Stop Needling Me … PussyCat! 1980
I have a lot of respect for front line staff – you know like retailer and counter staff, caterers, nursing staff, service and utility telephonists, they don’t get enough credit for the work they do. They are on the direct front line from the customer. They also don’t get paid enough. They were not paid enough for their valued contribution to the workforce industry 40 years ago, and in truth 40 years later there is no significant difference to their pay scale today, things need to change.
It can be hard work, when you are the first line of call or first person on spot when dealing with people and a lot harder than many people might think. You see people are NOT easy to deal with at times in these situations, and many of what used to be called the White collar brigade think that the Blue collar brigade are beneath them, like pay scale whilst terminology may have changed the attitude doesn’t.
In short many a time the customers whilst managerially and protocol stated ‘may be right, are at times completely and utterly off base, and as such are wrong’. But you can’t say that to them, instead front line staffing has to deal with the dregs and emotional abuse some people think they have a divine right to deliver and dish out.
Front line work therefore is a hard job.
I worked when younger in many of these front line positions be this in retail or catering and currently Suze works for an organisation that deals with council tenants in council housing. Many a time Suze answers the phone to verbal abuse, shouting, being sworn at and serious abuse from people, who don’t give a rat’s arse as to whether she is doing her job or simply forget that she is there to try and help them with their problems. It is NOT a nice job, and although it has hardened her up quite a bit, l know she is eager to get back into a job that has a bit more sanity to it and some respect.
Everyone likes respect, but respect has to be earned and at times frontline staffing must be very deliberate in how they perform their jobs when inside they are seething.
Over the years as a young sales assistant or as a manager l have been horribly abused by customers – who seemingly think l am there for their personal mental cruelty, or to vent their anger at someone else, but l would do, or to simply vent their frustrations out at. I know l couldn’t do that job anymore – l have no tolerance for stupidity nor rudeness and if they said No or were rude to me, l would shout back the same to them, just louder. Much louder! I would lose my job, irrelevant to how much satisfaction l might have gleaned from the situation. I am a patient person who can take a lot however my borders for bad behaviour are much smaller now.
For some reason, customers like needling people! They like getting under their skin for whatever reason, be this they think they are right, or not receiving the service they expect, or having to wait in line, queue unnecessarily or just basically having a bad day – and the person who next speaks to them is the one that cops it. There is no logic to it, sometimes it just happens.
These days, recruiters in retail, supermarkets and so on, run new recruits and interviewees through very long and rigorous tests and tasks to mete out those amongst us that might have a tendancy to be a bull in a China shop over Larry the Lamb. Employers do not want those that technically think for themselves, nor do they wish for you to have an opinion that goes against the grain and lights up as rebellious to the credo of “The customer is always right!” because to do so, means that you could ‘blow’ and upset someone, that they may lose that rude customer’s business or worse they may face legalities that they do not wish to have. So front line staff whilst seriously underpaid have to hold a certain criteria and persona to be considered worthy for these lowly paid jobs, which if you think about it actaually warrants them for a much higher pay scale anyway.
Of course, you can turn some situations around to your favour by standing your ground and not being an asshole back in return. Many years ago when l guess l was about 17 l was working in a hotel, and was working behind the scenes as l wasn’t yet old enough to serve alcohol and l was training up a couple of novices to collect glasses from the bars, so they could get them washed up and returned to the service area. One of them, Ronald he came flying in and said “l can’t do this job, not tonight can l not just wash and dry??” With a worried look upon his face.
I asked him why ever not, all you need to do is go into the bar side area where the drinkers are and collect the glasses? He answered with he was getting abuse from a group of punk rockers who were teasing him, and needling him and he was terrified of them. I answered, but they are just people, and you are just doing your job, stand your ground, be polite but firm, you need those glasses. He still refused, and so l went with him into the other bar to see what the problem was? True enough to his word, there must have been a good forty punks in the bar and they were quite alarming, with their pins and chains and tartan and spiky hair, and their smoking and swearing and general ruckuss appearance.
“See Rory, see what l mean. Let me wash and dry and you collect!” Ronald spurted out making a bee line for the door and two rocker chicks were eyeballing him with malice and menace in their eyes.
“I think you are missing the point Ronald, if we don’t get their glasses off the table, there will BE nothing for you to actaully wash and dry! Don’t let these people worry you, they need us as much as we need their business ok?” I answered in a kind and polite way.
“Then you show me how it’s done! You are my trainer!” He demanded.
The bar was not just busy it was heaving, the bar staff were rushed off their feet, there was beer spilling everywhere, crisps on the floor, broken glasses and orders being shouted above the din of all the others voices, never mind the bar staff yelling out for more “bloody glasses!!” We didn’t have time for this nonsense!
