I’ve never been what you’d call bubbly. I’m much more of a matter-of-fact, straightforward, you know where you stand with me, kind of girl. Let’s just say that I have a serious case of RBF.
But I’ve spent most of my working life (2007–2015) in customer service. How the fuck does someone who hates being fake, and who kind of hates everyone get (and keep) jobs in customer service?
A lot of it is because I’m a really hard worker and I do an excellent job of making myself necessary. But part of it, is that at one of my coffee shop jobs, I was faced with a decision. Change, or leave.
I was living in Corvallis, Oregon, working at what was by far, the best coffee shop in town. I had several years of experience as a barista, but I kept getting pulled into the office to talk about my customer service. I was told that I wasn’t smiling enough and that sometimes, I seem mean.
This is criticism I’ve been getting my whole life. “Tell me how you really feel” is a phrase people have said to me sarcastically for all twenty-seven years of my existence, and it’s frustrated me EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. I’m a passionate person who can come across as mean.
So when I heard it three times in one month from a new job, I felt honestly, kind of crushed. I was trying! My coffee game was on point, and I thought I was giving great customer service. I wasn’t even being a bitch when someone ordered a Caramel Macchiato (which, if you’re not at Starbucks, don’t order a Starbucks drink. It’s rude.). What was I missing?
On top of this, I was NOT getting along with the rest of the (way more bubbly) girls behind the counter. They were making plans around me and not inviting me, they seemed passive aggressive, and I felt excluded. It was rough.
So I started talking to my boyfriend (now husband), Matt. It felt like I had to decide if I was going to change who I was in order to keep this job.
Do I change who I am, and be bubbly and fake? Quit this job, the best shop in Corvallis?
He made an amazing point that ended up changing my life. And it was so simple it hurts.
If they’re not inviting you to stuff, invite them. If you’re feeling excluded, include yourself, and be more open and friendly to these girls.
It hit me like a ton of fucking bricks.
Being nice when you’re in a bad mood isn’t being fake, it’s being friendly.
So I started implementing Matt’s (and my kindergarten teacher’s) advice: I was more friendly. To customers, to my coworkers, and to people I was just meeting.
And it worked. But that’s not what helped me turn the corner, customer service-wise.
I took it a step further, because I honestly thought I was doing the best I could.
I asked my coworker to watch me and tell me, in the moment, if I did anything that seemed mean, or wasn’t as nice as it could be. He said he would, and he did.
What was nice is that it was mostly little things: genuinely smiling more (or if you can’t muster a genuine one, squint your eyes and nose a little. Great trick), saying “thanks for waiting” instead of “sorry about the wait,” and when someone ordered a Caramel Macchiato, instead of saying “um, do you want a Starbucks Caramel Macchiato—a caramel vanilla latte—or a real macchiato with caramel sauce on it?” just saying “sure!” and serving it with a smile.
This experience changed my life.
I’m better at interacting with new people (and difficult people), I interview better, and I’m better at making new friends in new environments.
The lessons I learned—be friendly, and ask for specific help in the moment, are tools I use all the time. And they make my life easier.
Being a better version of yourself isn’t selling out, or being fake, it’s growing.