First Day At Work, 2 December 2019
I remember on my very first day at work, reporting for duty at my first paid job, I was filled with an acute sense of weirdness.
Today I would only work for 4 hours from 2-6pm, and my bosses would evaluate my abilities and decide if I could officially become their staff.
But it didn’t matter. I was working!
After years and years of either “barely breathing” in school, or burying my head in model test papers and reference books at home, days after my SPM, I walked into the hub of Midvalley Megamall – centre court – with Christmas songs playing and people chattering while taking photos of the gigantic teddy bears, and christmas trees decorated this year with the most cute mooses — carefully approaching a little wooden makeshift booth that would become my second home for the rest of the month of December.
A big sign that said “Matchy & Co” hung above keychains, stationery sets and travel wallets displayed below, all available in an array of colours and designs. I was told to put my little backpack in the cupboard behind the booth, and as I was trying to find a place to put my bag amongst the even more impressive stacks of wallets, I saw a lady sitting on a chair at a flimsy wooden table, which was really part of the booth, handling a little machine that I did not yet know what it was for.
Then I was told to stand in front of the booth, and Viv, the lady whom I had contacted through whatsapp, told me the prices and promotion set offers for the items, all of which I had to write down and eventually memorise. It was a very slow process, because business goes on as usual and Viv had to attend to the customers. When Viv was busy, I admired the products on display and marveled at the bright colours – but more than that, I felt acutely aware of how strange it was to be standing in front of a booth at midvalley, but instead of facing in to make a purchase, I was facing out to promote these items. After a while, in a flurry of aggressive but friendly promoting, when I was seen standing there doing nothing while everyone was working so hard, I was prompted to start selling by my colleagues.
“I haven’t finished learning all the prices.” I reminded, feeling maybe more than a bit worried. They explained that the best way to memorise the prices fast is actually to start selling. I soon realised what they meant when I tried to sell.
“How much is this wallet?” Someone would ask, and I would try to as inconspiciously as possible slip out my a-bit-too-big notebook, under the dubious eyes of a customer, as I err-d and umm-d to fill the awkward silences. Flip, flip goes the pages. “This is 60 ringgit,” I would reply. “And how about this?” and I would fumble with the notebook again, and state the price again, as robotic as the price-checking machines you find at Ace, the hardware store. But do that three times and it starts to stick in your head, and soon it becomes easy and effortless.
Soon my superior Viv saw that I was not making much progress, and she came over to train me while all the human beings were busy having their lunch – during the quieter period. Earlier, she had told me to aim to approach 10 customers an hour, and make a tick on my notebook for every customer I approached. Under pressure to perform, I made sure I exceeded this minimum by far, walking up to promote to every human being that walked pass, until it surprised my bosses. However, one thing was not under my control: my closing rate. (=how many customers I actually successfully converted to buyers).
Viv picked up a product. “I’m your customer now. Miss, may I know how much is this passport holder?”
“RM40.” I replied smoothly, happy that she happened to choose the only product that I had managed to memorise so far.
“If I buy this travel pouch and this wallet, will I get a discount?”
My eyes snapped down to my notebook and up again, swiftly. “Yes, that will be RM 90 in total.” Not too much hesitation. Still ok.
“Can’t I get them for RM 80?” Cass, the lady who had interviewed me, asked. “Tell your boss lah. It’s only RM 10 cheaper. Can one lah. Ask your boss.” Cass eyed me challengingly.
“Cannot.” I replied curtly, caught by surprise. “It’s already discounted.” Cass laughed.
“You can’t say it that way,” she grinned. “You can’t just say: ‘Cannot.’ You can say it in a more friendly manner. ‘Sorry, sir, it’s actually already discounted you know! Originally, the price for both items totals up to (how much). I am unable to give you a further discount, if not my boss will deduct from my salary!’ and then the customers will smile.”
For the rest of the month I would be reminded again and again to smile more, speak louder, and say things and make conversation that help the customers feel comfortable. Gradually, it dawned on me that this was not simply customer service; I was learning the abstract skills involved in terms of human interaction, and it is not something you can obtain from textbooks. It is an area that I have been especially lacking in practice, and the advice I get from my superiors, who are a great mix of strict and friendly, is eye opening. With each new day at work for the rest of December 2019, meeting people young and old, alone or in groups, mothers with kids and men just off work, foreigners from the US, Hong Kong, China, Australia, Korea, Saudi Arabia and Singapore, and little boys and girls who would tug at my jeans and call me “姐姐” (big sister), my heart would open just a little bit more to the prospect of temporary but meaningful friendship.
In the next hour, I sold to two customers, to the delight of my colleagues, and I was told at the end of my probation that I would probably be accepted to work with them for the rest of the month. I’m really happy for that!