How a bookshop wolf handles awkward customers

By Dhruti Shah
BBC News

Published
image copyrightAnne Barnetson/CustomerServiceWolf.com
image captionAnne Barnetson uses humour to show how to defuse situations that can make people feel bad

We've all heard of the saying "the customer is always right" but when you work in service industries, what can you do to vent your frustration when the customer is rather annoying?

Whether it's children running riot, requests for the most obscure information, or just plain rude customers, Australian bookshop worker Anne Barnetson has faced it all. But she's come up with a rather novel way of dealing with such awkward situations.

Anne is the creator of Customer Service Wolf, a comic found on Instagram and Tumblr. It gives a humorous anthropomorphic take on life dealing with strangers turning up in bookshops with strange requests.

image copyrightAnne Barnetson/CustomerServiceWolf.com
image captionThe wolf is supposed to represent the "everyman" and show a whole range of experiences felt by those in customer service

The images can have a bite to them. Some show the wolf getting so frustrated with unfair demands and indecision that it ends up bounding over the counter and eating the customers, who tend to be rabbits, birds and other prey.

"It's unenacted fantasies that I think people have after a very long day when they think: 'It would just be great to stop all this right now,'" laughs Anne, who lives and works in Perth, Western Australia.

She is, however, keen to stress that she's a lot more polite in real life and the interactions shown are very much exaggerated.

This is a bit of a relief as one of the more icky comics shows a creature seeking a (made up as far as we can tell) book called Chicken Soup for the Soul: Urine Therapy for Tweens, second edition. The wolf worker's reaction is one of sheer unadulterated horror.

image copyrightAnne Barnetson/CustomerServiceWolf.com
image captionAnne says she would probably recommend barbecue recipe books to any wolves that turned up in the bookshops she works in

Anne says: "The idea came about when I was working at a bookstore with a good friend and we had nicknames for each other. I was 'Flying Wolf' and she was 'Black Wolf'. She said: 'Wouldn't it be funny if savage predators worked in retail and they could just eat the customers that really irritated them?'"

image copyrightAnne Barnetson/CustomerServiceWolf.com
image captionThe first comic was created for Anne's friend as a gift

She drew the first strip for her friend in 2012 - an interaction between a wolf worker and an indecisive rabbit - but soon realised that she had a whole hoard of experiences to unleash upon the world.

Anne says it's far safer to draw the characters as animals. "It gave me free rein to be as humorous and rude as I liked about the interactions I've had with my customers. I'd hate to actually upset anyone."

image copyrightAnne Barnetson/CustomerServiceWolf.com
image captionThe comments on the comic strip tend to reflect similar experiences other workers have had

However, she does have friends and colleagues who turn up in the comics.

"Dr Fox is always happy when he sees himself. Manager Wolf is another repeat character. You can pick him out because he wears a tie, which my boss used to find hilarious. He didn't wear a tie, but still it's about representing middle management."

Anne hasn't revealed which bookshops she works in, although she is now starting to get recognition because of the comic strip.

"Thank goodness no-one has pointed out themselves and said: 'Oh, I'm going to sue for defamation or anything,'" she says.

People who comment on her strips often share their own experiences. "On my first shift in a bookstore, a lady asked for an orange book but she couldn't remember the title. Or summary. Just 'big orange book'," says one fellow bookshop worker.

"My favourite record store repeat request. 'You know that love song they're always playing on the radio. You must know it. They play it all the time,'" another reader comments.

image copyrightAnne Barnetson/CustomerServiceWolf.com
image captionAnne, a professional illustrator, hopes the comic strip will eventually lead to a book deal

But what does Anne personally do when dealing with difficult customers, apart from store up the experiences to use as inspiration for the comics?

"I've found that if you're in customer service, people can be a little condescending or just assume you don't have feelings or will be very impatient. The ones that still make me feel horrible when I think about them are those where I've been properly yelled at, usually by a man.

"I am definitely not as quick as the wolf. I stumble, get quite awkward, and then fume about it for hours, days and weeks afterwards.

"That's what's so nice about living out the fantasy in the wolf comics - they are completely instinctual, specialised animals that are quick to act and they don't think about it.

"But of course, being human is much more awkward, complicated and difficult."

All images courtesy of Anne Barnetson/CustomerServiceWolf.com

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