Editor's note: This story is the first of a two-part series that focuses on customer service workers in Limestone County. The second story will appear in Tuesday’s edition of The News Courier.
For New Cut Mini Mart employees Katie Allen and Ashley Martin, providing above-average customer service boils down to two basic principles — showing respect and striving to make a positive impact on people whether they are regular customers or perfect strangers.
“It’s very hard to please everybody, but my motto is to see if I can make just one person’s day,” said Martin, a manager at the mini mart and a former waitress and fast-food worker. “Sometimes, all you have to do is smile.”
Allen, who enjoys an easy-going rapport with regulars and is a self-described “smart-aleck,” said it strikes a nerve when she witnesses customers being disrespected or ignored.
“It bothers me when I see people that don’t respect their customers,” said Allen, who cooks and runs the register and is a former pizzeria manager, car salesperson and deli worker. “Show some respect, especially for seniors and people that serve in the military.”
Allen, 21, and Martin, 19, graduated from high schools at opposite ends of Limestone County, but they share a background in customer service and a passion for food preparation. They are both colleagues and close friends who work the 4:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. shift at the New Cut Mini Mart during the week.
Allen, a 2010 East Limestone graduate, originally set out to earn her EMT certification before realizing it wasn’t the right career. She began her path by working multiple jobs to pay her way through prerequisite college courses at Calhoun Community College.
“I don’t trust myself to put other people’s lives in my hands,” said Allen, who spends her free time fishing with her open-faced rod-and-reel, visiting her mother and watching movies with roommates. “Right now I’m at a standstill because I’m still trying to decide on a good career, and I want to get more money saved up.”
Martin, who along with Allen stayed after their shifts ended Thursday to help out with a sudden rush before they headed out for a house-cleaning gig, has her future mapped out and hopes Allen will decide to join her at some point in restaurant entrepreneurship.
“I’m in the process of enrolling for the spring 2014 semester at Calhoun. I’m going to be a chef, but I’m going to get my business degree because I want to own my own restaurant,” said Martin, a 2012 Clements graduate who learned “down-home Southern cooking” from her grandmother and mother and prepares chicken and dressing from scratch each Friday. “Katie and I work so well together and if we move jobs, we want to stay working at the same place.”
National Customer Service Week
Millions of Americans nationwide punch time clocks in service-sector jobs notorious for low pay and irregular schedules. This is compounded by the stress of pleasing customers who vary from polite and friendly to demanding and irate, often within a short time frame.
In 1984, the International Customer Service Association launched National Customer Service Week “to recognize and reward individuals who provide service to customers as the primary functions of their jobs,” according to an ICSA press release.
The week, which is from Oct. 7-11 this year, received an official designation in 1992, when President George H.W. Bush signed a proclamation that set aside the first full week of October to celebrate customer service professionals.
Among local businesses observing the week is AnsweTel, which will be giving out gift bags, T-shirts and prizes to its staff. The 20 employees who work for the after-hours answering service in downtown Athens are a small sample of customer service representatives who work behind the scenes, said AnswerTel General Manager Marie McGuire, who believes the key to high-quality service is “workers have to care about their clientele.”
“We’re just trying to show our staff how much we appreciate them. Customer service goes far beyond the people you see each day,” said McGuire, who has been with the company for 27 years.
She said it is important to take time to appreciate people working in the wide range of service-related fields.
“Most customer service workers make minimum wage to $12 an hour, and they’re the ones who do so much work for the public,” McGuire said.
This two-part series continues in Tuesday’s edition of The News Courier.