Common courtesy in a modern age

I own a cell phone, as do most of the readers of this publication. It is a modern convenience that I cannot imagine my life without. I also work in the service industry, waiting tables. In the 10 years I have been doing so I have witnessed the increase of cellphone use destroy the common courtesies of customer/server interactions.

I am, on a daily basis, “put on hold” by customers (i.e., having a hand or finger held up in my face when I approach a table). Greetings are treated as interruptions and are often met with irritation. I have more than once taken the order of a customer who is texting simultaneously and who makes no eye contact with me at any point during our interaction.

It is my job to be nice to people and to give prompt and friendly service. It is what people base their tips on and tips are how I pay my rent. I have chosen this vocation as a profession and I am, overall, profoundly grateful for the life it has provided me. I am a people-person who genuinely enjoys meeting and socializing through my job. It is increasingly difficult for me to give good service when the customers don’t put down their phones, look me in the eye and tell me what they would like to order. It is a simple interaction, one that doesn’t have to take a lot of time, but one that involves participation from both ends.

The customer-service structure prevents me from calling people out on their behavior without risking my job. It is partly due to this “customer is always right” structure that I feel the need to write this letter. I write it for all service-industry employees on which this economy thrives: bank tellers, parking-deck employees, baristas, hotel clerks, convenience and grocery store clerks and so many other customer-service employees who make their living serving people.

I feel we must also be aware that we in the service industry are also customers in different situations and must try to remember the same courtesies when we are on the other side of the coin. In this highly technological age, we need to unplug ourselves for long enough to be present with those around us.

— Selene Klaas
Asheville

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