Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 134: October 2010)
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Techniques for balance
What prompts me to return to various sources for products and services I need? It's very seldom price, or at least price alone.
I like to be treated as a valuable customer. That means that the restaurant hostess doesn't ignore me while she chats with employees; that the airline isn't trying to charge me to use the rest room or have access to emergency equipment; that the bank isn't assessing fees to accept and keep my money on deposit; and that the call center representative can speak reasonable English and not read me a script.
In many cases, we've all become "transactions" rather than customers. We rave about great customer service and care when we encounter it because it's so darn rare.
If you're paying stiff rates for a hotel room, you shouldn't be assessed a daily fee to use the Internet, any more than you should pay a fee to plug in a phone charger or hair dryer. Theaters realize that people begin arriving more than 30 minutes before a play, so don't keep the doors closed until 20 minutes prior and stop delaying the curtain for 15 minutes after the announced time.
It's not important to know the server's name, which is always announced with such pseudo-camaraderie, but I would like my drink order taken within two minutes of my being seated, and I never want to have to wait ten minutes after requesting the bill.
In a consumer economy, organizations are supposed to provide value. So why don't they view customers as valuable? I can understand Rhode Island's Division of Motor Vehicles forcing people to wait three hours for routine transactions (I am NOT making this up) since they have no competition and the state has never employed a director with the interest or skills to fix this affront to human dignity.
I believe that FedEx values me. I think Apple cares. Singapore Air seems to adore its passengers. Tourneau believes that someone seeking a new watch is a special person. My mailman has a great attitude toward the customers on his route. Amazon appears to believe my business is very important.
It can happen, with organizations or individuals. It's not difficult. It's a matter of perspective and philosophy.
Booming economies create immense competition, and when this economy booms again and people have more choices, they will have zero loyalty to companies that tried to pick their pockets.
Do you know where I go for my automobile transactions? AAA—where membership has its benefits and they apparently think quite highly of their members.
The human condition: Low expectations
I've been taken to task by some blog comments recently which stated that I shouldn't be critical of low-level employees, hourly wage earners (hey, that includes lawyers!), and various menial jobholders because "It's not their fault."
Ironically, these people are more bigoted and condescending than I would ever permit myself to be.
Just because someone isn't earning much money doesn't mean they're somehow damaged or inferior. I expect the girl at the window of Dunkin Donuts or the guy throwing chicken my way at KFC to be intelligent, personable, and competent. How else could they hold down the job or pass the interview? (Politics aside, I loved it when people accused former President Bush II of being "stupid." He learned to fly a jet fighter. How stupid can you be and still do that?)
I expect people to exercise basic competence and interpersonal skills in any job. A highly paid doctor who is arrogant and insufferable is not to be admired for those traits, despite skills with a scalpel. A person who cleans your yard for $20 an hour is to be respected and dealt with civilly, politely, and professionally. Who am I to make judgments based on someone's income? I know quite a few rich, horrible people. I know quite a few economically disadvantaged people who are a pleasure to be around and who perform their work with pride and dignity.
So, aside from stupid management who can put things in the way of any worker in any capacity, front-line people aren't "bottom of the barrel" in my book. To expect less of them is to sink deep into discrimination.
Conversely, when that person treats me rudely, or doesn't know the basics of the job, or shows zero initiative, I condemn them for those behaviors. That has to do with character not with W2 forms.
To critique me for being condescending when a low-wage earner is simply not competent, when the accuser is stipulating that the very aspect of being a low wage earner is reason to excuse the assumed incompetence, isn't just the pot calling the kettle black.
It shows you can be stupid even though you have the skills to use a computer and write to a blog!
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"What are you talking about?" I said, reaching down, "I have your materials right here!"
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