Bitchface and Customer Service

Mom: "Stop making that face."
Me: "I'm not making a face!"
Mom: "You are making a face. Stop it."
Me: "Mom, I promise I am not making a face."
Mom: "You had better get that face off before I smack it off."

And thus the conversation that occurred on a regular basis from age 8 through...well, I was going to say 18, but it occasionally pops back up, and I'm beyond 30.

I suffer from the worst non-health-threatening affliction a public service person can have. (It's not so peachy to deal with in my regular non-work life either, but it has more repercussions in worklife.)

My name is Colleen, and I suffer from bitchface.

My face, when I am concentrating on something other than how I look to other people (like reading, or spreadsheets, or complicated conversations) falls into an unfortunate cascade of down-turned mouth and frowny-forehead that I simply refer to as bitchface. The look can be interpreted as angry. Or that I am patently unimpressed. The truth? I didn't realize you were looking at me, and I forgot to put my "public face" on.

It sounds silly, but this is something that folks who work a public service desk have to be pretty conscientious about. My usual face would probably prevent a skittish freshman from asking me for help, and give someone a perception of library service that I certainly don't want to them to have. I try to be conscious of my face during meetings with colleagues so that my default thinking face doesn't make them think I am dismissing them out of hand.

So yes, when I work either of our service desks, I'm a little more "up" than usual; I try to be conscious of how I'm working my facial muscles. Long stints on the desk make my face hurt the way it did during sorority rush, or the way it hurts after I visit my best friend after a long absence.

This came up because my instructional design class was discussing performance measurement standards, and some classmates asked me how you develop such things for public service desks. Words like "alert," "engaged," and "friendly demeanor" are a little vague for the purposes of the assignment in class, which want specific measurements. Since (once upon a time, not too long ago, but sort of far away)I had to engage in discipline with a staff member who could not curb the sourpuss while on the service desk, it's interesting to think about - and it makes me wonder how other service providing companies define the physical aspect of customer service.

I won't dictate that staff have to smile (that makes my face hurt after awhile), but defining "approachable" and "alert and engaged" behaviors is not just an empty exercise to me with this class. It's a genuine exercise in figuring out how to generate a management tool with as much clarity as possible. Even if I can't use the word "bitchface" in actual HR paperwork.

And now, I'm off to work the desk with my SparkleSelf persona.


looloolooweez said…
It's sort of weird how some of us have to "fix" our faces in order to neutrally/pleasantly interact with people. I'm constantly being asked, "Are you worried? Why are you sad?" when all I'm doing is resting my face and while reading or whatever.

I was reading something earlier today about the subject (I've been trying to track it down again for the past 5 min, no luck) in which the author proposed that extroverts seem to automatically arrange their faces/body language to encourage people to approach while introverts just don't seem to notice & have to concentrate on doing so. Do you think that's true?
Colleen said…
Weez - I think that explanation makes sense; as I understand it, introverts get their energy from internal mechanisms while extroverts get it from external sources. I imagine if you are thinking "outside," you present a face to welcome/encourage the outside world, whereas if you're lost in a book or your own thoughts, there's less unconscious consideration of how others might perceive you. And I do score as an introvert...maybe I can give that to mom as the reason for my "making a face" *grin*
laura k said…
I, too, suffer from Bitchface. Which makes it hard to make friends because people tend to think I am, well, a bitch. Also, I instinctively cross my arms when I'm sitting, or standing, or walking, or breathing. My whole everything is basically Don't Talk To Me. It's quite sad.
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Anonymous said…
Thank you for posting this; now I know it's not just me.

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