negotiate should these unions have (wages only, wages + working conditions)?
  5. Should the law require employers to negotiate “in good faith” with a union that can demonstrate a minimum threshold of support? If so, what should the requirements of good faith be?
  6. Should the state require “first contract” arbitration, where a union negotiation automatically goes into arbitration after a certain time period has elapsed, so as to ensure that the union obtains a “first contract”?
  7. What should an employer be able to do, or not be able to do, to oppose unions? What should a union be able to do, or not be able to do, to promote unions?
  8. What, if any, preferential policies would you accept that would help promote unions? (I’m thinking of things like the minimum wage exemption Oscar wrote about, but also of things like antitrust exemptions, exemptions from injunctions, and probably other things I’m not thinking of.)
  9. Under what circumstances would you cross a picket line to shop at a struck firm?
  10. Under what circumstances would you cross a picket line to work at a struck firm?

On a lot of these issues, I myself am undecided or have changed my mind. You can no doubt think of other questions, and if so, feel free to offer them.

A long time ago in a sub-thread at one of my guest posts Over There, Brandon Berg raised in the comments an interesting question about unions (in particular about conscience exemptions for union dues and the free-rider problem that union shop provisions are meant to resolve):

I’m not sure I understand the free rider problem. Why can’t unions negotiate for their members, and only for their members? Is there some regulation that requires the unions to negotiate for all employees regardless of membership, or is the idea that simply having the union negotiate wages for its members somehow makes it easier for non-members to negotiate higher wages?

Personally, of course, I don’t see the free-rider problem as a problem at all—the government shouldn’t be in the business of making it easier to form cartels

And James K. chimed in

What you describe is how it works in New Zealand. Union membership is voluntary but the union only negotiates on behalf of its membership, and will only represent its members in other forms of labour dispute. There are a couple of other differences as well, like only union members can strike.

This seems to be an entirely adequate solution to nay free-rider issues.

At the time, I filed it under “interesting things I don’t know much about.” I still don’t know much about it, but I recently ran across a book that addresses Brandon’s and James K.’s points in the American context. It’s The Blue Eagle at Work: Reclaiming Democratic Rights in the American Workplace, by Charles J. Morris (2005). His argument seems to be that our current labor law, initiated by the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (Wagner Act) and amended subsequently, permits the situation Brandon and James K. describe, at least in some instances. His claims that few since the 1930s have recognized that fact, but he hopes that union supporters will endorse partial representation contracts (my term, I forget which he uses) as a step toward full-shop unionization.

I’ve read only the introduction, so there’s a lot I presume is missing from my synopsis of his argument. And I can’t speak to whether he’s right or not. But I thought I’d bring it up, especially in light of our recent discussion of minimum wage exemptions for union contracts.

Category: Market, Statehouse

John Oliver recently did a bit on food waste, which alone is worth watching.  In the clip, he talks about how US tax code has a provision for large corporations to be able to take a tax deduction for charitable (food) contributions, but for small business, although a similar provision exists, it isn’t permanent & has to be renewed each year.  This means that the small business owner won’t know until after the annual vote if there is any financial/tax incentive to donate food to food banks.

That alone is a bit of a WTF, but the real meat of the piece is what happened when the House tried to fix it.  Seems that the House passed a bill that would (among other things), make the tax deduction for small business permanent.  When that bill (House 644) got to the Senate, it was renamed, gutted, and essentially replaced with Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015, which, as far as I can tell, has nothing to do with amending the tax code to incentivize small businesses to make charitable food contributions.

So, my question is what is the reasoning behind this kind of action & why is it permitted or tolerated (e.g. why does the House not pitch a fit/why doesn’t someone in the Senate just have an ally in the House submit the bill they want/etc)?

Category: Market, Statehouse

I was originally going to write a do/don’t list about how to interact with customer service reps (CSR’s). But those lists preach only to people who don’t particularly need to hear the sermon.

Instead, I’m offering things to consider when dealing with a CSR. I’m deliberately leaving my definition of CSR open-ended, but examples of what I mean are waiters/waitresses, fast food workers, bank tellers, in-bound call-center reps, and retail or grocery store workers and cashiers. (For the record, I’ve had all of those jobs except waiter.)


