Just six weeks into his job at the campus bookstore, junior math major Michael Murrieta has already heard every four-letter word muttered under the breaths of disgruntled customers.
“Everyone is paying hundreds of dollars for books,” Murrieta said. “They’re already irritated [by the time they get to the register]. I hear so many curses and mutters.”
Like Murrieta, many students are starting or looking for new jobs to cover the inevitable expenses of a new school year. The vast majority of the jobs these students will land – or have already landed – are in customer service.
In the world of customer service, it’s nearly impossible to predict what your day-to-day experience will be.
“Some people are just crazy. You don’t know what’s going to happen,” Mary O’Rourke, a sophomore criminal justice major, said while reflecting on her former job at a drugstore.
“One time this girl bought Christmas candy [but] didn’t want it anymore, so she threw it at us,” she said.
Despite her negative experiences, O’Rourke made friends with some customers and suggested other students take on customer service jobs.
Ben Hollis, a senior magazine journalism major, also recommends a customer service position to his peers. But for the three years that he worked as a bank teller and customer service representative, he said he rarely made friends with the customers.
“One of my friends [at work] smiled at this woman and she said he was being ‘smug,'” Hollis said.
Senior music performance major Michael Greco stands by his former position as an Acme cashier. His job offered a perk uncommonly found in part-time student jobs.
“They have really good student benefits,” Greco said. “You can get up to $1,000 dollars a year for classes.”
But for some, money doesn’t affect which customer service position they choose. Murrieta works at the campus bookstore for minimum wage, but enjoys job for other reasons.
“It’s close to school,” Murrieta said. “I just walk out of class, walk in [the store] and put on my red shirt.”
During the last few weeks, Murrieta worked some unpleasant shifts.
“Prices are wrong all the time. [You’re] fighting a lot with customers [and] you always have to keep a smile on your face, so it’s hard,” he said.
This need to keep a smile on your face regardless of how you truly feel has a specific psychological term.
“This suppression of feelings is called emotion labor,” said Dr. Donald A. Hantula, a professor of industrial and organizational psychology. “It is very difficult to regulate emotions and very tiring. That is why customer service employees report being very tired. They aren’t tired because they’re lifting heavy things. They’re tired because they’re regulating their emotions.”
Hantula believes that customer service jobs are neither positive nor negative for college students. “They just exist,” he said.
Adjunct economics professor J. Tucker Taylor, however, said he thinks these jobs have a positive influence on students.
“I think it’s good practice for young people to have jobs [in which] they have to paste smiles on their faces despite annoyance,” Taylor said. “It teaches self-control. It’s an excellent experience.”
Morgan Zalot can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.