(Representatively Speaking) Top 5 Movie Lines that describe Customer Service

Top 5 Movie Lines that describe my Customer Service career
By Bret Dorman

(As always, possible SPOILERS! for the movies listed below.)

I have basically been working in some sort of Customer Service sort of job for my entire working career (a decade now). It has also been about a decade since I started taking movies more seriously. Coincidence? Yes.

As a CSR (Customer Service Representative) I have dealt with all kinds of people. I would say MOST customers are just average people who cause no problems but I don’t actively engage with. A few customers I actually will talk to and get to know if they are ‘regulars’ and seem cool. And then there are the crazies. These people that no matter what you do they will never be happy and they flaunt/exploit “the customer is always right” mantra used by pretty much every company ever. I am surprised this still exists, since most people unrealistically want the absolute best with no hassle every single time and are quick to turn into big babies about it if they don’t get their way right away.

I used to think everyone should work in Customer Service one year of their life (as one of their first jobs) because then maybe they would learn how to be better customers and maybe even better people?! But now I see that is a terrible idea, because most people just don’t give a shit how others see them. They would probably treat their mandatory year long tour of customer service duty as a hazing ritual. Instead of learning from others’ mistakes and mean do-ings they would take them as inspiration or worse, challenges that should be topped.

These following 5 lines best describe how I feel during my customer service day or lines I would actually say out loud or just in my head:

5) “This job would be great if it wasn’t for the fucking customers.” – Clerks

It seems pretty cliche that a movie about a convenient store clerk and video store clerk would have a place in a Top 5 about Customer Service. While writer/director Kevin Smith does take some time out to make some easy jokes (hey I know customers who do that! tehe!) he also has a good character-centric movie in between all the CSR jokey jokes.

Randal Graves is the fantasy we (CSRs) all wish we could live. He makes a bet with a frustrated customer he’ll get in the store first without her knowing he works there. He tells customers to fuck off on a regular basis and doesn’t care who is in the store, standing right in front of him, as he orders an onslaught of dirty porn movies.

This particular quote though says a lot. Its not about doing the ‘work’ or having a shitty job that bugs him, but the people he has to service. Right now I work at a (fancy-ish) car wash ringing people out and doing general up keep in the lobby area. I’ve never really had to constantly clean a lobby space like this before but people are such selfish assholes. The moment their car is ready they will drop whatever magazine they are reading (sometimes literally leaving it on the floor) and just walk out, leaving any trash for me to throw out. And forget about people simply pushing in their chairs when they get up. You know its not the idea that they are creating more work for me to do (which the less I have to do the better… obviously) but that this nice looking lobby was in good condition when they came in and they just don’t give a shit that when they leave it looks like crap.

I don’t mind having to ring out customers or explain the differences between our washes or do general upkeep, but when a customers tosses their credit card on the counter even though my hand is out ready to have it handed over to me in a civilized or respectful manner… it makes me want to say to a co-worker… “This job would be great if it wasn’t for the fucking customers.” (Couldn’t find that clip but here’s a good one. Jay’s “YYYEEEAAAHHH!” could have its own Minutia Monday some (Mon)day…)

4) “WRONG!!!” – Superman Returns

The Customer is always right, right? WRONG! Whether you take this statement literally or figuratively, it is wrong. The saying should be “If the customer has a problem try to understand it from their perspective and give them appropriate compensation where applicable.” But its not as catchy.

All too many times I would have a customer tell me how to look them up in the system or explain to me how a certain aspect of my job worked. It was amazing how confident they would be when describing this, forgetting that they have no idea how what goes on behind the scenes (even if they work in a similar field or place its not the same everywhere) or that I work there 40 hours a week and actually know what I am talking about. At the car wash I work at now the guy who writes down what service you’re getting on a white ticket ALWAYS hands the customer this ticket when they get out of the car and they are supposed to hand it to me in the lobby. I have people genuinely look at me and tell me “He didn’t hand me a ticket” and they honestly believe this. For the record… they ALWAYS end up having it because the guy writing the ticket has NEVER not given them one.

When customers are wrong it’s no biggie, because we can usually figure it out together like real people. But if they are assholes about it I want to pull a Kevin-Spacey-Lex-Luther. Set ’em up to say something incredibly stupid but they are sincere about and just yell before they can finish, at the top of my lungs… “WRONG!!!!!!!!”

3) “I’ll be back.” – The Terminator

Not just the words “I’ll be back”, but exactly the way The Action god Himself says them, Austrian accent and all. This is an incredibly useful phrase that is almost unfair because of how innocently applicable it is to real life.

I use it on customers when I go to check on the status of a car being detailed. I use it on the phone when I have to put a customer on hold. I use it when talking to co-workers and am about to go on lunch. And every time I say it with an Austrian accent. Every. Single. Time.

I also work with a bunch of Mexicans, who were born in Mexico and speak mostly Spanish. I, myself, having taken French in high school and college and forgotten most of that, know VERY little Spanish. However, every once in a while I’ll fit in an “Hasta la vista, baby” and they always seem to get a kick out of that. I’m not sure if they know exactly what its from but I know if I say it, I say it with the accent and they don’t. However, everyone seems to understand exactly what I’m going for when I say… “I’ll be back.”

