Unless you’re one of those rare specimens with a platinum horseshoe up your ass, it’s likely you’ve worked in customer service at some point in your life.
Working in retail or food or some other service industry is the suburbanite’s equivalent to manual labor; you’re like the Himalayan pink sea salt of the earth.
I entered the work force at 13, and since then I’ve curated an impressive resume that includes bus boy, waiter, cashier at CVS, guitar salesman, craft beertender, and a brief stint as a professional t-shirt folder/scene kid at Hot Topic.
Though the duties of these jobs come in myriad shapes and sizes, what I’ve found they have in common are the customers.
For the most part, I love working with the public. A lot of people I serve have been on the other side of the counter themselves, and so they treat me with reverence and empathy.
On the other hand, some are just unadulterated pricks.
You know the people I’m talking about; the friend who embarrasses you at the restaurant, or the dude in your band who feels a little too comfortable berating a salesman who makes $8.50 an hour. If you don’t, or you spend each shopping experience complaining about the service, chances are you are the unadulterated prick. Sorry to be the one to break the news.
Bad customers don’t have much creativity. They’re happy to settle into an archetype and let the traits of their persona drive their tantrums.
What follows is my Top 5 favorite customer archetypes, complete with real-life examples.
5 – The Dumb Questioner
They say there are no stupid questions. But They must be a bunch of optimistic assholes who spend their free time saving kittens from storm drains and puking rainbows, because that statement is patently false.
I get the feeling Dumb Questioners save up all their moronic queries, packing them away like squirrels prepping for winter. Then as soon as the DQ gets in front of a retail associate, he opens the floodgates of idiocy.
I don’t want to come off as pretentious here. I’ve worked at both a guitar shop and a brewery, both of which can make a novice feel intimidated. But there’s a big difference between being a Know-Nothing and a Dumb Questioner. I like helping Know-Nothings because they are earnest in their quest for knowledge. Most Dumb Questioners are just having a bad day and want to take it out on a complete stranger.
Case in point, at the brewery:
Male Dumb Questioner: Can I get a beer?
Me: (hands DQ menu) Sure. We have 15 on tap.
MDQ: (surveys menu) Y’all got any real beer?
Me: I’m sorry?
MDQ: You know, real beer.
Me: I can assure you, it’s all real beer.
MDQ: (tosses menu in disgust) This beer ain’t real. I want a real beer.
Me: It seems we’ve come to an impasse.
Or this one:
Female Dumb Questioner: I don’t like beer.
Me: You’ve come to the right place.
FDQ: Can I get a sampler flight?
Me: Of course. You can choose any four. What would you like?
FDQ: Well, I don’t like beer.
Me: Yeah, you said that.
FDQ: Could you just pick four that don’t taste like beer?
Me: Four beers that don’t taste like beer? Absolutely.
4 – The Know It All
While the Dumb Questioner can be annoying, what’s worse is the guy who wants to tell you how much he knows about your product.
The Know It All has two motives to perpetuate this conversation: 1 – he wants you to know how much he knows. 2 – he wants to know you he knows more than YOU.
What’s funny about this archetype is that he is always male. I’ve met a lot of females who know a shitload more about my product than I do, but they never try to test my knowledge or lord it over my head. It’s crazy to me that some dudes’ lives are one perpetual dick measuring contest.
The KIA can typically be identified by his sweatpants or cargo shorts (or cargo sweat shorts) and genre-specific t-shirt. He is of questionable cleanliness; he has no time for bathing because there is still so much to learn. His fingers may be covered in Cheetos dust, and he has a fondness for connecting his cheeks and chest hair with a neck beard.
An interaction with the KIA usually starts with a basic question and then devolves into a set of exponentially specific and esoteric follow-ups.
Know It All: What kind of hops do you guys use in this IPA?
Me: This one has Citra and Mosaic hops.
KIA: You use them both in the boil?
Me: We do Citra in the boil and then dry hop with Citra and the Mosaic.
KIA: What’s the original gravity of the wort?
Me: Around 14.
(This is the point of the conversation where we move from the realm of potentially useful information into the land of inside baseball.)
KIA: Do you guys use the Plato scale or the Brix scale to measure gravity?
Me: Honestly, I’m not sure.
KIA: What’s the beta acid output?
Me: No idea, but I can ask for you.
KIA: (look of smug satisfaction) Huh.
Me: Did you want a pint of the IPA?
KIA: Nah, I’m driving. I’ll just have a water.
BONUS: The Adamantly Wrong Know It All
These guys are the best, because not only do they have their facts completely twisted, they will fight you to the death to prove they’re right.
Guitar God: This Les Paul is amazing.
Me: Yeah, they’re my favorite kind of guitar.
GG: These single coil pickups are just so heavy, you know? So much bottom end.
Me: That one has Burstbucker Pro pickups in it. They’re actually humbuckers, not single coils.
