Tory Johnson: Smile, Don't Snap, Crackle, Pop

My husband and I agree on most things, but there's one big issue on which we usually don't see eye-to-eye. I'm a stickler for exceptional customer service and common courtesies, but he's much more willing to let people slide.

Call me picky, Type A or overly sensitive, but I definitely have pet peeves that go way beyond loud cell phone conversations in quiet spaces. I admit to being less tolerant of things that some people would simply ignore.

Maybe it's because as an entrepreneur in a service business, I have very high standards for client relations. My staff and I are accustomed to delivering exceptional customer service, which is one of the qualities that sets us apart from other businesses in our field. So when I'm greeted with less than stellar service in a store, I wonder how a manager allows it. I think the same thing when I'm sitting in an airport or walking down the street. When I see rude manners, I wonder where the offender works and how he or she is able to get away with it.

The culprits:

Gum chewing. While I love chewing gum because of the quick burst of minty fresh breath it provides -- and I try hard to be a silent chewer -- I can't stand hearing other people's popping. Last week the guy behind me on a flight back to New York snapped and cracked the whole three hours. I was hoping the flavor would run out or he'd pause for a can of Coke. No such luck. He didn't even get up to use the lavatory.

My husband got impatient with my impatience. He didn't understand why I couldn't just tune it out and focus on something else. It could have been a perfect ad for an iPod since a little music probably would have done the trick.

But what happens in a store when earphones aren't an option? While purchasing a shirt in an upscale shop, I found myself staring at the saleswoman as she chewed on a big wad of bubble gum. Not a very attractive or appealing sight.

Pocket change janglers. Ever been in a crowded elevator where everyone's quiet except for the guy who's jingling the change in his pocket? Fortunately I don't encounter this one too often, since it's both annoying and inconsiderate.

Surly toll takers. EZ Pass has been my savior, but there are still plenty of tolls that require hand-to-hand contact for payment and ticket-taking. When I fork over my money -- sometimes it's upward of $5 or $6 on various bridges and tunnels -- I think the person taking the cash should say "thank you" or "have a nice a day."

My husband, on the other hand, wonders why I'd expect such a nicety, especially since they're not getting the money personally. He also argues that it's not the easiest job -- sitting in a teeny booth on a loud, crowded highway, with rain and other elements splashing in their faces -- and that I should cut toll takers some slack.

As someone who specializes in all things employment related, my position is that anyone who accepts a job should carry it out to the best of their ability. Good customer service should be part of the package if you're dealing face-to-face with other people. I also believe that cracking a smile or saying "thanks" often helps people to enjoy their jobs more than those who appear sullen.

Grumpy grocery store clerks. Similar to the conundrum detailed above, I regularly encounter cashiers at my local supermarket who act as though they'd rather be anywhere else. (In fairness, maybe it's a big city thing. When I'm in the country, outside of Manhattan, the clerks are very friendly. Always cheerful, always making nice small talk.) But on the most recent visit to my normal store, none of the staff was smiling. Even the bagger listened to his Walkman as he packed groceries.

When I reported that to my husband, he said maybe the fella was just trying to block out the sounds of rude customers chomping on their chewing gum. Good point.

But before I get too soft, let me say that I believe everyone should demand better customer service from the stores, businesses and vendors they patronize. None of us likes to be kept on hold for 20 minutes only to get a live voice who can't answer our questions or resolve the problems we're calling about.

Even though it's a time-consuming hassle, sometimes it's worth the extra few minutes to complain to a manager or to send a note to a higher-up. There's a good chance your story will lead to improvements in service, thereby benefiting others.

Similarly, just because we're paying customers doesn't mean we should abuse sales clerks or other service personnel. There's nothing uglier than watching a traveler berate a flight attendant because they're out of pillows. Be courteous to the people around you -- be it in an elevator, on a train, or sitting on a plane.

Just writing this makes me realize that perhaps I'm a bit too uptight on some of this stuff. I'll never loosen up enough to ignore these kinds of infractions, but I could probably benefit from concentrating on other things instead of getting all wound up. I'll start by keeping my new iPod in my purse wherever I go. Music will keep me content.

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