The other day, a guy in front of me at the local convenience store asked the clerk for 10 dollars of regular gas on pump 87. Well, you guessed it; 87 was the octane rating. The clerk didn’t blink. She just asked the guy to point out his car so she could punch in the right pump number. Not a smirk, not a snicker, not even the suggestion of a smile. Me, I might have had to have a little fun with it. I mean, not overt ridicule, but how do you let something like that slide by?

Well, according to Calvin Sun, tact is necessary in the face of customer blunders. As he points out in his article “Your customers could be smarter than you think,” poking fun at clueless users doesn’t really move you toward a solution or help build rapport. Not only that, the problem is often ours, not theirs. We rush to judgment (LOOO-zer), which prevents us from understanding what we’re being told or detecting a nuance that would reveal that what the customer is saying isn’t really stupid after all.

Well okay, sometimes, as with Mr. Octane, they ARE being stupid. A little. But either way, the burden of tact and problem resolution still sits squarely on our shoulders. A bit of compassion doesn’t hurt, either, when customers are clearly doing their best to grasp a situation. If we can josh them through an embarrassing moment, so much the better. If we have to suppress our amusement and share our anecdotes among our peers, that’s okay, too. Just as long as we don’t forget our own (often spectacularly moronic) gaffes.