Saturday, February 6, 2016

Customer Service: Speak English and keep your opinions to yourself

Recently, while driving home, I heard about these two stories on a local radio show. I thought that in different ways they were both interesting. I think the underlying connection between them is customer service. What makes good customer service? What makes you want to be a return customer to a business? Also if you feel that you are mistreated then what is the appropriate response? Do you shrug it off, pay your bill and simply shop elsewhere? Is a quiet word to the manager or a terse letter to the regional vice-president enough to satisfy your need for justice? Some people want to have it out verbally with the offending party right then and there to let them know that no one gets anything over on Mr. or Miss so-n-so. And a small minority of people aren't averse to laying hands on people should they find it necessary. Other people avoid or are downright incapable of direct confrontation. These people tend to go home or pull out their smart phone and start ranting on social media about their horrible experiences. In the first story a Kansas woman and her thirteen year old daughter were shopping for dresses for a school formal. I don't remember having such things at that point in school but it's been a while since I was thirteen. The mother picked out a dress that she thought her daughter might like. As children will do the daughter tried on the dress to please her mother though she told the mother that this dress wasn't her style. The saleswoman apparently thought that the dress was not particularly flattering to the young lady and suggested that the youngster needed to purchase and wear Spanx. I didn't know what Spanx was but apparently Spanx is underwear, primarily though not exclusively for women, designed to slim figures. I don't know if the mother was more upset by the saleswoman's tone or by what she said but either way she was angry enough to write a facebook post criticizing the saleswoman and defending her daughter's weight and shape. Of course every parent thinks their child is beautiful. That's human nature. But I'm not sure the mother's zeal to defend her daughter was best served by putting her daughter's pic in the public sphere. I suppose there are some saleswomen or salesmen who just want to move product and don't care what you look like in their clothing. But I've also bought clothes from people who were honest enough to tell me what looked good and what didn't. If I were buying an expensive suit or shoes or whatever I'd like to know ahead of time if something clashes, accentuates negatives or simply doesn't work. But that's just me. There are polite and yet direct ways to let me know that.

In the second story the reality tv personality/author Bethenny Frankel had her Jules Winnfield English MF do you speak it??!!! moment. Frankel was shopping at a K-Mart and apparently was peeved that not only were there not enough registers open but also that at least some of the workers (unclear if she's referring to floor clerks or those operating the registers) either did not or would not speak English. Today's world being what it is Frankel put this on twitter. People reliably surfaced to call her racist. 

I don't know much about Frankel and am not interested in learning more. She could be the worst bigot out there. She could be a nice person. Don't know. Don't care. But just wanting to speak English in a non-niche business in the United States of America is not in my view enough to mark you as a racist. If you and the person to whom you're speaking do not share a common language communication becomes more difficult. It is not necessarily racist to get upset about this though obviously, racist or xenophobic people by definition probably have a much lower threshold of tolerance for this sort of thing. Although Michigan is not a super diverse state in comparison to say, New York or California, there are still a fair number of people for whom English is not the first language. At least once a month or so I can hear Arabic, Chaldean, Spanish, or Korean being spoken in businesses that serve the wider public. I am really not bothered by this. It would only bother me if the owner or clerks refused or were unable to speak English to me. If I moved to another country it would be presumptuous of me to expect people there to speak English to me. I'd have to learn their language. Similarly, for its stores in the US, K-Mart should hire people who can speak English if they are going to be interacting with the public in any way. Maybe at some future point everyone in the US will be speaking Mandarin, Cantonese or Spanish. I doubt it though. You could make an argument that it's unfair that English has become the common business language or (heh-heh) lingua franca of the world. Perhaps. But it's not going to change anytime soon in this country that English is the common language. If you made the choice to come here then you should also do your best to learn the language. There are times when the ability to communicate clearly could be of critical importance. It's not just about K-mart and reality stars.
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