Cartoon by Isabella Bannerman. Used with permission.

If you work with the public, you’re stressed. Unreasonable customers. Demanding bosses.  Reduced staffing. I love my job, but the workload is tough and getting tougher. What can we do to keep our spirits up?

Play Customer Appreciation! It’s simple. Assign a point value to each annoying thing that happens during a typical workday. When something takes place that stresses you out, you don’t scream, quit, or deck the offending customer. You earn valuable points! The first person to reach 100 points gets to slap the next member of the public who gives her attitude, as her co-workers cheer.  

No, she doesn’t. That’s only in the version of the game for folks who’ve just won the lottery. But what about this—if you win, you can put your feet up in the staff lounge, pull out your cell, and waste 20 minutes gabbing.      

Each workplace can draw up its own Aggravation List. In the suburban library where I work, for instance, we’d get points each time a patron goes ballistic about paying a 20-cent fine, or screams at us to check her movies out faster because it’s a hot day and the ice cream in the trunk of her Lexis is melting. 

The more annoying the incident, the more points. A mom chats blithely on her cell as her toddler heads into the elevator alone, causing you to drop everything to go on a Rescue Mission? Five points! A man with no library card and no ID gets up in your grille because you refuse to let him check out a dozen DVDs? Ten points!  And when a patron sneaks an overdue book back onto the shelf, then pretends to “find” it and insists that he returned it last week, don’t call him a lying snake! Smile, waive his fine, and award yourself bonus points.     

Soon you’ll be pushing each other out of the way to help your most difficult customers. The guy who sneers at everything you say? You’ll be thrilled to see him. The woman who never says “please” or “thank you”?  You’ll treasure each encounter. The teenager who calls you a witch because you ask her to remove her ear buds so you don’t have to compete with Taylor Swift when you’re trying to talk to her? You’ll want to give her a big hug.  

The only risk you’ll run is that you’ll be tempted to provoke your nicer customers into behaving like jerks, just to up your score. 

“I’m returning this book late, but I’m happy to pay the fine because I love the library,” a patron might say to me.  

 “Are you sure you don‘t want to scream about it?” I’ll plead.  “I have 95 points. All I need is 5 more. Go ahead—vent!”   

Customer Appreciation will get you through those moments when you encounter something so unquestionably rude or bizarre that it’s hard to believe it’s actually happening.  A woman approached the circulation desk at the library where I work last week and said,   “My car has a flat tire.“  

“Would you like to use our phone to call Triple A?“ I asked. 

“Can’t someone HERE change my tire?“ she asked.  

I didn’t say, “This is a public library, not a garage.“ Or comment that when I spent a large chunk of my paycheck on the Eileen Fisher dress I was wearing, “auto mechanic” wasn’t exactly the look I was going for.

I just smiled and handed her the phone. If I’d been playing Customer Appreciation, that little encounter would have been a 20-pointer—at least!    

Sounds like fun, you say. But you’re afraid you’d never be able to amass 100 points by the end of a shift?  

Are you sure you work with the public? 


Cartoonist/animator/painter Isabella Bannerman’s work has appeared in—among other places—“Glamour,” “The New York Times,” “The Funny Times,” “World War 3 Illustrated,” MTV, and “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.” Since 2000 she has been the Monday artist for Six Chix, a comic strip syndicated by King Features.

  • Maryl February 19, 2013 at 7:37 am

    There’s probably a funny book here about the most unreasonable requests from over demanding customers. And as customers this makes us think about how we can all be more understanding of those serving the public. Thanks.

  • Roz Warren November 28, 2012 at 6:56 pm

    Amy, it’s never too late to start keeping a journal!

    I, of course, got my Night Kitchen Bakery pumpkin pie in a timely fashion and it was delicious.

  • Amy November 28, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    How many points do we get for the customers who ordered pies for Wednesday, did not pick them up til SATURDAY and then had the brass to call Sunday to complain about them?
    Roz–if I had started a journal of this kind of stuff 12 years ago I would have a best seller!

  • Roz Warren November 27, 2012 at 11:13 pm

    Suzanne, we suburban libraries also have homeless people trying to keep warm. And most patrons pay their overdue fines without complaint rather than trying to weasel out of them. They often say that they consider the fine a donation to the library which they’re happy to make. (Of course, some take that one step further by waiting till they’ve accrued a fairly large sum, paying with a check, and then telling the IRS that the check to the library was a tax-deductible donation!)

  • Just One Boomer (Suzanne) November 27, 2012 at 9:08 pm

    I’ve been behind those people at the circulation desk. However, I wasn’t aware that people in the most affluent township in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania sneak books back on the shelf and pretend that they returned them last week. Yuck. I’m glad I moved into the big bad city where my local library has virtually no books, one harried employee and plenty of homeless people keeping warm.

  • hillsmom November 27, 2012 at 8:56 pm

    Well Roz, I can actually see that happening on the Main Line. Could you come out and check my tires too? ;^)

    @ Jody, Seems like a very good idea…

  • jody November 27, 2012 at 8:36 pm

    I love this. The point system works for raising kids too. Every time you catch your kid in a blatant lie (for instance) you can give yourself 20 points. If you get 100 points in the week you shout “hooray ” and your little darling gets to buy you an ice cream cone……puts the fun back into parenting.

  • Roz Warren November 27, 2012 at 8:20 pm

    A friend, after reading this, just emailed me to ask if that thing with the woman expecting us to change her tire really happened. It really did. I didn’t make it up. I wish I HAD made it up and that the public was a little more reasonable. But if they were, what would I write about?

  • Tobi Schwartz-Cassell November 27, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    Another winner, Roz! Thanks for sharing your misery so that I could have a good laugh. 🙂

  • Isabella November 27, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    I have been guilty of asking librarians strange questions. I once asked one where I could get a passport photo. The librarian very kindly used the web to direct me to the closest CVS. Best – and cheapest photo ID ever. In school, I was told I could go to the library with all my questions. In retrospect, it was probably the only way my homeroom teacher could get a rest. Maybe she had a “Customer Appreciation” game going….

  • Isabella November 27, 2012 at 6:59 pm

    I have been guilty of asking librarians strange questions. I once walked into one to try to find out where to get a passport photo taken. The librarian very kindly used the web to direct me to the closest CVS. Best (and cheapest) photo ID ever. In school, I was told I could go to the library with all my questions. In retrospect, it was probably the only way my homeroom teacher could get a rest. Maybe she had a “Customer Appreciation” game going….

  • andy November 27, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    I guess one good thing about being a teacher is that when the pint-sized members of the public are rude, you get to correct them. “Gimmee a pencil” must be transformed into “May I please have a pencil?” before it gets any results!

  • Mark Lowe November 27, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    Ha! This is wonderful!

  • Roz Warren November 27, 2012 at 6:58 am

    Great comment, TG! Thanks for posting. I’m glad to see I’m not the only person online at 6:00 in the morning.

  • Tobysgirl November 27, 2012 at 6:36 am

    Dear Roz, you should try a shift as a nurse! My husband works on a medical/neuro unit (nights) and gets a lot of drug addicts as patients. He’s had more than one who thought he was a waitress, but I particularly like the one who not only kept ordering food all night long, but had her boyfriend with her in the bed and wanted him to be served as well! How many points should he have gotten?!?

    And now I know where to go to get a flat tire changed!!!


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