Customer Service in the Time of COVID-19

What it’s like to be a customer service worker in the midst of the chaos.

It seems the news has something new to say about the coronavirus every time you unlock your phone. It is impossible for the world to keep up. Schools are closed, travel is restricted, churches are closed and large attractions like Disney have shut down. Some parts of the world, truly have stopped spinning, but customer service stays the same. After all, gas and groceries are still a must.

Since these jobs remain open, customer service workers are not only at a higher risk for COVID, but for customers ever changing attitudes. You see a man approaching the door to the grocery store, he has on a face mask and rubber gloves, you can see it in his posture, he is paranoid, he has no business being out, and he will explode at the slightest sound of a cough four aisles over. I truly wish I was kidding, but I am not.

For most customer service workers, taking work off is not an option, neither is getting fired for telling someone off. So we remain, in the wild, witnessing first-hand just how crazy some parts of society have come.

“I didn’t even cough in it”

Many businesses have temporarily banned customers from bringing their own cups to refill with coffee or fountain pop. A fairly mundane thing you would think, but is anything mundane anymore? I have had customers refuse to pay for their coffee since they were forced to use a new cup, I have been ignored and watched customers refill their own cup, some customers have taken it further.

Two men stood before me saying “I didn’t even cough in it, I forgot to lick it before I came in, it hasn’t even been sneezed in.” To give them the benefit of the doubt, they thought they were being funny. Disclaimer, your COVID jokes are not funny, we have heard them all and if we could, we would ban you from the store. And for my personal favorite: the grown man who stood at the end of my counter and fake coughed for about 15seconds after being asked to not bring his own cup again. Note to customers: please call corporate and cough on them, this was not my doing. I promise, if I made the rules I wouldn’t be behind the counter of a gas station at 9:30 p.m.

“Do you have coronavirus?”

I understand the concern, I truly do. I understand the fear of the unknown and a sickness that is taking the world by storm. But I cannot force myself to understand paranoid people who continue to go in public.

Last week, a customer handed me her debit card and I handed it back. She snapped at me, telling me she didn’t want people touching things that weren’t her. Followed up with the demand that I put on hand sanitizer. Not later, not when my line died down, but right then and there in front of her.

Mind you, the good ole Midwest has gone from 60 degree whether to snow all in a matter of days. With that, comes a runny nose and a cough, and with that comes the concern for COVID. The slightest sniffle sends customers into a storm ranging from asking if a worker has the virus to demanding to speak to the manager and get the worker to take two weeks off of work.

If customers are not demanding to know the status of my health, they are demanding other absurd information. “When will you get more hand sanitizer, why don’t you have toilet paper, where are the Clorox wipes?” These are just among the questions that none of us have answers to.

Beauty in the chaos

Yes, there are some crazy customers, that need a friendly (harsh?) reminder to be nice to customer service workers, but there are still joys of working during this time.

Some customers have been extra nice, thanking us for coming into work, I even had a customer buy me a candy bar (brb, crying on the job.) Some have even shared recipes for diy hand sanitizer with me. The regulars come in and laugh with me about the crazy cleaning list corporate has tasked us with and my manager is always down to make fun of customers after they leave.

In a time this crazy, it is important that we all be nice and try to laugh while when we can.

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