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Lessons from Blue Collar

How soft skills can come from customer service experience

Customer Service, even in the form of a being a cashier at the local burger place, is valuable experience in any field. These are soft skills. These are hard earned and equippable skills, in any industry. Yes, Even Technology.

Let me explain some valuable things learned through customer service and it's many sub domains [quality, sanitation, safety].

There's a saying many will know: "The customer is always right."

My approach to this is to go into any one on one with a customer with the assumption that they are right, their feedback is truthful, valuable, and justified. They are human, same as me, and need/want to be heard. I've taken some abuse from customers, but I've also made some great relationships with amazing people. We are all human.

The key thing anyone can learn from this set of skills, is to relate to people who are seeking your input, or your time. Maybe this customer is having a really horrid day, maybe that one thing they couldn't find in isle number 7 was the straw that broke the camel's back. Going in with compassion, and a certain amount of letting them vent and trying to find a way to make their day less horrid is a tradable skill in any market.

Useful and valuable.

And a note to the would be customer, while it's our job to make your day better, easier and more convenient, or solve your dilemma; remember we're just humans too. We work for a company and in almost all cases have nothing to do with the policies in place, or have any power to change them. Don't abuse our position by using us as your emotional punching bags. This too is a skill we learn through customer service. We know what that feels like, and are unwilling or sometimes even incapable of doing it to others.

Useful and valuable.

Another one some may not know: "Clean as you go."

This is one I learned as a cook. Messes can pile up fast when it's dinner rush hour, and if you let it go, there could be an accident waiting to happen through slip and fall, food contamination, or just slow down the whole process from the clutter.

Instead of setting the dish that was returned and had to be re-plated at the conveniently located cutting board, (Telling yourself you'll get it into the bus bin later), put it in the bus bin now. It's easy to forget it's there, easy to miss-step and forget this was a used plate, and not a clean one from the stack. If it falls, gets knocked over and broken, that broken plate is now a huge time consuming thing because it has to be cleaned up immediately. Your food suffers, your customer suffers, your co-workers suffer because this is a team, and they just lost a key member to cleaning up the ceramic mess on the floor.

It may be an extra 10 seconds to walk it to the bin for the dirty dishes, but the potential hazard it can cause is worth every second to avoid. Clean as you go.

Another thing this teaches you is to avoid making the cleaning tasks at the end of the day become a mountain of debt to be worked off in perhaps a more stressful way. Just like code

Clean as you go, avoid the hazards and mountain of problems that will have to be cleaned up later. Your environment will stay less cluttered, less riddled with pitfalls, and a more sanitary place. These all also help a customer receive the best food they can get and a higher quality product.
Useful and valuable.

Here's one from my days in the recycling plant: "Get the big picture"

This applies to so many situations and circumstances. Just like 'the customer is always right', and 'clean as you go', there is a big picture going on that can be hard to see when you get focused on a singular task.

In the recycling plant, this was more of a safety guideline, but lets apply it to the customer service side.

-the customer is always right-

What is the issue? Is it fixable? If it can not be remedied, is it something that should be addressed by someone other than yourself? Is it a systematic problem that brought this customer to you? Is it something that should be, or can be easily fixed so that other customers do not encounter the same thing?

Maybe the issue is something good, maybe the customer wants to compliment a certain technique or product that they received. Recognize this, thank them, bring it to your team's attention so that they too see rewards of their effort.

-clean as you go-
As a cook: When that plate was brought back, what was the error with it that brought it back? Is the plate damaged? Is the plate cold, or hot? Was the food cooked in some way that displeased the customer, and could it be done better for every dish from this point forward?

As a baker: If a carton of rainbow sprinkles spilled on the floor, why was it spilled? Was it setting somewhere someone could trip, or it get knocked over? What kinds of hazard do those colorful bits of sugar present? What could be done to keep this from happening a second time?

Getting the big picture means asking questions, looking not only at one solution, but looking for the best solution. Making sure what you are doing for any given task encompasses the whole task, and how it impacts the things or people around you.

Useful and valuable.

In conclusion-

It takes a lot of analytical skill, human relation, and problem solving efforts to be in customer relations in all forms. To be of service to other people is a huge task to be taken on in meaningful and deliberate ways. I submit for your approval that customer service experience is highly related to 'soft skills', and are useful and valuable when applied to anything, even code.

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Sorry for the callout 😆