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How to deal with a cranky customer

Q. My favorite part of my job had always been the interaction with people. But, beginning last year, I began to find it more difficult. For example, last Fourth of July was quite busy and the lines were longer than usual. A young man came through my line who was just plain rude, complaining about what a hurry he was in and how slow I was. I was very upset by this, because similar situations were becoming more and more common. People can be downright disrespectful! What bothered me even more was the fact that I began to let some of these customers get to me, and I’d begun to make rude comments right back. I had never been like that before! I was almost depressed coming home after my shift each day. Then, one day, I was listening to a radio talk show that was focused on the same topic. One person called in to describe almost exactly the same problem I was having, and the caller mentioned that she decided to turn it into a challenge. Not only was she not going to take the customer’s attitude personally, she would take her response one step further – for every cranky customer with whom she came in contact, she would try to somehow get a smile out of that person before he or she left the store. – Debbie

A. This approach in dealing with people is, at its root, an act of love. This was the foundational premise of Mother Teresa’s life. In one of the books written about her, A Simple Path, Lucinda Vardey summarizes Mother Teresa’s advice to all of us, regardless of our individual beliefs or religious practices: “If we find silence or prayer unfamiliar and we are not sure if we believe in anything very much, then Mother Teresa suggests we try offering small acts of love to others – and we will find our hearts will open. The important thing is that, having read (the book), we should do something, anything, and by that act of love we (and others) will be enriched.”

Debbie decided to challenge herself in the same way as the caller on the radio show. It was difficult at first, but she kept working at it. It wasn’t about how she felt anymore; it was about the positive impact she could have on other people in her small corner of the world. Debbie discovered that she had a gift for making people smile, and thus felt very satisfied that she was enriching the lives of others as well as her own.