Wednesday, June 18, 2014


     In 20 years of customer service, I've very rarely encountered racism directed at me or towards someone in my presence.  I've got plenty of stories about sexism, ageism and harassment ... but not so much with the racism.  I've heard examples from people I've worked with over the years, and I'm sure it's pervasive in the service industry - since we are but a microcosm of society as a whole.  But as I'm white, I've personally experienced very little.
     Yesterday though, I got a full shot from a customer.  It was an elderly woman that I've helped a number of times over the phone.  During the conversation, she started talking about how she had asked for help from one of my teammates and was uncertain what had been done.  She praised my efforts to help her over the last few weeks.  Then it happened:

          H:  I appreciate your help so much.
          M:  Not a problem, ma'am.
          H:  I hope you'll be able to help me in the future.  I know that X tried, but oh ... I just appreciate that you speak English.
          M:  I'm sorry, ma'am ... what did you say?
          H:  You speak English.
          M:  I'm sorry, ma'am ... I don't think I understand what you're saying.  Let's focus on (her particular issue), and I'll call you back with an answer.
     Then she thanked me again, paused briefly and apologized for her manners.

     My teammate in question does have a slight accent, and she also happens to speak at least 3 languages fluently - one of them being English, by the way. She also took care of the woman's request more than 2 months ago, doing exactly what was asked of her.  She's lived in this country for decades, raised children, run businesses and strives to provide outstanding customer service.  I was surprised by the customer's statements for several reasons ... the ease with which she mentioned it, the repetition and the almost off-handed tone in her voice.  But overall, I was disappointed.  Really, really disappointed.

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