San Diego — There has been speculation that customer service has taken a turn for the worse after the COVID-19 pandemic.
A significant shift in motivation from customer service workers can be identified before and after the pandemic. Minimum wage employees were forced to deal with more than they signed up for, including enforcing virus safety regulations in retail stores and restaurants.
Videos went viral of people walking off the job due to the pressure, arguing and attacks from customers refusing to abide by the company policies.
“The customer is always right” is a phrase that is well known throughout the service industry, but now it seems the customer is not always right.
Outback manager Jason Byrd says this saying is correct, with the exception of the occasionally rude customer.
“Our main focus is to make sure customers are pleased with service, quality of food and everything,” he said.
Byrd said communication is an important element when it comes to interacting with customers. For example, if there is a wait time but customers can see unoccupied tables they may become confused or frustrated. The wait can be because the restaurant is waiting for night shift servers to come on, or because those tables are reserved for those who called ahead.
Growing up, he was raised with a “respect your elders” standard. He said “yes ma’am” or “yes sir” to any individual older than himself.
Now, he has noticed a certain level of “entitlement” and “defensiveness” with the younger generation when customers may come in “demanding respect.” However, Byrd has an exceptional team at his restaurant location from managers to hosts. He described the team as a family that has each other's backs.
Twenty-one-year-old hostess Precious agrees that even though the customer might be wrong, it is the best practice to be as accommodating as possible. She works at the same Outback location as Byrd.
“My goal here is to make sure our employees … feel like we have their back,” Byrd said.
Twenty-five year old manager of Olive Cafe located in Mission Beach, San Diego, Madi Pumphrey, says the phrase is relevant in some ways and not in others.
“There are circumstances where the customers are blatantly rude…and then it is like okay, they aren’t right, but I just throw it over my shoulder … ,” Pumphrey said.
She makes an effort to be a gracious and understanding customer when she goes out to eat. Due to her restaurant experience, she said she understands how mistakes will occur in a busy space.
“But in general, yes, the customer is always right,” Pumphrey said. “Because without customers we don’t have a business.”
Although things have started returning to normal, the repercussions of the COVID-19 era remain present. Employees have less incentive and less patience when it comes to putting up with rude customers.
Some people find this attitude entirely disrespectful and talk about how “in their day” customer service standards were higher.
Instead, it can be said that employee’s standards for treatment are higher today. Gen Z is less likely to put up with poor treatment from customers, especially at their minimum wage jobs.