Only The Sangfroid

Mark is of fair average intelligence, who is neither perverse, nor morbid or suspicious of mind, nor avid for scandal. He does live in an ivory tower.

These are his draft thoughts…

It feels like we’re falling into love’s black hole… Lifehacker, customer service, and gaming’s entitlement culture

A video has been circulating of a guy getting upset about having to provide ID to pick up his pre-ordered copy of Grand Theft Auto V.  A person waiting in the queue to pick up their copy began to film the altercation and, following the incident, uploaded it to YouTube.

The interesting part of the video is when the cashier offers people in the queue the guy’s business card details so they can complain to him about holding up the queue.  Nerd rage unleashed.

Over on Lifehacker, Chris Jager wrote:

As we’ve discussed in the past, it’s usually counterproductive for a customer to throw a tantrum, but there’s really no excuse for how this lady responded. Whoever you think is in the right, threatening to hand over a customer’s personal information to strangers is grossly unprofessional. [‘How Not To Deal With A Rude Customer [Video]‘,]

Discussion of this particular incident is difficult because — as Jager notes — the video has been edited to remove bits of context, but we can discuss the issue more broadly.  A broader discussion once again reveals the troubling and often gendered entitlement culture in the gaming community; a sense of entitlement that websites like Lifehacker encourages.

I find it difficult to conceive of a plausible line of events which results in the cashier being in the wrong in the above video.  The customer snatches things, is generally unpleasant, and demanding.  Not only is the customer disrespectful towards the staff, he’s also disrespectful to others in the queue.  When the cashier resorts to the standard pleasantries of customer service — ‘I’m sorry you feel that way’ — the customer becomes increasingly hostile.  Unless the cashier were somehow extremely abusive towards him prior to this situation, it’s hard to see how his behaviour is justified (and it’s hard to imagine the people in the queue would continue to be supportive of the cashier).

The key question is whether or not threatening to name and shame the customer is appropriate.

At the outset, we can remove ourselves from the specifics of the particular incident and ask the question more broadly.  To what extent should service staff be able to name and shame customers who behave inappropriately?

Earlier this year, the ‘net opined loudly about an Applebee’s waitress taking a picture of a message left by a patron on a receipt.  Explaining why they gave no tip, a pastor wrote on the receipt: ‘I give God 10% why do you get 18’.

The act had two consequences.  First, it increased awareness about acceptable ways to behave in American restaurants, creating a conversation about how poorly service staff are paid and the way people who don’t tip are effectively stealing labour.  Second, it got the waitress fired.

But naming and shaming is a way that we deal with most of our social issues in a pre-legal sense.  Most people don’t call the cops in when somebody acts like a jerk.  Instead, they resort to social pressure to punish these infractions of social norms.  More than legal punishment, the threat of having our reputations damaged regulates most of our behaviours.

For some reason, we conceptualise service staff as being somehow outside the social framework.  Applebees justified its firing of the waitress by referring to professionalism.  Jager’s criticism of the cashier is hinged on the intuition pump, unprofessional.  Further comments indicate that people believe that service staff are paid to deal with customers’ rubbish behaviour — a strange idea, given that the waitress who didn’t get a tip from the pastor was not paid at all to deal with her behaviour, rubbish or otherwise.

In fact, service staff aren’t paid to tolerate customers’ rubbish behaviour.  They’re paid to be cashiers and assist customers.

The criticism of the Applebee’s waitress and the GameStop cashier comes back to the sense of entitlement.  They shouldn’t have named and shamed customers who behave inappropriately because people have a right to behave inappropriately.  How dare service staff assert their dignity?  Signing an employment contract is a waiving of their dignity and standing as an ordinary human in the social framework.

This entitled attitude is so ingrained that it’s mixed with the longstanding gender issues in the gaming community.  Despite the very good advice that you shouldn’t read the comments, I foolishly thought of participating in a discussion with Chris Jager and the Lifehacker readers.  I expressed the view seen above: service staff should be able to name and shame people who treat them inappropriately.  For expressing this view, I was subject to a stream of abuse.

What was interesting was that the abuse used the ordinary language that we expect to see in sexist environments.  How dare I support the cashier who is clearly a bitch?  Various misogynistic comments have been appearing and disappearing beneath the Lifehacker article.  On Kotaku, we see similar things: ‘Even if the customer is being unreasonable that’s still no excuse to act like a total winch’.  ‘since she wasn’t swearing at him, just being a bit of a smart arse bitch’. ‘That bitch needs to be fired’. ‘She was a cunt’. 

It is difficult to escape the uncomfortable thought that there’s a sinister reason why so many of the responses support the guy acting like a child: it’s an entitled white guy in a conflict with a woman who’s supposed to serve him.

Where articles about the Applebee’s waitress (a situation involving an African American female pastor, a female waitress, and a food franchise) attracted comments which ranged across the spectrum, the comments about the GameStop cashier (a situation involving a white male gamer, an older female cashier, and a gaming store franchise) have been almost universally damning of the cashier.  It might be nothing, but it smells bad.

2 responses to “It feels like we’re falling into love’s black hole… Lifehacker, customer service, and gaming’s entitlement culture”

  1. The customer was certainly being difficult, but once the cashier made her snide threat, she sunk to his level, perhaps lower. Even before things got ugly, her behavior was unacceptably passive-aggressive. I would have felt a whole lot better if this was just a one-on-one showdown between an imbecile and a harassed employee, but let’s face it. She got the entire store to gang up on him. Nobody deserves that. While I respect your opinion, it doesn’t surprise me your viewpoint was met with strong disagreement. Staff members get paid to do their job, and you are correct on one point – they also have a right to preserve their dignity. Part of the job entitles these people the right to refuse service. This feud could have easily been settled if the manager simply refused to serve the patron, or if the cashier had kept her mouth shut as the man left the store. She had the upper ground once she thanked him for his purchase and claimed to be totally sincere about her appreciation when in fact, her mannerism screamed anything but sincere. Again, she was being completely passive-aggressive. “I’m sorry you feel that way” was actually a sort of “Fuck you.” (I’m sure this really needs no explaining. We’ve all had those moments where we’re frustrated but still need to maintain a polite front, which leads to mixed gestures that require more subtle translations.) This is all verified by her ensuing hostility. “Hey you got that on video, right? Yeah we all have his business card, you guys wanna email him and thank him for holding up the line….”

    Instead of letting it go, she made an unnecessary remark in a sad effort to get the last word, which led to an escalation. And while I sympathize for the Applebee’s waitress (I myself am a firm believer in tipping at least 20%, even to rude service staff), she was still technically paid – minimum wage plus tip from the various other customers she served throughout the day. (This doesn’t mean I think waitresses ought to put up with any sort of mistreatment. I’m only stating that she did actually get paid. She certainly didn’t deserve to get fired either.)

    Customer service sucks, but at the end of the day, we still have the choice to keep it classy. I can’t say I liked *anybody* in the video. Not the antagonistic customer, not the rude cashier. And especially not the guy who recorded the incident.

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