Thursday, June 08, 2006

Fair’s Fair

Mark Dorroh

There’s a lot of chatter about the coarsening of modern America culture, most of it justified. I, happily, have stumbled upon an anti-coarsening protocol you may find useful. Give it a 90-day trial in your own home.

It works like this: when you are given proper, respectful and professional service, take a moment and report your experience to the service person’s supervisor.

Try it. You simply won't believe the rewards which accrue to you and your fellow human beings.

The patent on this idea was taken out years ago by, among others, Jesus Christ and the great Confucian philosopher Mencius, so I'm not claiming royalties. I just want to see it spread like kudzu, that's all.

Like many great discoveries, this one came about as the result of random circumstances. Monday, our telephone line worked fine until about midday, then the dial tone disappeared and attempts to call in were met with a busy signal.

Tuesday morning, I called our service provider’s 800 number and, following my interaction with the voicemail system, explained our plight to a live agent, one “Maria.”

Yes, we had tried the outside service box test with a plug-in phone, and no, that had not yielded a dial tone. Maria then asked if the test had been conducted at least 30 minutes after all computers, faxes and phones in our home had been disconnected. When I told her it had not, her joy was unbounded.

“Try that, and if it doesn’t get your dial tone back, we’ll send a service representative at no cost to you,” she said. “Get back to me, okay?”

In days gone by, I would simply have said, “Thank you, Ma’am,” and hung up. But in days gone by, good professional service was far more prevalent in the American workplace. That’s because in the old days, most Americans earned their livings making things or growing things or catching things or mining things. But the mammoth workforce shift from production to service has thrown a lot of us into a sector for which some are temperamentally unsuited.

A lot of workers who would be perfectly competent at growing corn or striking out widgets on a factory press now have jobs in which they deal with the general public eight hours a day. A production worker has to get along with his foreman, shop steward and coworkers.

A service person has to get along with any geek who calls on the phone or shows up at his work station.

And geeks they are, on a distressingly regular a basis. A friend of mine who joyously served the public for decades put it this way; “I’ll tell ya, these people ask some hellacious stupid questions.”

Having served the public in one capacity or other for most of my adult life, I can confirm the truth of his assessment. But, like him, I also get enough of a kick out of people (and enjoy my jobs enough) to be tolerant.

Anybody, especially when trying to get something fixed, is liable to panic and make an ignorant inquiry or two. So we who understand the dynamics of relationships get in the habit, early on, of treating everyone like a friendly stranger who speaks a different language.

That’s what Maria did for me. In spite of my abysmal ignorance of her area of expertise, she was patient and pleasant.

So instead of saying “thank you” and hanging up, I asked for her name, then said I’d like to tell her supervisor how well she’d done at her job. She was surprised and grateful; I was blasé.

“Hey, if you’d screwed up, you can bet I’d be telling your boss about that ... and fair’s fair,” I said.

It took about one minute out of my life to wait for her boss to come on the line, deliver my message and go on my way.

Since most of his referrals from downstairs are complaints, he was delighted to hear from me. He promised to put a complimentary note in Maria’s file, and I thanked him for that too.

In the space of a few minutes I made all three of us feel good, rewarded a worker with a heartfelt “attagirl” and made the world a marginally more genteel place in which to work and live.

Imagine a society in which everyone did likewise.

Take your time.

Savor it.

For the record, Maria’s solution worked like a charm. This fact bolsters my core belief that “all good things come to him who is considerate.”

So here’s the deal: You’ve got your marching orders and a 90-day free trial. Now, let’s go out and save the world, one harried service person at a time.

Come on, don't make me beg. Because I will.

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