August 2020

Sunday Reflection – The Massive Failure of “The Customer is Always Right”

Like many people, I started working as soon as I was old enough to do so legally. Mostly summer jobs, mostly retail. Some were better than others, but overall I learned a lot and enjoyed the benefits of having a paycheck for the first time. But the job that really sticks with me, for all the wrong reasons, was from the summer I worked at the front desk for a hotel on the coast of Maine.

It was my very first experience with customers who felt utterly entitled to do anything they wanted. Sometimes this included yelling at a teenage girl for telling them their room wasn’t ready yet – even though they were trying to check in hours before the time rooms were guaranteed to be available. I had numerous customers, generally older white men, who had zero qualms over making me feel awful. I even remember one man’s look of satisfaction as I turned away, fighting back tears, to call our housekeeping staff and try to get his room ready. He thought he’d won. And he had.

Because it wasn’t just that these men would come in and scream at me. It was that our manager would always, always, always, take their side. We were expected to suck it up and take it, no matter what. She would never take my side, never even ask me if I was ok, or if I needed help. All she cared about was making sure that customer was happy. Nothing else mattered to her.

I’ve had a great deal of job experience since then, but that still stands out as the worst.

I’ve been thinking about this lately, because of some really disturbing things I’m seeing online, with so many essential employees being treated like rubbish. Customers are screaming at them, hitting them, spitting at them, or even just refusing to do the most basic actions to keep them safe.

I was at Target the other day, and chatting with my cashier. I asked her if people were behaving themselves. Her answer? “Well, my line has been pretty good.”

That made me so sad. Is that really the most essential workers can hope for? That the horrible things will only happen close to them, not at them?

There’s a lot of reasons why I think customers are being so horrible right now, including toxic individualism and a total lack of empathy. But I also think that the “customer is always right” attitude that has been cultivated for years, is coming to a critical point right now. It may have been originally intended as a proactive and positive thing, to encourage going above and beyond to make customers happy. But like many good ideas, it’s become corrupted into an excuse for lack of courage or leadership.

Sure, there are those occasional managers who support their staff and kick out a rude or abusive customers. But there are still far too many, often with pressure from corporate, who expect the employees to just take it. Smooth it over. Give the customer something free. Give them an apology when they are the one who is wrong.

This isn’t good business. It’s not good management. It has vast repercussions for employees, and for those customers who are respectful and want to complete their purchase without witnessing a meltdown.

Sure, having an unhappy customer is something to care about. But when that unhappiness crosses the line to abuse, there is zero benefit to supporting that behavior. 

That hotel that I worked at? Was in an incredibly popular location where hotels would be booked months in advance. If my manager had decided not to serve someone, to refund their money and send them on their way, they would have had nowhere to go. The only power they had in that situation was the power the manager handed over to them. Because they were “always right”.

I don’t know what my future career holds, but I do know this. I will always hold respect and compassion important. If I ever have employees again, they will come first. And I will never, ever, believe that the customer is always right.

Can we just bin them all?

Balancing on the Brink

“There are none happiest in this world but those who enjoy freely a vast horizon.” The Deer, Far From Noise

There’s so many things I’ve been wanting to write about, and yet I keep getting stuck. So many things that feel important somehow start to seem insignificant when hearing the latest news. Workplace culture, leadership in crisis, the mental health of workers, are all concepts that matter as a part of the puzzle, but the pieces are all so scattered right now, and I don’t know if I have the energy to pick them up.

I thought about writing on all the ways our national leadership has utterly failed us, but so many are already pointing these things out, and our Failure-in-Chief still has his blind worshippers. I thought about talking about empathy and how necessary it is for human connection, yet when we’re surrounded by those who are only capable of self-interest, it just feels fatiguing to keep pushing a narrative of the power of humanity’s caring. I wanted to write something inspiring about being the bigger person, refusing to give in to apathy, and fighting for a better world, and I still hope to at some point. But I honestly don’t feel up to it today.

Today, instead, I am going to talk about a video game.

Seems like generally good advice.

Most people who do not game, and even some that do, are unaware of just how vast and creative the arena of independent game design is. Most people hear about the big companies and the big titles, the sales that go into the millions, the topics of discussion or controversy you hear about for months.

