Working in customer service helped me understand parenthood
Kids are a lot like the most difficult customers you encounter in almost any customer service job. They are demanding, insistent, and indignant. Once you consider the similarities, they far outnumber the differences. In coaching myself to deal with the hardships of parenting, I learned to revert back to my 14+ years within the hospitality industry.
The customer [child] is always right.
Let’s be clear – we know they aren’t always right. However, there are times that they may be. Once a child enters the realm of logical thinking and making connections, they begin the seemingly never-ending barrage of “Why?” and “Why not?” As I answer, I often find myself wondering the same things. Why don’t we leave the house in pajamas? Why don’t we wear sneakers without socks? Does it matter if someone else sees us picking our nose? The simplest answer is “Because I said so, and I’m the boss.” That doesn’t always leave us feeling in charge of the situation, though.
The same can be said for the customer, who asks questions like, “Why do you close so early?” and “Why can’t I substitute kale for lettuce?” The simplest answer is often, “Because that’s how it is.” However, that doesn’t generally fly with the customer. Instead, we’re faced with staying open an extra 20 minutes while they decide between the green top or the blue top. Or letting them substitute one ingredient and hoping they don’t lose it when they see the $4 supplemental charge.
This rings more true than almost any other comparison in existence. Don’t argue with the customer, and definitely don’t argue with the toddler. That argument cannot be won. Even once it “ends,” it will likely come back to bite you in some way. Whether it be a final paycheck or an incessant tantrum, there is no happy ending here. Instead, I remember being taught to take charge with absolutes and consolations. Sentiments like “I’m sorry”, “I understand”, and “I hear you” are the best statements to toss into the mix, whether parenting or working customer service.
Those who have worked customer service of any type know the inevitable fate of helping at least one customer that you cannot win over. No matter how hard you try, their frown won’t turn upside down. Some of these dissatisfied customers, like a child who just heard “No,” for the umpteenth time, will argue. Similar to how reasoning or arguing with a customer won’t get you far (except maybe up the stairway to the boss’ office), I learned that you can’t reason or argue with a child. It’s just not worth the effort or the time. Distraction becomes key, along with leaving the arguing to the other side of the counter.
You can’t please everyone.
I once worked at a quirky downtown café, where the owner had a sign that said, “I can only please one person per day. Today isn’t your day, and tomorrow isn’t looking good either.” Can I adopt that as my life’s motto? Problem is, it’s difficult for me to actually put this mantra to use. Try as I might, I often have a hard time accepting this as truth. Though I believe in it deeply, I have difficulty leaving the kid to be upset, as much as I had a hard time leaving a customer dissatisfied with my service.
So similar are the instances where no dinner, no bribe, and no sweet talk will make a child happy. No, sweetie, you can’t have ice cream for dinner. No, sir, I cannot order that to be made in your wife’s favorite color by tomorrow. Sorry, but we just don’t keep hot dogs as pets. (Seriously, that happened). I apologize, Miss, I absolutely have never heard of a cardigan for your purse.
What’s the mom-ager to do?
The first step in learning is accepting something as truth. Never could this be more connected than in the tasks of parenting and pleasing the most difficult retail shopper. We need to accept what is within our principles and abilities, then take a deep breath and let the rest go.
Whether in mom or work life, we continue to learn and take it all in stride. Know that with every hard task that you tackle, another one is waiting just around the corner. It may be sticky-and-stinky or prim-and-proper, but each task seeks to push your boundaries while forcing you to stick to your guns. In the end, it’s all in how you handle each situation, how well you assume the responsibility of being in charge of the situation, and how you choose to execute the end result.