Always Right

Hello, Men! Welcome to Your Mandatory Year of Customer Service!

Service Men

Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Thinkstock, Library of Congress.

Gentlemen, welcome to Customer Service 101, the course that teaches men the traits they need to survive in customer service: courtesy, deference, humility, helpfulness, empathy, and forced cheerfulness. In other words, skills we women already know.

We’re so glad that President Oprah has finally decided to introduce a mandatory (customer) service year for men. They say everyone should work customer service at least once in his or her life, but it’s fantastic that we’re finally recognizing that there’s one gender in particular that stands to benefit from a few months helping ingrates with their everyday needs. This training is compulsory for male newcomers only. After all, we ladies are already experts at customer service—we’ve been honing these skills since long before we donned the badge. From an early age, we’ve been conditioned to inquire after and be attuned to the feelings of others. We’re experts in the art of filling awkward silences, at smoothing edges and soothing tempers, and we just want to make your lives as easy as possible.


As you men are the minority in this field, we decided it was necessary to give you a leg up! According to U.S. Department of Labor statistics, back before the EMPATHY (Enlisting Men to be Polite, Acquiescent, Tolerant Humans for a Year) Act, men made up only 18.3 percent of tellers, 19.2 percent of restaurants/café hosts, 24.2 percent of flight attendants, 26.8 percent of cashiers, and 33.9 percent of hotel concierges.

Many of the skills you learn today and in your work will be wholly transferable to the rest of your life: focusing on the needs of others, responding calmly and courteously to concerns, and not being an asshole. With such experience behind you, you’ll be well equipped to become a gracious, helpful, high-functioning member of society in no time—like a woman, but with a little extra something, am I right? (Wink!)


Lesson No. 1: The customer comes first (which means you come second).
You may be used to putting yourself first. You may have some vague notion that you are the hero of your own narrative. Here in customer service land, the world doesn’t revolve around you—you are but a gate through which the real hero must pass on her stressful errand journey. And there must be nothing in the world more important to you than the needs of the customer at hand. Nothing. Your dog just died? Grandma in hospital? The pilot has turned on the fasten seat belt sign because of extreme turbulence? Fuggedaboutit! The customer’s needs far outweigh your own.


Lesson No. 2: Be friendly and personable at all times.
Gentlemen, the ABCs of great customer service sound easy in theory, but it’s not always so simple in the practice. Whether you are being yelled at for running out of a particular flavor of baby food (even though you don’t have a baby and have contributed nothing to the split pea shortage) or hearing the same old joke you’ve heard a dozen times today alone (no, not knowing the price does not make it free)—just remember to be Apologetic, Bubbly, and Compliant, even when you feel like doing the exact opposite. In fact, especially then!


Lesson No. 3: Listen.
Women are and always will be better at listening than you. But that doesn’t mean you can’t try your best!

Lesson No. 4: The customer is always right, even when he is wrong.
It doesn’t matter if you are an expert in the type of service you provide. I don’t care if you’ve done this 1 million times before. You are wrong—please accept this now, and be prepared for the minimal expertise of the customer to overrule yours.

Lesson No. 5: Suppress your own emotions while focusing on those of others.
We women often give this one away for free, but did you know you can actually sell your empathy for minimum wage? It’s simple! All you need to do is inquire after a person’s well-being with warmth and sincerity and respond understandingly to whatever he or she has to say. Voilà! You’ll be marginally improving people’s days in no time. Who knows, maybe you can even apply your newfound therapy skills to your interpersonal relationships!


Lesson No. 6: Do multiple things at the same time.
Multitasking is difficult. Working in customer service, you will soon learn by necessity how to walk and chew gum at the same time. Although you won’t be allowed to chew gum at work. Or walk anywhere without permission.

Lesson No. 7: Fight fire with not fire.
Here’s another skill we perfected earlier: Speak courteously, even to those who disrespect or harass you. Repeat after us:

“I understand how difficult that must be for you.”

“I understand how infuriating that must be for you.”

“I understand how painful that must be for you.”

“I understand how sad that must be for you.”

Deploy these phrases even to someone who is straight-up treating you like shit. Be polite as if your life depends on it! After all, you can be fired and deprived of a paycheck for any reason, or no reason at all, so it sort of does.

Lesson No. 8: Smile!
You just never know when the ability to smile unflinchingly in the face of difficulty is going to come up in other professional situations, such being talked over in meetings or being punished for asking for a promotion. Plus, you look so much prettier when you smile. So, smile!