Jenna Naulls is her name; Fringe is her game. Jenna’s Fringe show, How May I Hate You?, is a a comedic satire about the customer service industry and is playing at the Robert Gil Theatre. We spoke with Jenna about her real-life customer service experiences.

What was the worst customer service situation you ever experienced?

I was once working at a customer service desk where we registered people into programs (swimming, soccer, etc). A lady came up to the desk and asked me to register her into a swim class that was already full with a pretty long waitlist. After trying to convince me to bend the rules and put her child in (which I did not do), she walked away and came back with the kid. She had prepped him to tell me that he was sad because I wasn’t letting him into the class, and that he would really appreciate it if a nice lady like me could make his dreams come true. When I kindly explained to him that there was no way I could let him go to the class, she winked at him and he started to cry. As I tried to calm him down, she told him I hated him and all children and that I was a devil woman. True story.

Is that what sparked the decision to write a play about it? If not, what did?

While the story definitely makes a feature in our play, it’s not the sole reason we decided to write it. When we sat down to write this play we didn’t know what we wanted to write about. We noticed over the course of the early weeks that we were often complaining about poor customer service we received or crazy customers we encountered. Then the light bulb went off! We’ve been customers (and probably obnoxious ones at that), and we’ve been in customer service positions (and we’ve seen our fair share of frustrating, hilarious and unbelievable situations). We decided to create a piece that shows all sides of the customer service industry, using stories from our own experiences and from people that we interviewed. And here we are!

What happens to you (i.e., mentally, physically) when you’re put on hold by Rogers or Air Canada for 60 minutes?

I consider myself a fairly patient person, but there is nothing worse than being put on hold for an hour. I feel like when it happens, I’m like Bruce Banner. I start off relatively calm and with a list of things to talk about, ready to be reasonable. Slowly the alternating intervals of slow jazz, static and unrecognizable top 40 music start to make me get restless. By the end of the 60 minutes, I’ve turned full Hulk and I’m screaming at the person on the phone. They turn me into a monster!!!

What is unacceptable behaviour in a Starbucks lineup?

Outwardly huffing about the wait time, talking obnoxiously loud on your cell phone, negatively commenting on other peoples orders, starting a verbal fight, starting a physical fight, etc. (These are all things I’ve seen!)

What kind of order makes your blood boil?

When I worked at Starbucks, I had a regular come in and ask for an Americano filled up between the U and the C on the cup. He would then sit it down and carefully investigate it (using, might I add, a pre-marked ruler), and if it exceeded the boundaries of the two letters even a little, he would dump it out in front of you and make you do it again.

The moral of that story is that the orders that make my blood boil are the ones that are complicated for the sake of being complicated, made by people who have no empathy for the people who may make a small mistake on their outrageous order.

What good behaviour can change your entire day? (e.g., Once when my baby was crying, I went to two coffee shops. At the first one, the barista muttered, “I hate babies. I hate working the early shift,” under his breath. At the second coffee shop, a guy turned to me and said, “What a wonderful sound.”)

AKNOWLEDGE MY PRESENCE!!! It feels so simple to me to smile, say hi, and ask someone how their day is going. It’s wild how many times I walk into a coffee shop to be greeted, not by a warm hello, but by someone with a stank-face leaning up against the counter chatting with their friends. Sometimes I can walk around the store for an entire 10 minutes and nobody will talk to me! Sometimes I even feel like I’d rather have an obnoxious salesperson attempt to sell me products I absolutely don’t need – at least then I wouldn’t feel so awkward in the store. Maybe that makes me sound like an old conservative grandmother, but come on! When somebody takes the time to look up, smile and ask me how I’m doing, I instantly feel comfortable in the store.

When it comes to customer service, what do you want to tell the world?

I guess I want to tell the world that everyone is human. It is ridiculously hard in today’s society to get a full time “career” job based on your field of studies. (Hard is the wrong word – it is virtually impossible.) The people who are working in these jobs are not just 16-year-old first-timers who are saving for a new outfit from Abercrombie. These jobs are now also filled with experienced, knowledgeable and over-qualified people who unfortunately have to resort back to customer service jobs to ensure an income. So have empathy; everyone is working to live and survive, and while it’s incredibly frustrating as a customer to feel like you’ve been wronged or underserved, just think about why the person is working there in the first place. And for the employees out there – as hard as it may be to make it through the day, a smile goes a long way.

Anything else you’d like to share about the hospitality/customer service industry?

To summarize: for employees, managers and customers alike: don’t be a d-bag – it’s not worth it. AND, find the humour in the frustration; it makes everything a little easier.

Check out How May I Hate You? starting next week at Fringe! Dates below:

Fri, July 3: 1:45-2:34PM
Sat, July 4: 5:45-6:45PM
Sun, July 5: 7:30-8:30PM
Tues, July 7: 9:00-10:00PM
Wed, July 8: 4:15-5:15PM
Sat, July 11th: 3:30-4:30PM
Sun, July 12th: 2:45-3:45PM