“Fine, this is how you do it, okay watch, you have to play it by ear, but always be polite and bloody smile! Always – and irrelevant to how you might be feeling, fight back your nerves and apprehensions ok? Now follow me.”
Ronald meekly followed behind me as l carefully weaved and wove my way through the throngs of people. We were shoved, pushed, bumped into and more than once l saw Ronald swallowed by red and green and black tartan till we got to the main table.
“Can l have your glasses please ladies and gents, if you want to keep on drinking, we need to have your glasses, otherwise you’ll all be cupping your hands to drink from.” I said smiling.
“You wot mate, wot you want, you big namby pamby in your dickie bow, wot you want?” The chap who said this was about five four, but his spiked mohican made him look a lot bigger, he had a pin with a chain attached running from his nose to his lip back up to his eyebrow and down to his pocket. It was quite impressive in truth. A bright yellow polo tee shirt covered in huge nappy pins, and yellow and red and blue tartan trousers with the sturdiest looking Doc Martins l had ever seen, that were shone so brightly that upon looking down l could actually see up my nose!
“Your beer glasses sir, if you don’t mind?”
“Wot if l do then, wotcha gonna do about it? Eh?”
“You know there is no need for this hostility sir, all we are trying to is our jobs, and in so doing continue to enjoy your patronage. So please do stop needling us ok?”
“Oh l say, how very English of you, eh fellas, in’t he so very proppa?”
“Why thank you sir, that’s quite the compliment, l genuinely appreciate that. Now do you mind handing them over please?” I answered smiling.
Ronald behind me was so close l could feel him shaking, and Pinboy noticed. “Wot’s he doing so close behind you eh, up’t t’ no good he is, l tell ya, don’t bend down otherwise he’ll have ya good and proppa like, bang, bang!”
“Let it by sir he’s new, if you have to pick on anyone, just continue to pick me out for your pleasure.”
“You know l could seriously fuck y’over matey, me an’ ma boys could kick your head with our boots from here to next Sunday!! Show sum respect!”
“Oh goodness me sir, l am respectful, l mean l don’t particularly want a ‘good kicking sir’, however maybe it will not be that bad, l mean it’s only Saturday now, Sunday’s not far away.” Once more smiling.
“Ya think yor funny don’t ya mate, more important than us, wot you think we are then?” PinBoy asked.
“Can l be honest sir?” I enquired, still smiling, but looking deadly serious.
“Yer alright, go on then this should be worth a laugh!”
“Ok, l think you are all talk, and the truth is you appreciate your music more than you do actually harming people, and that you are terribly musinderstood as a culture. Punk is a wonderful, wonderful vibrantly exciting musical enhancement to our way of life. Anarchy rocks and rolls, it’s awesome, however l think you are all as gentle as pussycats! There we go sir, that’s what l think.”
Well suddenly there was a deadly silence across the tables, l think Ronald may have even collapsed behind me, l know he ran for the door yelping, “I am going for management Rory, l think you may be dead when l get back!”
PinBoy was eyeballing me in complete disbelief .. “Are you be being funny Son?”
“Oh no not at all sir, l don’t do funny, l do honest.” I answered.
More silence followed and not just from their tables, but it appeared half the pub was suddenly quiet waiting to see if the biggest fight ever was going to break out.
PinBoy suddenly smiled, “Fuck me mate, you got some balls. Do you like punk music and our culture then?”
“Actually sir, l do and that’s me being deadly serious it’s invigorating l think, refreshing!” I wasn’t lying at that, l did happen to like quite a few of the songs, just my Father couldn’t stand it and l wasn’t allowed to play it at home.
PinBoy laughed out loud “You are alright mate, you are one of us now!”, and with that he unclipped two huge nappy pins from his tee shirt and promptly interlocked them and stuck them into my bow tie! The rest of the evening, those punks, turned out to be really helpful bringing the glasses to the bar, picking up other glasses and helping Ronald clear up towards the end. At the end of our shifts for the night, they even walked us home in a big group, we looked liked two sore thumbs in our black and white tuxedo get ups interwoven with all the tartan. PinBoy whose real name was Edward de Lancer it turned out only lived a few streets away from me became quite a good friend over the following years. He introduced me to his friends as the “Right Proppa One!”
I was very lucky with that moment of front line staffing and aggressive customer behaviour, but it went well because l was polite and firm and non judgemental l think. I found that tact worked pretty well in the years following that dealing with bikers, goths and a whole assortment of other customers as well as seriously broadening my musical tastes!
However, next time you see services staff experiencing roughness from customers have a heart, it’s not easy on the front line.