GG: No way. The Les Paul Standard has had single coils in it since 1962.
Me: Uh, I’m pretty sure that’s not right. The original Les Pauls had P-90 pickups in them, but they switched to humbuckers in 1957. And Gibson didn’t actually make Les Pauls in 1962. They discontinued them in favor of the SG.
GG: (shakes his head and laughs) Man, you don’t have to know much to work here, I guess.
Me: I can look up the spec sheet if you want.
GG: I’ve been playing these guitars since 1978. I think I’d know if they had humbuckers in them.
Me: Right on.
3 – The Feng Shui Expert
The majority of a customer service job isn’t actually serving the public; it’s preparing to serve the public. Each day retail associates spend hours straightening, organizing, stocking, and cleaning their establishment before the doors even open. We used to call it “pushing back the ocean” at the guitar shop, because making the store look good was an exercise in Sisyphusian irony.
But for the Feng Shui Expert, this prep simply won’t do.
The FSE isn’t satisfied with seeing the display shirt. She wants to see the one at the BOTTOM of the pile, and she’ll make sure she unfolds every single one on her way down.
The FSE wants to sit by the window, but he wants to sit at THAT high table over by the door. Solution? Drag the high table across the room to the window. Easy peasy.
The FSE LOVES to spread out and occupy as much real estate as possible. Never mind the other hundred customers; she needs seven tables for her 11 guests, because where else is she going to put the gift table, the favor table, the memento table, and a place to hang the custom-made banner?
At the guitar shop, I once collared an FSE wheeling a Marshall half stack into the drum room.
Me: Where you going with that amp, bud?
Feng Shui Expert: Oh, next to the drums. (Points to drum set where another dude is plugging in a bass amp.)
Me: Mom wouldn’t let you have band practice in the basement today?
FSE: We just want to hear what it sounds like all together.
2 – The Off-Target Shitter
Pushing back the ocean is bad, but cleaning public restrooms is worse.
Look, I get using the bathroom is a part of life, and I understand that occasionally, an ill-timed bowel movement prevents you from answering nature’s call in the comfort of your own home. I’ll even concede that it’s not as easy for dudes to hit the bowl as their wives think (seriously).
But holy Jesus, the things I’ve seen while cleaning a bathroom at work makes me fear for the future of humanity.
The Off-Target Shitter has TERRIBLE aim. I’m not talking about a little pee pee on the seat or an errant wad of TP on the floor; I’m talking about broadside of a barn-type shit, things that make you question whether it was an accident or they’re some type of sadistic fecalfeliac.
The long-distance pukers are the most common. By the looks of their carnage, these guys get their mouths as far away from the commode as possible before letting the bile fly, like a high school kid dropping an egg with a parachute in science class.
I’ve also cleaned diarrhea from the side of a toilet, the mechanics of which just baffle me. Did he get confused about where to sit? Shit all over his hands and accidentally smear it on the side while blindly fumbling for the flush handle? I spent a good five minutes postulating velocities from different angles like Kevin Costner dissecting the Zapruder film.
But by far the worst crime scene I’ve ever had to clean was one in a ladies’ stall, where the walls looked like the house in The Amityville Horror.
I’m the first to admit I don’t have much practical experience with menstruation, but my general understanding of it leads me to believe that even the heaviest of flows should not produce a Jackson Pollack mural. My only theory is that this upstanding female, inspired by the work of Petey Pablo, took her soiled feminine products and waved it around her head like a helicopter.
I think what disturbs me most about the OTS is that he feels good enough about the state of the restroom to nod his head, walk out the bathroom door, and go about his day.
1 – The Absentee Parent
I know what you’re thinking: how can he possibly top cleaning up bodily fluids?
The thing is, poop goes away with a little bleach. But you can’t get rid of a kid with a Clorox wipe.
The Absentee Parent sees every public place as a daycare and every service associate as a babysitter. He comes in with a gaggle of wound-up teenies and lets them loose like a bag of feral cats.
I’ve seen APs bring entire youth soccer teams into the brewery and drink beers in the corner while the boys practice penalty kicks against the taproom wall. When I told them they couldn’t play ball inside, they went into the parking lot and used another customer’s Volkswagen as the goal instead.
I’ve almost trucked a dozen curious toddlers who’ve wandered behind the bar. Their mother will scamper over and pull him back, and the kid returns 30 seconds later, because now it’s a game.
At the guitar shop, I discovered parents would drop off their kids on Saturday morning and drive away like it was a summer camp. Week after week, I’d find these kids mangling the same Guns N Roses riff for three hours with their amp on 11.
Me: Uh, is your mom or dad around, little dude?
Me: Where are they?
10YO: Out running errands.
Me: They’re not in the store?
10YO: No. They dropped me off and said they’d be back after they had lunch.
Me: Do you have their number or something, maybe I can call them?
10YO: No. Do you have any snacks?