  1. Unless you’re a regular customer, the CSR doesn’t know that you’re not a jerk. Let’s say a transaction requires you to present an ID. (as in a teller transaction). If the CSR has to ask you for it–instead of you just presenting the ID–he/she doesn’t know you’re not the type of person to get upset and scream at him/her for having the temerity to ask for it. Similar deal if you’re at a takeout restaurant and you need to present a receipt to pickup a food order. If you don’t just present the receipt, the CSR might not know how you’ll react if he/she asks for it.
  1. When you ask to see/speak with a supervisor, it’s sometimes interpreted (by the supervisor) that the CSR has failed. There’s a game in a lot of customer service interactions. The CSR does what he/she is told by management. The customer disagrees with the decision. The CSR has no authority to change the rules. The customer asks for a supervisor. The supervisor then reiterates the rule or changes it. This can reflect poorly on the CSR, because an often unstated part of their job is to run interference between the customer and management. There’s usually no disciplinary action taken against the CSR, but when it comes to review time, the CSR’s failure to run interference consistently might be mentioned and taken into consideration.
  1. [a variant of consideration no. 2] A lot of the rules that the CSR has to enforce don’t seem to make sense, actually don’t make sense, and the CSR knows they don’t make sense, but the CSR has to enforce them anyway as part of their job.
  1. [another variant of consideration no. 2] A lot of the rules that the CSR has to enforce don’t seem to make sense but they actually have a rationale behind them or their rationale isn’t quite what you think it is. I’ll return to the example of ID’s at the teller window. It’s not always that the teller doesn’t know who the customer is. It’s sometimes that the teller doesn’t know that the customer isn’t the type of person who makes a withdrawal, later forgets about it, and then claims that it wasn’t they who came in to make it. (ID practices vary. In my experience, tellers often make compromises, and sometimes it’s bank policy not to even ask for ID if the amount withdrawn is below a certain amount.)
  1. If the establishment does not have enough CSR’s to handle the volume of customers, the CSR probably doesn’t need you to tell him/her that, probably dislikes the situation as much as you do, and probably doesn’t have the authority to remedy the situation. The CSR usually can’t hire new people, sometimes co-workers call in sick or don’t show up or aren’t scheduled, and a large influx of customers with too few CSR’s means the CSR has to work a lot harder to help the customers. Often even the shift manager lacks hiring or scheduling authority, and they’re often the ones scheduled to be in the store/restaurant at the odd hours that a CSR shortage is most grievous.
  1. If the CSR seems rude, maybe he/she is just shy, or has had a difficult day, or is using a defense mechanism because of the types of customers he/she usually gets. Sometimes a grudging attitude or working inefficiently is one way of coping. Male customers, I have heard, sometimes interpret a smile or friendly from a female CSR as flirting or as an invitation to be asked out. She doesn’t know the customer isn’t a potential stalker. (I bring that up because I know of one example where a customer exhibited what in my opinion were stalker-like behaviors to one of my female coworkers when I was a bank teller.) Or maybe the CSR is just rude. But it’s important to know what you don’t know before or when you decide to call the employee on, or speak to a supervisor about, their “attitude.”
  1. [a variant of consideration no. 6] If the CSR seems lazy or seems not to be doing things he/she is hired for, the “laziness” might not be what it seems. Most CSR jobs in my experience have busy times and slack times. The slack times are often a chance to rest. To a certain personality that seems like laziness–and to another personality, that seems like “stealing from the employer”–but it can be just taking a much-needed couple minutes to relax. In some cases, what looks like slack time is actually not even slack time. When I was a teller, we had to run numerous nighttime deposits on a tight schedule–before a certain time in the afternoon when we rolled over to the next business day. Running those deposits was stressful because we had to be very careful to accurately count the money, fill out slips to note any discrepancies, and help customers in the teller line in the process. In the middle of running a deposit, it could sometimes look to the customer as if the teller is just counting his/her money. Again, it’s important to know what you don’t know.
  1. If you are on “friendly” terms with a CSR, and see the CSR taking a lunch break, that CSR probably doesn’t want to spend the break talking with you. That break time is the CSR’s time. Depending on the employer or laws of the state, the CSR might not even be paid for that break time.
  1. The customer is often (but of course not always) a lot better off than the CSR. Before you lecture the CSR about how you work for a living (with the implication being the CSR doesn’t work), you might consider whether you actually earn more money or have better working conditions than the CSR. I got this talk occasionally in many of my jobs. Once was as a retail stocker and the lecturer was an irate teacher (pro-tip: if a customer goes out of their way to tell you they’re a teacher, that usually means they’re going to treat you poorly. #notallteachers, of course.) Another time was as a bank teller, and the lecturer was someone who (judging by his paycheck) earned a lot more than I but who seemed to think that because I worked in a bank, I was automatically raking it in. (It was the mid-1990s, and I was earning $8 per hour, without benefits, and with a restriction that I could work only 1,000 hours in a year. $8 went further then than now, but still….this guy seemed to be earning a lot more. [/grinding axes])
  1. There’s a master/servant dynamic going on in customer service transactions. This dynamic probably underscores the main principle behind all the preceding ones. It is in my opinion deeper, more complicated, and more fraught with potential conflict and emotion than the fiction we have to adopt as a shorthand to explain the employer/employee/customer relationship. In that relationship, it is presumed that an employer agrees to pay an hourly wage, the employee agrees to work at that wage, and the customers deal with the employee, and after a certain amount of time the employee goes home. But add to that a sense of being told what to do and having to do it and facing bad consequences if one doesn’t do it to the customer’s or boss’s satisfaction. The power differential can be something almost visceral and can transcend rational action. Sometimes even the best paying job has its frustrations and moments when the worker just needs to detox or whatever. That’s not always captured in the quid pro quo, money for service equation we, among whom I include myself, tend to talk about when it comes to policy discussions.



I tend to over-think these things. And I’m not perfect. I probably err too much on the side of defending bad CSR behavior and I probably therefore come off as condescending or obsequious in my interactions with CSR’s as a customer. There are times–probably more than I realize or would like to admit–when I as a customer have lost patience or been snippy or otherwise let my frustrations show.

Finally, I really do intend the above points as things to consider, not do/don’t commands. I’m not saying, for example, “never tell people the shop is short-staffed,” “never call out rude behavior,” or “never ask to speak with a supervisor.” I do admit that some of the “considerations” I describe are just part of the job description and in other cases, the “considerations” over-determine or at least strongly imply what I think customers should do. But what I really want to say is that if we as customers want the marketplace to be more humane, maybe one place to start is in reflecting how we treat those whose job it is to serve us. And one step to that goal is considering how they feel.

Category: Market


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