The Customer isn’t Always Right

Oren Cohen

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Back in 2009, I finished my mandatory military service and set off to find a job. I was looking for a part-time position that will allow me to study for my degree in Computer Science. After countless searches and resumes for student jobs, I landed a technical service job in one of the cellular service companies here in Israel. I resigned after a year and went to look for something less demanding.

The next job was again in customer service in a big pharmacy chain. This time it wasn’t any technical service, but I was still serving people. I stayed for five years in this job until I started my first job in the high-tech industry.

Six years in customer service taught me a lot about the business, and I carry some of those lessons to everyday life. In this piece, I aim to share some of those lessons and the required mindset for Customer Service.

Let’s begin.

It’s Not About You

In my second year at the pharmacy, they invited my coworkers and me to its headquarters. There we attended a workshop about Customer service.

One thing they taught us there was the concept of putting the spotlight on your customer. When you do that, it becomes so much easier to bear the burden of giving service.

I struggled with this concept first, and every day at the pharmacy was long — too long.

The shifts were morning — from 7.30 to 15:00, or evening — from 15:00 to 23:00. Sometimes there was a middle day shift from 11:00 to 19:00.

I liked morning shifts best at the beginning because I felt there were fewer customers that way.

After that workshop, though, I saw the people that were coming into the store. Instead of focusing on me, I focused on them and their needs. That’s when I started noticing details about them and talk to them from time to time. I started having favorite customers, those that made me laugh or smile.

So, the takeaway from this point is to shift the spotlight from you to your customer. Your workdays will end unbelievably faster when you’re enjoying them.

Listen Listen Listen

One thing I remember fondly from my time in that pharmacy was the fuzzy feeling I had in my stomach when I talked to customers. It felt genuinely personal instead of strict traditional customer service.

The only way to make that happen for you is to be genuinely open to listen to these people. When they offer a hook, grab it.

A woman came to pay one time, and I was in the cashier serving customers. She looked agitated, and as I scanned her items, I asked her what was wrong and whether she wanted to share.

I had to do that politely. I was trying to be considerate, and if I wasn’t careful about my body language, she might have thought I was sticking my nose into her business.

She declined to share, and I didn’t prod further. Two days later, my boss received a letter from her praising me for my emotional intelligence.

Back then, I didn’t know what emotional intelligence was. But I was happy to receive a letter all the same.

Do that. When you see someone looking sad or lost, it’s okay to approach people and ask how they are doing.

One of my coworkers back in the day used to laugh at me that I had a weird habit of saying hi to customers without being prompted. I’m proud to wear that habit.

Make an Effort — Even if it’s in Vain

Let’s say a customer asked for that discount from yesterday’s sales. You know your boss will say no, so you’re tempted to say something like, “Yeah, people already asked that, and my boss said no.”

But that will only make your customer angry. Do you know why? Because they will feel they are not worth your time, and as a customer who’s expecting to get service from Customer service, that’s infuriating.

There was one time when an older man came to return a bag of laundry detergent. The problem was that it was already opened and used. There was no reason to replace it and refund the customer. But I still went to my boss and asked. I received a no (and I remind you I live in Israel, return and refund policies are slightly different here).

It thrilled the customer I cared enough to try. That recharged his smile even though he didn’t get what he wanted.

Make an effort for your customers and see them praise you for years to come. Also, don’t assume your boss’s decision. Let them have their say in the matter. They might not be as consistent with their choices as you believe them to be.

A Smile is Your Greatest Weapon

Everyone who works in customer service has a horror story of that one client — just one who completely freaked out.

For me, it was a celebrity here in Israel who was making personal inspections in the brand’s stores to make sure we put her products on the shelves.

I was the shift manager that evening, and she asked to speak to me. Without me saying so much as a word, she started yelling at me and saying she pays a lot of money to have her products shown in the planogram and that it’s outrageous how we disrespect the plan or something.

Instead of yelling back as my gut feeling suggested, I took a deep breath, smiled at her, and said, “I’m sorry if something is wrong, let me check if we have that product in the back and to let my boss — the Merchandising Manager — know about this issue.” It turned out we missed that product, and they scheduled it to arrive tomorrow.

The celebrity thanked me — but didn’t apologize for how she treated me — and you know what? That was fine. It wasn’t me she was talking to. It was the “shift manager” it only happened to be me — Oren — who played that part that day. There was no reason to take it to heart, and even though I did feel hurt, I shook it off once I understood the playground.

That leads me to our next and crucial point.

Leave Your Problems at Home

People always say to make a distinct boundary between your personal life and work so that whatever happens at work won’t affect your own life.

They don’t realize the reversal also applies — especially when working at customer service.

During my fifth and final year at the pharmacy, I was already dealing with lots of debt. Or at least the thoughts that came because of it:

How am I going to deal with this?

How will the future look like?

Will I ever break free?

Those were the questions that kept me up at night and kept the smiles away from my face — at least outside work.

At work, I would act as the service trustee — the person in the shop responsible that people are getting the service they deserve.

That position was given to me after multiple occasions where customers reached out to my boss to say how much they appreciated the service they got from me.

All the while, I did what I had to do to make a clear cut between what was going on in my life and my job. And also, going to work was a part of the solution to my debt problem, making it easier to bear.

You need to figure out what you need to do to make that clear cut happen for you, too. Otherwise, it will be hard to use smiles to your advantage.

Hating on Sales is Overrated

Yes, I can practically hear you through the screen, “I’m not a salesperson.” or you may say something like, “I hate sales; they make me feel like I’m scamming my client.

I felt that way, too, in the beginning.

In the cellular company, it was the worst. I remember the managers would give us an arbitrary goal at the beginning of the shift. Let’s sell 500 of X this shift.

I really hated it back then.

But, when I worked at the pharmacy, I learned that hating on sales is overrated. At some point, sales become natural when your customers' needs are at the core of your intentions.

When a customer of mine wants to buy a product and wants to buy the more expensive one, I can offer her to buy the private label one that’s cheaper. That way, the private label brand is doing well, and she also saves money — a win-win.

When you attempt to understand what the client is looking for, you can offer multiple options. That’s not being salesy — that’s being helpful — a world of difference.


Working in Customer Service has taught me a lot about human interaction. I got to know many interesting customers while also getting to know interesting coworkers. It also taught me many useful skills like being a better listener, being polite and clear, and having good energies around people.

That was only possible because I let myself put the spotlight on someone else and not myself. I put myself in the position of giving service.

Hopefully, this piece helped you come to terms with the work you’re doing. You might have planned a bright future when you finish your degree or some other project. But you are here right now.

Learn from it.

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I'm a geeky content creator. My content will usually be helpful articles for other content creators like me or some fun geeky articles about shows, video games, and literature. Recommend me a new fantasy book! Also, I'm working on my own fantasy story so stay tuned for that, too.

New York City, NY

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