However there is an entire world out there of small game design, and I would argue, some of these games are just as artistic as what you find in a museum. It’s a different form of art than we typically see, and for those who haven’t experienced it, it’s easy to dismiss. Yet indie games have the capacity to provide a unique opportunity for the player to interact deeply with the kinds of ideas that many big games are afraid to touch. In indie games you can find deeply thoughtful LGBTQ+ content, reflections on gender and race, meditations on life and death. There are no stockholders to please, no fans to cry about supposed “SJW agendas”, no competition to capture an online audience. Just an individual, or a small team, and an idea.

Which brings me to Far From Noise

Fine...sure, we're all fine.

As you may have gleaned from the previous two photos, Far From Noise has a pretty simple premise.

You play as a young woman who was driving a car to the coast, looking for a bit of escape and peace of mind. And one tiny little snafu later, your car is balanced gently on the edge of a cliff.

Your car’s engine is overheated and won’t start. And you can’t open the door without tipping the car forward. In other words, you are perfectly balanced. Between safety and danger, between your past and future, between life and death. With nothing but your own thoughts to keep you company.

Until The Deer comes. And he begins to speak to you.

Funny how often I've thought this in real life lately.

Part of the beauty of any kind of fictional media is the chance to embrace that which would be unimaginable in real life. In reality, if a deer wandered up to you and started speaking philosophically, you would likely be having some sort of mental break.

In truth, this could be the case in the game as well. Your character is experiencing something intensely stressful, and it is absolutely possible that everything happening is just in your mind. But the wonderful thing is, it doesn’t matter. It’s a game. So you go with it.

The Deer has a very… well, deer-like perspective. He is not human, and has no interest in being. He likes solitude, and calmly embraces the natural world around him. At times he can seem almost callous in how little he worries about your circumstances.

Great, I get the deer with a sense of humor.

Our character’s natural inclination in this situation – an inclination I think most of us would share in a similar scenario – is to panic, despair, and feel hopeless.

After all, hopelessness is a direct result of feeling powerless. There is so much that happens in this world that we cannot control. And many of those things that we cannot control have a direct impact on us.

Such as the powerlessness of being stuck in a moment where you can see the precipice, see the giant drop on the other side. And it feels like it might be inevitable.
Well, if I'm gonna die, at least it will be scenic on the way down.

The Deer, on the other hand, is very pragmatic about your circumstances. He recognizes your peril, yet remains calm throughout. He doesn’t sugarcoat your situation in the least. But, importantly, he also doesn’t believe that you should despair.

The Deer sees himself not as an individual entity, but rather as part of the whole. He sees this in you as well. He doesn’t see the sum of your life as this one individual moment. Rather, he sees the entirety of you. And it’s something special.

Sage deer.

While you play, it’s interesting to get caught up in the conversation. You and The Deer speak about hope and meaning, fear and despair. As night falls, you name constellations. You interact with other small critters on their nightly tasks. You watch a storm toss lightening into the sea. It’s all beautiful.

It’s also window dressing for something else. Something really important.

Where else can you have a deer recite you poetry during a storm?

The truth is, The Deer has no idea what will happen for you. He cannot intervene. He cannot save you.

The precipice is still there. The precipice will always be there.

Yet, what he can do, what he does, is stay with you. He talks with you through the long night, through the wind and the rain. He speaks poetry. He pushes your buttons and makes you think.

He lets you know you are not alone. You are both dandelions in the field. You are both part of the sea.

You are connected.

And when the morning comes, and the sun rises, you are changed.

Thanks for being here, buddy.

Ok, I lied. This isn’t just about a video game. What can I say? I love a good metaphor.

And playing this game felt so current, so relevant to everything I’ve been feeling lately. As we approach November, there’s a great many of us who feel like we are balancing on the brink. There’s so much damage already done, and we know that there are no guarantees for the future. It’s terrifying, and easy to slip into despair.

To be honest, I can’t always get behind hope. Sometimes it’s just too difficult.

But what I can get behind is connection. I may have complicated feelings about humanity as a whole, but it’s simple when I think of the people I am connected to in my life. When I think about those I love and who love me.

With that connection, I can get behind meaning. It may be a meaning I find in spite of what’s around me. It may be a meaning I need to create for myself, but that doesn’t make it insignificant.

Why not, indeed.

So how does it end? Do we go forward or backward?

I guess we’ll see.

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