Lessons from a (not so cruddy) Customer Service Job

A good friend says a person is not a person until she has held a cruddy customer service job (the language she used should go on paninis, it is so salty). A lot of people I admire repeat some version of this, and so I am glad my weekend job is in customer service.

I am learning what it means to have a service job. Walking into my current job I have to say was prepared for an unfair boss who disregards labor rules, trying physical labor and obnoxious hazing. What I found is a bunch of guys who like bicycles, and enjoy selling bicycles. I have a fair boss who is good about breaks, I’ve not experienced any hazing, and I rather like the physical labor.

As far as I can tell, Revolution Cycles is a nicer place to work than most. But I think there is a deeper reason I am enjoying my work there: I am suited to it. I enjoy chatting with people, talking about fitness and the logistics of their lives. I enjoy learning new systems, working with my hands, and most of all, I like people-watching. I wonder if much of the misery in the customer service industry comes from bad fits–social people alone in cubicles, or solitary people serving coffee.

I am sure that a lot of people in the customer service industry wear down because they have unfair bosses, because living at minimum wage in a big city is very hard, because customers can be really wearying. But I think, for some people, customer service is just a bad fit. I remember reading a book in middle school about a society which required all of its citizens to take tests to see what they were good at, and then you had to work that job. But there were always people who were not really good at any of the jobs the state had, and so they had to keep taking the tests for their whole lives. The main character’s father is placed in this group (for political reasons I think) and he finds that most of the people there are good at things, they are just not useful things for their society. There was the man who knew everything about cloud shapes, and another very grouchy many who it turned out had a mad passion for brewing tea.

Perhaps the people who would be good at editing manuscripts but are stuck shelving TVs, or people who would thrive rushing around in a kitchen but are stuck in an office are unhappy because they are bad fits for their jobs. Their interests and their jobs do not intersect. In building my work-life balance for the first time in Washington DC, I am trying to figure out how other people do it–how they can sit all day when they need to move to be happy.

I want to practice law. I will spend most of my life sitting, reading, and writing if I go the mainstream route into that profession. I really enjoy walking, working with my hands, talking with strangers, teaching, and singing. I also enjoy writing, reading, being alone, talking with close friends,  playing boardgames,  and people-watching. It is easier to think while walking or writing, but easier to make decisions while alone or talking with strangers.

How much of each of these things do I need to do to be happy? Am I an extrovert or an introvert? Does it matter? Who can I emulate who has managed to fulfill their intellectual passion and their physical needs symbiotically?

I take notes from all of the people I watch–I heard some lawyers speak who work at an HIV/AIDS medical clinic, and have to walk around to see their clients. I have also met attorneys who spend their days driving to advise people in detention centers. I have a lawyer uncle who swims in the Pacific in the morning before going into work, and plays with his energy-rich children after work.

I am taking advice from anyone I can find, and trying to figure out what balance of these loves I need to be happy. It will probably take a lifetime.

Inspirational Quote:

“I am certain there is too much certainty in the world.”–Michael Crichton


  1. I really enjoyed your post 🙂
    I have always believed that if you do what you love to do, all the time, everything else falls into place. Money, fame, success, what ever your motivations are if you do what you love to do all the time it will happen for you.

    People doing the wrong job for the wrong intentions is the bain of every companies customer service. By placing so little respect of customer service jobs how on earth can we expect value added results from those people.

    I also thing personality tests, skill and talent profiling should be more widely used in unversities and high schools to help coach people into recognizing what they are good at..


    Nice post



  2. I gain a lot of insight from my Myers-Briggs designation (INTJ). However, a lot of my confusion also stems from that designation–I fully expected to dislike a job which required me to be social with strangers, as I am an introvert. My best guess is that my curiosity about how other people work makes it comfortable for me to talk with total strangers. But overall, Myers-Briggs is a great resource.

    Jessica (feelingelephants)

  3. [quote]I am sure that a lot of people in the customer service industry wear down because they have unfair bosses[/quote]

    You got that right, sort of.

    I happen to work for a company in a service oriented industry (telecommunications), and right now my job is the pits. In the call center industry the main factor whether or not you like or hate the job deals with your immediate leadership team. My current leadership seems to believe that putting a lot of pressure on the reps and using threats of job security is the best way to motivate the team. The reality is this leadership tactic has the opposite effect. I am so stressed out it’s affecting my calls and my home life. The pay and benefits are top notch and that is the only reason I am still there.

    Customer service is a highly stressed job with a very high turnover rate, and in my call center most of the turnover is due to stress of dealing with the customers, followed by the stress the leadership places on us in meeting certain metrics month after month.

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