Friday, July 21, 2006

Customer-Service Musings...

I called in sick for my trip yesterday. I had a hoarse throat and the beginnings of a cold so I finally made the decision to call in. I was losing my voice toward the end of the flight. But it wasn’t just the physical ailments…I needed a bit of a mental break as well…The whole customer service thing is…or CAN BE a drag. It can be a twisted sort of mentality that allows the rationalization of total ownership of a front-line employee because one is parting coin for a service. If you have a problem with the product or the service from another area, why rip into the front-line person? THEY personally didn’t cause your problem. But indignant customers will harrumph that while you wear the company colors, you ARE the company…So I guess you have bear all of this unsavory behavior: exasperation, rudeness, ignorance, and just plain lack of social graces. And you have to be civil even though this behavior on an equal level out on the street would earn some of these folks a slap upside the head. Well, see…that’s the thing. When someone considers you an EQUAL or at least ANOTHER, you’re on even ground. There is a tolerant live-and-let-live mentality. But put someone in a uniform representing a company or a service, suddenly there’s this tacit, unconscious understanding that the customer OWNS that person. That they have the right to show you the nasty side of their nature because, by God, they paid for the right to do so. I’ve heard some people who have swallowed the customer-service Kool-Aid that it takes a certain gentility, kindness, and passion to serve others. Fair enough. I’ll give Miss Manners that one. But this point only holds water when the servee understands that the server is a PERSON and not a menial. He and she will do their best to anticipate your needs and the customer will APPRECIATE that you’re providing a service…or trying to. Well, there are MANY people that DON’T appreciate it. They’ve rented a servant and he/she should hop to it, smiling at whatever indignity they’re slung with because after all, THE CUSTOMER is paying their salary and for the wonderful experience of being humbled and belittled as a bonus. Miss Manners predicted that service would be getting worse in the Twenty-First Century. Because Serving Others would increasingly be seen as demeaning and humiliating and not the gentle art that it actually is…And I think she’s right. For my OWN part, whenever someone says someone rude, crass, stupid, or gauche to ME, I’m trying not to respond at all. The silence usually says it all. One passenger asked me on a flight if I was going to be a good mood this time. Okay, maybe she was on a former flight where I was wigging out. Fair enough. But it’s not the way to start things off on a brand new foot, is it? So I handed her the headset and didn’t answer…later she apologized and explained that she was trying to be funny and NOT be smart. “Okay”, I replied. And that was that. That’s the approach I want to keep using: Trying to be kind and ignoring all things that annoy or provoke me. This can work in my occupation since I don’t work for tips. I could NEVER be a waiter. They almost have to SURVIVE on generous servings on indignity. So I’m sparing a thought for THEM…GaP

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