I ran into this twice today with two different customers and it's a little strange to me. I almost thought it was just me being aspie and misreading the situation when it happened yesterday, but after today I'm pretty sure it was flirting.

I just don't quite get why a person would feel the need to flirt with someone who's already being paid fairly well to help them. Like it would almost make sense if we were negotiating a price or something, but that isn't the case here, and even then that's ethically questionable.

I'm pretty sure they weren't actually shooting for a date, the repeat offender told me that she was married. And I'm not a great looking guy, not hideous or anything, but definitely not someone who normally attracts an awful lot of that kind of attention.

To be clear, this wasn't a sexual harassment situation. Just light, mostly harmless, flirting. Standing a little too close, batting eyelashes, asking when I'd be working tomorrow sort of stuff.

It's probably relevant that I work for a religious non-profit organization. Flirting would generally be considered inappropriate in the environment.

I guess I'm at a bit of a loss as to why people would flirt in a customer service situation and a little clueless about how to respond. Thus far I've been trying to be friendly, but professional like I usually am. I'm not offended, or looking for a way to make them stop, more looking for some insight into why people do this.

So... If you're someone who has flirted in customer service situations, or someone who still does, why do you do it? What's the goal there?

  • "...why people do this", isn't this opinion-based? Commented Oct 14, 2017 at 5:15
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    @Tycho'sNose is it anymore opinion based than any other question on the site? Also, a question is more than the title, I tried to frame it to ask for responses from people who actually do this themselves.
    – apaul
    Commented Oct 14, 2017 at 5:18
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    @OldPadawan I'm beginning to think that "how" is also opinion-based. I mean if you think about it, there could be more than one "how"s. Commented Oct 14, 2017 at 22:31
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    @Tycho'sNose there's nearly always more than one way to solve an interpersonal problem. Nearly all of our questions are worded "How do I...?" When answering those questions people nearly always go into "why do I..." So, what makes this question meaningfully different?
    – apaul
    Commented Oct 15, 2017 at 4:17
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    *"Why someone does X?" question is discussed here in this meta
    – Vylix
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 2:31

4 Answers 4


The very first comment got it right:

Some people just enjoy flirting. That's probably the extent of it for some people. – curiousdannii

It is simply a 'feel good' activity and apparently circulates certain feel-good hormones or something. It is also usually fairly harmless because the persons are not taking it very seriously anyway.

According to this article in The Telegraph

Meeting pretty women makes men feel good [...] Researchers found that just being in the presence of a pretty member of the opposite sex causes a temporary boost in levels of testosterone and cortisol – both hormones associated with alertness and wellbeing.

I can confirm this feeling, from men's point of view. I have also seen this used as a business promoting tool in private sector hospitals in my hometown that actually employ attractive ladies as 'customer relation officers' simply because it gives a good feeling for middle-aged men and is considered 'good for business' -- as in, the power of suggestion tends to boost revenue in terms of pharmacy sales, optional laboratory tests etc.

It is specifically customers flirting mildly with the attractive service person who is usually a woman, but it's considered 'good for business' as long as people remain within cultural limits of propreity. The customer usually does it as an unconscious response that makes them feel good and boosts their ego. The employee is well aware of the situation and can 'guide' them to spend more money by purchasing not strictly necessary goods and services.

Your situation is just the reverse, but same logic I should assume, @apaul. The women feel safe with you and the harmless romantic behavior may give them a good feeling; since both parties expect it to not lead anywhere it is a 'secure' situation.

It may seem odd if you think 'what's the intent, what's to gain' but not if you see that the activity is its own reward and the mild pleasant 'feel good' kick and ego boost make people to repeat such activities. Some people get the same type of satisfaction not by flirting but by being consciously kind/ helpful/ charitable to others!


I do what works. I am a pretty good read with people. With men, if I think it will garner me more expeditious response, then I will flirt if I think it will help. Other times I might be a raging jerk, and often I am just normal. It really depends on how I read it and typically I start with normal, as I need enough feedback to assess. I am not bothered I do it.

