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The Value of Labour

October 29, 2008
This is what I don’t get, I do not get the willful determination to excuse poor customer service. Be it, a big corporation, doctor’s office, fast food, chain store or an individually owned business (even a babysitter), customer service is essential. Not in an ass kissing way. I do not respect phony sycophants but in a way that simply provides the service and product that one pays for. Without the customer, the business would not be in business.

There seems to be this cognitive dissonance in our culture (Western) when it comes to valuing money. The much-sustained essence of capitalism is embraced proven by its continual existence and lack of opposition. In other words, it is staying around for a while. If you are in the role of money receiver (for example, McDonald’s cashier, barista, car dealer, Real Estate tycoon) suddenly your understanding of the value of money disappears (even when it is not or will not be your money that you are receiving), but when you are in the role of buyer (giver) you are often more aware of what you will be getting for your money. Since most people are not independently wealthy but rely on an income from work (or some form of assistance) to survive, I don’t understand the disconnect when it comes to exchanging money for goods or services. The disconnect being the lack of valuing one’s own labour, be it for oneself or for others. If I make $5 an hour and I decide that I can spend $40 on something necessary or frivolous it is for me to understand that I am spending 8 hours of my labour. If I make $25 an hour and I decide that I want to spend $40 on something necessary or frivolous, it is for me to process that I am spending 1.6 hours of my labour. In a culture that values money and exploits labour, I must value my labour, thus the money that it makes because no one else will. It’s not as if a person has a choice to opt out of this system completely, therefore, at the very least a person can expect (if not demand) value for his or her labour.

When poor customer service is excused, regardless of the reason, including the very possibility that the employee is underpaid and overworked, it is not the place of the paying customer to devalue his/her own labour in order to compensate for who (or what in case of corporations) is underpaying and overworking that employee. The customer can sympathise, empathise, treat the employee like a human being, and even join in protest against the exploitation that employee is experiencing (something I hope would be afforded to me as well, —unions, boycotts, etc), however becoming the scapegoat does nothing but contribute to the cancer, thus furthers the dehumanisation process.

The problem with being assertive and expecting, thus demanding adequate customer service is the stereotype of the over demanding customer. Although I have dealt with my share of over demanding customers in my days of customer service, I can roughly guess that the ratio is more than 100 to 1. What some unrealistic employees may define as over demanding is simply what is expected of them for their wage (like get off the gotdamn phone about where you are partying tonight and attend to me). Usually when I had a customer assertively expecting what he or she paid for, it was normally because we (the employees, me included) were not providing our best customer service at the time.

Of course, there will always be a percentage of over demanding customers, and a percentage of employees who simply will not provide the base line expectation.

The reason the over demanding customer trope monopolises the poor customer service narrative is because it takes the heat away from the employer, the robber baron, the money bags, the fat cat, the source of the exploitation. If the lowly customers and lowly employees fight amongst themselves, the corporation (or the person making the most money out of the situation) gets off scot-free. It becomes an individual-to-individual confrontation and judgment. The old conflict of personality meme, the failure to communicate properly meme, the it was all a big misunderstanding meme. It is rarely ever the employee treats the customer like crap because the employer treats the employee like crap and the customer is not taking the crap because his/her money is earned by an employer that treats him/her like crap. It is a form of cannibalisation exploitation relies upon.

Also, often poor customer service is excused out of guilt. But a privilege person’s guilt is not helping another person’s labour value, if anything it is contributing to the cannibalisation process that the exploitation relies upon by propping up a hierarchy. The rich and the middle class always manage to capitalise on their benevolence, whereas the lower classes and the poor’s charity are labeled (by the upper classes) necessities, not acts of kindness, yet another form of diminishing the competition (Yes, even benevolence is a competitive sport if there are points to gain). The middle class’s labour is already valued over the working class and the poor, if not, there would not be notable pay differences or elevated emphasis on an educational labour vs a manual labour. Therefore, if the middle class were to diminish their own labour in order to mitigate their guilt they would still recognise their labour is treated as superior to those beneath them, therefore, they can afford to allow poor customer service because it is not changing their position in the social structure.

I say that customers must demand adequate services and product for their money. Plain and simple. Eventually, the business will have to change its practices, for example, pay more to employees in order to have a type of employee that can deal with customers or go out of business. This will require a sacrifice from consumers, such as consumers will have to learn that they do not need the things they really want. And when it is somewhat of a need, they can still utilise their agency in the process to bring about change.

In the last six weeks both my daughter’s dentist and the imaging center used for yearly mammograms have call us to set up appointments. They were not returning our phone calls, they were going through their rolls and finding names of people who can bring in money. It was just a year or so back that I (the one paying for the service) had to deal with practically begging for an appointment and taking any date or time they could spare me, often months in the future, dealing with them acting like they are doing me a favour, including when I complained of pain. Now that they need money, suddenly they know customer service again. It just amazes me how they lose this knowledge when the cash comes in heavily and regularly.

Few will value my labour, especially if I don’t expect/demand that value from them. And I’m not going to play the patsy for a robber baron. Why should any of us?

  1. Robbie permalink
    October 30, 2008 1:47 am

    Up to the point my ADD and growling stomach kicked in I was shaking my head up and down as I read this. I’ve worked in several jobs that are directly related to customer service. However, most people who work are there to serve someone whether it be an actual direct link to a customer or others within the company. Get off your high ass and do your job. Instead of being prideful, take pride in yourself and do the job to the best of your ability. If you feel that the quality and capabilities you are being paid for is beneath what you are worth, quit and find someone who will pay you what you are worth.

    I have more to say but darn I just got home from work and I’m starving. Gotta go…sorry to comment bomb and run. 😀

  2. The Fabulous Kitty Glendower permalink
    October 30, 2008 2:28 am

    Yes Robbie I see what you mean. For me it is not so much about the actual employee, but the projecting I am expected to presume. I should not have to become the patsy. If I become the patsy, then my labour is devalued.

  3. Professor Zero permalink
    October 30, 2008 8:14 pm

    What I do not like about customer service is that the service people think I am their slave who also owes them money.

  4. The Fabulous Kitty Glendower permalink
    October 30, 2008 8:17 pm

    What I do not like about customer service is that the service people think I am their slave who also owes them money.

    That’s what I’m saying (or trying to say). It is as if you are to ASSUME THE POSITION (and like it). Like you didn’t work for your money too. And guilt just encourages this behaviour and it gets the fat cats off the hook. Instead of the employees complaining about their work conditions they take it out on other people that probably make the same as them, or less.

  5. Professor Zero permalink
    November 1, 2008 4:21 pm

    “Instead of the employees complaining about their work conditions they take it out on other people that probably make the same as them, or less.”

    Yes – this is part of the master plan, keep the poorer classes fighting among themselves.

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