Thursday, May 27, 2010

Customer Service: What the Heck is Goin' on Here?

So I'd like to spend a little time reflecting on my experiences with customer service jobs. Mainly how much I enjoy them. What is that all about?

My first thought is of small talk. I've had quite a number of people tell me that they are anti-small talk. Totally anti-small talk. They really dislike it.

I often enjoy small talk. More importantly, though, I think it is essential. Literally indispensable for social life. We need it. We need a way to engage with people. Perhaps people thing small talk should lead to big talk. More so, people associate small talk with superficial talk, and think that they should get to real talk ('big talk'). Whatever. I am going to leave this questions on the nature of 'small talk' for the end of this post. I just wanna talk about some of my past experiences in customer service and try to clarify why it is that I seem to gain so much pleasure from them.

So first things first, the most obvious thing that I find satisfying about customer service: I am in a social situation in which it is acceptable for me to say hello to anyone at any moment. I can start talking to literally anyone I want. Old people, peers, couples, cute girls, watch out, cause if I feel like I will totally say hello to you. And I suppose in the real world, at any moment, this is the case. Social situations, however, often compel to not say hello to someone because it feels inappropriate. I can't very well say hello to some couple or some girl on the street and feel comfortable just starting a conversation. Perhaps I should work on that. But in any case, working a customer service job it is expected that I will say hello to people, so I do, and I enjoy it.

I used to enjoy being a cashier when I worked at the UBC. I used to tell people that I like it because I would get an instant glimpse at a face, and then I would immediately find out what that person was like (on some level). I see someone, I say hey how are you, etc., and then we are interacting. As soon as I perceive their face, demeanor, etc., I am interacting with them. Conceptions based on appearance are immediately entangled with real live speech and interaction. Sure, sometimes it is superficial interaction with customer service/cashiering, but whatever, sometime it isn't.

I often find myself torn between the worlds of appearances and reality, though. I think that I've always like to watch people and think about people. I would like to think I like to pay attention. But for a long time I think I was a lot shyer. So it was easy for me to see someone randomly for a long time, and to completely mentalize that person. They exist in my mind only as this appearance and all these random and uninformed conceptions I have about them. It seems hard to avoid thinking things about people, or speculating about people. Basically, I think my mind likes to think about people a lot even when I haven't met them, and that can be a very strange experience to know someone only as an appearance.

A college campus is a pretty ideal environment to have a lot of this. You see certain people on a very regular basis (class, food, etc.) and you may never talk to them. It is easy to see all kinds of people and to have thoughts about them even though you know nothing of them at all. Perhaps your like the way they dress and think they are probably cool. Or you like the way they walk, you think they carry themselves well and that makes you curious.

Well, I will say, I have had many instances in which I have seen a person on the regular, and managed to remember them and have an imagined sense of them. I have also, however, had instances in which I met those people. Not too many, but definitely there have been some occasions where I had seen someone for a long time and then ended up meeting them in person.

It can be really fascinating.

Sometimes they are totally cooler than you could have anticipated. Sometimes they are just whatever. I mean. It is fascinating how appearances totally don't line up with personality all the time. I mean, it seems obvious. But I just find people to be very unique. It is always fun to meet new people. It's true.

But anyways, customer service. With these jobs the amount of time between the first sight of a person and the moment of first interaction is really short. You see someone and then you are saying hello to them. That is cool. That doesn't happen all the time.

When it comes to meeting new people, I prefer my imagination to have as little time as possible. I'd prefer to spend a fair amount of time with someone and get to know them. It is really difficult to meet people only vaguely or in passing, and then have my imagination create some wild and complex picture of them.

I like my imagination a lot, but when it comes to people, I don't trust it to work super well unless I have some evidence of what a person is like.

Anyways, I like customer service because I like talking to people.

Especially where I am working now, I am a little bit less knowledgeable on what I am dealing with, so it is really dynamic and interesting. I just talk to people. They want to know what the deal is with these products. What is the difference. What is better. Sometimes I just straight up don't know. I ask if it seems like I should. But you just gotta go from person to person. Every customer is a different experience. Sometimes it just breaks down into long conversations. That only happens sometimes. But I enjoy it.

Also, I read something the other day. Religious leaders were asked to give their thoughts on how to be happy. It was a hindu, or a Buddhist, I forget, but he said the best way to be happy was to make other people feel happy. When you help someone it feels pretty good. Someone needs something and you can totally help them out. It feel good.

Plus, I am a huge fan of simulation theory of mind. Thinking about other minds is like being that mind for yourself. So making other people happy, you bring happiness to your own mind. It is cool.

Well, the customer service thing seems pretty straight forward. I like talking to people, it lets me talk to lots of new and different people, and its about helping people. Also, I think that the simulation theory of mind explanation could be quite strong. I feel like that is something I should explore at length, but this isn't the time.

But I suppose I'll return briefly to small talk vs. big talk. I want to say first that I don't even know what I mean by these terms really. It is hard to say. I think the distinction of superficial talk vs. personal talk might be better. But personal talk. I dunno. I don't know how to define this stuff exactly.

But here is what I'll say for now. I really like making small talk. It feels really nice to just be able to interact with someone on any level. You can just react and be with that person. Talk to them. See them react. Then react again. It's just dynamism. Reaction.

Ah, an example. Is it enjoyable to talk to people about the weather? Isn't that like the barest small talk? But I still think their can be satisfaction in that.

Talking is about sharing experience with people. And I can do that with the weather. You and me both feel this heat. It sucks. Right on, bro.

So why does it bother some people to engage in small exchanges of experience (small talk)? I will pose a wild and not thought of sort of thought.

Basically, I think that some people find small talk frustrating because of the current social/cultural/historical situation. Again, this is bs speculation. But, what if living in America gives us a hyper awareness of how it is that people are 'supposed' to interact. I think I am generalizing based on my own experience. I felt a weird social awareness in college. Like, I already had an understanding of what typical college social interactions were like. The kinds of things people talked about, the kinds of things they did or said, the way people were. I already 'knew' what people were supposed to be like. So acting in an organic way felt strange. I couldn't make my mind lose its awareness.

But these days I think I feel a lot more organic. A lot more intuitive.

I put it all on history. Or I think about it in historical terms. I think of the student culture of the university's in the last 70 years. I think about what American social life is like for young people. I think about the media that has been producing images. I think about my exposure to these images.

I think about the historical contingencies of my own thinking.

The idea is to realize that I am only thinking I should be certain ways because of the particular standards that have emerged in this unique cultural moment. Once I can see the historicity of my thought then I can start approaching the frontiers of my thought.

It's about thinking differently. And so I think at some point I started thinking differently about social interactions. I started thinking about dynamism and intuition and reaction. About flow and people.

Who knows, this post took some strange turns. But the bottom line is that I like interacting with people. Customer service jobs let me do that. I really like doing it in general too, but sometimes find myself averse to it. But as usual I would like to think historically about the way I am thinking about socializing. Ultimately because I don't want to think about socializing so much. I wan't to do it.

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