2) “What we’ve got here is… failure to communicate.” – Cool Hand Luke

As mentioned in #4, sometimes customers just have the wrong idea about something. Part of my job is to clarify the discrepancy. Also, sometimes just in the way I explain things, it is hard for a customer to understand. In the same way different students learn better visually, aurally, hands on, etc, customers process information differently. I understand this. I have seen too many times a fellow coworker explain something (even if how they explain it the one way is awesome) and their customer just doesn’t get it. The co-worker will continue re-hashing their prepped statement and little progress is made. If what I say does not click with the customer the first time, I will try it another way and ask questions so I can best relay my information in a clear manner to them.

However, sometimes the customer just doesn’t get it. This is either due to a foreign language/cultural barrier or the customer just does not want to hear what I am saying. In these cases, even though I am trying my best, they clearly are not listening to what it is I am saying and their statements back to me reflect this. They have a preconceived idea of what it is they want and basically want me to cave in and just tell them “Yes, you are correct”.

Sometimes it is ego that gets in the way (The customer could NEVER have misread/misinterpreted something) and sometimes it is a genuine disconnect. I’m not just talking about a customer who didn’t hear me and asks me to repeat something or a customer who didn’t understand what it was I was tyring to communicate after the first attempt; I am talking about those customers who clearly are making no effort to understand or do not want to hear what I am saying.

It is in these moments I just want to stand back, stop the conversation, and say in my best Southern drawl “What we’ve got here is… failure to communicate.” (Note: When The Captain (Strother Martin) says it, he doesn’t say “A” failure, but when Luke (Paul Newman) says it he does…)

1) “I can’t keep doing this on my own. With these… *people*.” – There Will Be Blood

First of all, Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day Lewis) is one of the best bad guys ever put on film. The fact that we get a nearly 3 hour look into his life and see exactly what he is willing to do to destroy another person doesn’t hurt, as most bad guys are relegated to just a couple scenes at best. But in this scene, he describes to his brother his end goal… to just get away.

In #5 I rip on customers a bit, but this quote applies to EVERYONE. Customers, Non-Customers, Co-Workers, people calling to either ask me questions or just looking for a manager, and anyone who comes into my sight. When I am having a bad day at work I bottle it all up. I hate everything and everyone. The rage builds up and I just want to walk out right then and there, never to come back.

My resume since moving to Chicago (and even a bit before) is just a hodgepodge collections of random Customer Service Oriented jobs. The most I’ve had a job for is 2 years. I’ve worked at Dollar Tree, Chase-Pitkin (local hardware store affiliated with ‘local’ grocery store Wegmans), Blockbuster, Securitas, Independent Landscaper, Disney’s Hollywood Studios (internship), American Red Cross, PA on feature length independent movies, Fedex Office (formerly Kinko’s), Photogenic (tourism photography), Pagiugo (Gelato Shop), Shoreline Sightseeing, and Simon’s Shine Shop. I love starting a new job. But after about 4 months of it, I hate it. Everything. The little things bug the shit out of me and it’s easy for me to skyrocket with rage from average mood to ‘in the red’ when I’ve been working a job for so long.

I started out my working career completely ambivalent towards people/society. But now I am filled with a deep inner disliking towards them. It is no coincidence that the more I worked in Customer Service and observed human behavior/societal ‘norms’ the more I started really getting into Seinfeld (and later Curb Your Entusiasm). Overall I don’t really HATE everyone, but I do despise a good deal of people.

Sometimes I long to just get away… whether its Into The Wild like Chris McCandless (Emile Hirsch), or living a life of crime that would leave most Breathless like Michael Poiccard (Jean- Paul Belmondo), or get a crap ton of money and buy a super big mansion with a bowling alley somewhere. No matter how I go about it, when I look back on my Customer Service past and where I am headed in the future I sigh a big sigh of disappointment and disgust and mumble under my breath… “I can’t keep doing this on my own. With these… people.” (Best teaser trailer… ever?)

You’ll notice 4 outta 5 of these are negative (the other is just Schwarzenegger Osmosis). It doesn’t matter how positive I try to be at the beginning or throughout my work day, in the end I feel beaten down and battered. It takes a mental toll on me to try and stay positive with everyone. I feel exhausted by the time I get home. The best way for me to recharge my batteries is to pop in a movie and look for more lines that describe how I feel when I am at work, so I can quote them to customers or co-workers and they can call me crazy. When they call me crazy I just yell back “You think I’m crazy? Well, listen up, there’s a storm coming like nothing you’ve ever seen, and not a one of you is prepared for it!” (Curtis as played by Michael Shannon in Take Shelter.)

3 responses to “(Representatively Speaking) Top 5 Movie Lines that describe Customer Service

  1. Love, love your post! So funny and so true. I had a “brush” with customer service when I worked at Kinko’s for a couple years and boy were the customers hard to deal with at times! Cheers…

  2. No Half Baked quote? “Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, you’re cool, fuck you, I’m OUT!” One of my favorite lines ever.

    • Never was a huge Half Baked fan. It’s funny but just not one of my regulars. If I ever storm out of a job though that would definitely be a quote to keep in mind… Good addition to the conversation for sure. Thanks!

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