Serious Question: Which Workers Are Worse, TSA Agents or Ikea Staff?

July 16, 2012  |  

This weekend I had one of the most unsuccessful moves ever in life—and consequently stories for days—but all was not lost, unlike the time I spent trying to call moving companies after I was bailed on twice. I came away from my excursion learning one valuable thing: I need to get a job at Ikea because the people that work there don’t. do. ish. On top of that, I started engaging in a legitimate mental debate regarding the level of service I did not receive which left me asking this, which workers are worse, TSA agents or Ikea staffers?

The reason TSA workers came to mind is because I’ve always been curious why every TSA worker no matter the city or state seems to be cut from the same rude cloth. Every time I fly, I come across agents of the same ilk—nasty, pushy, impolite, sarcastic, and of the general mind frame that their day would be much better if you, as in the passenger that ensures they get to eat and have a roof over their heads, wasn’t there in the airport. This weekend as I flew from Detroit to New York I remember being pleasantly surprised by the time I got my final things off the security conveyor belt—there was no foolishness. No one smacked their mouth, huffed, puffed, or berated the passengers through the line, and unfortunately that was a rare occurrence because I couldn’t even recall another time where I hadn’t gotten to my gate and literally shaken my head at the lack of service extended to people spending hundreds of dollars to go from one destination to another.

I can easily recall the worst display of service I’d ever seen though. I can’t remember the airport but once there was a woman who didn’t want to go through the new x-ray machines and so she wanted to have the extended pat-down. When one agent referred the message to the one who would actually be doing it, they huffed and remarked that there’s always one and proceeded to complain about having to do more work and why the woman was dumb for not going through the machine, and on and on, and on. The passenger was just within an earshot and eventually remarked, “I can hear you.” Do you think they cared? Please, they looked at her and said, “We know” and continued the conversation with no regard for her or their jobs. At that point, I conceded the TSA has to be last in the world in terms of customer service, but after making my second major Ikea hall in the last year this Saturday, I’m thinking their staff could give the TSA a run for their money. A quick Google search will tell you many people agree.

Admittedly, the first time I went into an Ikea store I was totally ignorant, and I do mean totally. I showed up with a printout of the items I wanted and thought someone was going to pull those things for me. Ha! If there was one finger lifted by an Ikea worker that day it was the index one, pointing me in the direction of the showroom floor so I could have at it all by my lonesome. This meant picking up boxes, that in my opinion require a lifting belt and the assistance of someone who does this for a living, but at Ikea you better come ready to work because the actual staff will not.

During my very first trip I had to get a bed, mattress, box spring, couch, entertainment center, and other odds and ends. If you’re familiar with this Swedish den of manual labor, you already know those boxes are nowhere near light, most items come in more than one package, and those carts aren’t that big. So, after I had filled one cart, I asked whether someone might be able to assist me with the others things I needed off the shelves since a) I couldn’t see over or around my cart at this point, b) I really wasn’t interesting in being found smashed under a pile of lumbar, and c) I thought the desk indicating a help center was literal. I was told by a crew member that I should go checkout with the items I had, leave them chilling somewhere on the sidelines once they were purchased and hope no one ran off with them, and then go back and get the rest of my things if I had more to purchase. Seriously? After coaxing, i.e. begging, another worker to help me and promising it would be quick, I managed to purchase my things in one fell swoop. But after my experience this weekend, I’ve learned customer service just isn’t the Ikea way.

My item list was much smaller this time around but with every product coming in two or three boxes, my cart was getting stacked quickly. Again I found myself asking for assistance, just to put a box on top of all of my others not to actually shop for me. The worker I approached looked at me and said, “Someone should be on that aisle.” And if they aren’t ? I thought as I made my way over to the aisle and sure enough found that they weren’t (as suspected).  Ironically, as I struggled to lift something more than 50 pounds while simultaneously trying to keep my cart from rolling away from me, that same worker came down the aisle I was in. Do you think he stopped to assist? Negative. He walked by me with a look on his face that said “good luck” and kept it moving.

The people on the showroom floor aren’t the only ones who are a trip. I’m really not even sure why there are employees stationed at computers in every home section because nine times out of 10, they are going to pretend like they don’t hear you, give you a one-word answer to a complicated query, or respond to you with an attitude seemingly asking, why are you bothering me, as if their yellow and blue striped shirts and nametags didn’t answer that question.

I understand certain things are outside of the realm of one’s job duties but why are you even there if you’re not going to help at all. Is that supposed to be a tease? Do they not see women lifting extremely heavy things by themselves as a liabiliy of some sort regardless of it being a warehouse? Not to mention we’ve all witnessed employees from other retailers who take the service aspect of being a customer service worker at least literally, if not above and beyond to actually help shopping customers. Not at Ikea. I can’t even count how many people I watched struggle in the loading dock to put things in their car as employees—with lifting belts—stood by and watched with no sympathy or inclination to offer a lifting hand. That’s not just a personality thing, that’s a store culture issue going on there that I feel is aimed toward getting people to just pay that $99 delivery fee and be done with it. Or perhaps their workers are just trained at the same place as the TSA agents. I thought that even more so as I found the security guard making sure I didn’t steal anything catching a ‘tude with me. Initially he thought I only had the couple items in my hand, then when I said I had also purchased the cart full of things behind me he smacked his mouth, widened his eyes and said, “dang” as he regrettably checked my purchases. It took everything in me not to remind him that if I could lift all that stuff and put it on a cart by myself, surely he could manage to count items on a receipt and make sure the number was equal to the amount on my cart. It’s not rocket science so in other words, chill bruh.

The bottom line is, to my knowledge there’s only one area of Ikea that is self-serve so why no one outside of that area thinks to offer any assistance when requested is beyond me. I’m thinking it’s probably because Ikea already knows it has its customers right where they want them. As long as you can furnish an entire apartment with modern things for under $1,000 people will keep putting up with the lip-smacking, neck-jerking, an eye-rolling self-service, the same way we do with flying until someone comes up with a better intervention to get us across the country swiftly without someone going off because we have a certain preference or don’t fly the non-friendly skies every day. Le sigh. I guess some things are just par for the course.

What retailer or industry do you think has the worst customer service across the board?

Brande Victorian is the news and operations editor for madamenoire.com. Follow her on twitter @Be_Vic.

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