I have honed that skill over many years and my husband even finds it very interesting to observe my many personas when I am trying to "get my way" in a customer based situation. I am never actually hitting on someone, but some people do respond very well to some flirting, and if that person is that type, it can be very useful.

I did not use this professionally as I just thought I'd likely get myself into a situation I did not want. So I can turn it on and off really easily. I also enjoy flirting and, as a married woman, I very seldom have any instance I'd find it appropriate to do that, other than this one. I also flirt a lot with my husband. When I was single I flirted all the time.

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    I was thinking it might be something like this, but they were already "getting their way", which is a big part of why it seemed like an odd thing to do. In any case this is a pretty good explanation +1
    – apaul
    Commented Oct 14, 2017 at 13:17
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    Is it socially acceptable to use flirting as a means of manipulation to get what you want?
    – ESR
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 3:44
  • It's just as acceptable as tipping or any other thing you do to grease the wheels. ;)
    – threetimes
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 6:01

You say you don't understand why a customer might flirt with you because (1) you're being paid to help them, so you don't need any more incentive; and (2) because you don't think they really want to hook up with you.

Most people modify their behaviour to suit different situations. This can be to achieve a goal - sometimes for personal gain, but sometimes for the benefit of others, for example, to make someone else feel more comfortable. There are probably lots of reasons why a customer may flirt with a service provider other than incentivising them to do work they are doing already or actually coming on to them.

For example, I work in a large organisation that has a subsidised restaurant for staff. There are both men and women working behind the counter. I have consistently found that if I mechanically ask for my food, I get a carefully measured portion; but if I smile and make eye contact with the server, I get larger portions - bigger slices, more fries. This isn't just the women but the men too.

Even if your particular retail environment isn't the same as that, some people may believe they'll get better, faster, or preferential service, or maybe even a discount if they are extra-nice to you. That could include deliberately "flirting", or it could just include friendly behaviour that you are interpreting as such.

Or, maybe they are just being nice for no reason. Some people are nice!

I find that more than ever, people have "strategies" when shopping for goods or services. This may because of the rise of centralised service centres where sales rep follow a "script". There are loads of websites that tell you how to subvert this kind of "scripted" conversation for your benefit. Again, I know this may not be the specific environment you work in, but it does go towards explaining why some people behave in particular ways to get a better service, more for their money, or, less selfishly, a more pleasant experience for them and for you.


" ... more looking for some insight into why people do this.".

I have had this happen alone with someone, with other people, and in front of the person's boyfriend.

Sometimes I don't ask and it discontinues shortly after starting (perhaps I misread, but I think not) and other times it continues to the point where it is clear and I answer the question directly.

In instances where I expressed an interest and then they denied doing it and in instances where they displayed such behavior in front of their boyfriend one of us has further inquired or just ignored as best we could.

When you drag the answer out of them it has always been that "they don't know why they did that". If you don't let it go far enough there's a denial of doing it, being more insistent and providing examples simply leads to the same "I don't know" answer.

I'll give you a very brief list of inexplicable behavior: invitation (and repeated insistence) for me to feel her clothing (while in the arms of her boyfriend), coming out of the shower with only a towel (after other incidents) and smiling at me while ignoring her boyfriend, crawling on the floor like an exotic dancer (at my feet, in front of her boyfriend), those sort of inexplicable things (answer being they don't know they are doing it, or they don't know why they did it).

So my answer to you is that it is simply something that some women do semiconsciously, an automatic reaction; a do this and everything will be OK situation - because they always (quite often) do that and look what it's got them.

Any woman who does that is not someone that I would want to date or to explain to children we might have "your mom is simply nasty". I presume it is something that they learned and practiced, now it's second nature - you are not awful thus good enough (say your 'Lounge Lizard Line').

For the other age groups: Most grown men don't do that, teenage guys do it to check their luck. Teenage girls don't do that unless they like you (or are at the start of learning to be non-particular as an adult woman), and women nearing 30-something (varies) don't do it unless there's a good sign it will be reciprocated.

I've seen women with two baby carriages and even 7+ months pregnant women flirt, don't ask me what they're thinking and I've never inquired.

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    – HDE 226868
    Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 13:39

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