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  • Writer's pictureKevin Lamport

Customer service - in 1000 Words or Less

The other day a friend of some 40 years picked me up at the airport. We exchanged the usual patter…

“How are you?”

“Okay. How’s it with you?”

“Same as always.”

Then we moved on to other stuff, because it was a typical everyday conversation and after 40 years, nothing else needed to be said. But, for some reason, this brief conversation raised two atypical thoughts.

First, it reminded me of a different conversation I had years ago, in which I maintained, “How are you?” (in the same context as above), was synonymous with, “Hello.” It wasn’t an invitation to, you know, tell me how you’re doing. The person I was speaking to said, “In that case, say ‘Hello.’ Don’t ask the question if you don’t want an answer.”

We agreed to disagree, which segues nicely into plot point two:

Of all the people who could have asked me that question, my friend at the airport is one of the few whom I feel I could answer honestly, as long as I followed some unspoken ground rules:

Kept my answer brief,

Didn’t sound as if I was complaining,

Cursed liberally while answering, especially if politicians were involved and,

Made sure my answer didn’t come across as overly sensitive.

I said, “Actually, to be honest, the world is wearing me out.”

Life’s good. Let’s get that on record right now. I have a job I don’t hate, a wife whose company I usually enjoy, and family who I like and who thankfully live far enough away I seldom see them. Perfect.

What I’m talking about are the little irritants that occur in the world every day and act on my spirit as irreversibly as dripping water or blowing sand.

So-called customer service is easily one of those irritants.

I went into a Benjamin Moore store in the town in which I live for a paint sample. I believe in shopping locally and it’s a convenient seven-minute drive from my house. The clerk was a young lady of, I’m guessing, no more than twenty-two. Her boredom and lack of interest in helping me were so obvious she might as well have shouted, “I’m bored and have no interest in helping you.” Two minutes after walking into the store, I told her I’d go thirty minutes down the road to Home Depot.

Benjamin Moore would have been horrified.

A few days later, I checked in for the first of two flights that would take me to my above-mentioned friend’s town. The passenger service agent didn’t say a word in greeting, other than, “Where are you going?” She refused to look at me or acknowledge me as anything but a carbon-unit on the other side of the counter. I felt as though I was bothering her or interupting.

“Excellent Customer Service” has become annoying white noise, a phrase often repeated but seldom acted upon, mostly because it isn’t immediately profitable and its execution is often hamstrung by middle managers overly protective of their positions, or employees (frequently young ladies like the two I mentioned), who are ill-suited to front-line positions and too self-involved to realize the price of my airline ticket or quart of semi-gloss is helping to pay their rent.

If these aren’t out-of-reach itchy spots in the middle of your back, I don’t know what are.

You might say, “Small shit. Get over it! There are bigger issues!”

You’re right. I agree. These are insignificant issues in the great scheme of things, except like penny stocks with fifty percent profit margins, this never-ending shit-stream adds up exponentially. For argument’s sake though, we can touch on the big stuff…

Politically we’re lucky in North America. We have an imbecile and an incompetent as leaders, both who are fucking up so spectacularly I’ll be dead and buried before the catastrophes they’re creating can be repaired. Think about that…we’re lucky. We could have Kim Jong-un, Bashar al-Assad, Robert Mugabe, or Nicolas Maduro sailing the ship.

Environmentally, the earth has become a garbage dump, this despite the fact that technology is out there that would fix many of the problems.

Economically, we’re only one significant event away from destitution, either natural like the Big One on the west coast, or man-made, and if you don’t believe that, think back to the days after 9/11.

Socially, we’re farther away than ever from a world of peace and harmony because, sorry folks, integration doesn’t work and the proof of that lies in the countless terror attacks the world continues to experience.

Issues such as these are often too huge to wrap our hands around, which is why most of us focus on the smaller day to day irritants, like the myth that is customer service.

When I checked in for my second flight, the agent was again, another young lady. From her counter, she could see the lineup to the security checkpoint (don’t get me started on the cluster-fuck that is airport security), and she remarked on the length of the line. Then, because she knew I was an airline employee like herself, she smiled and put a Fast-Pass sticker on my boarding pass.

I dislike how these never-ending irritants multiply like Ebola, making me both uncontrollably abrupt and impatient. I’d rather not be pessimistic about the future and cynical with those who claim they’re working on my behalf. Changing that conversation won’t be easy but perhaps starting small is the way to go. Maybe next time someone asks how I’m doing I’ll say, “…this wonderful young lady at the airport gave me a Fast-Pass sticker today.”

What drives you from zero to crazy in three seconds flat? Let me know and we’ll turn it into a laugh instead of a complaint.

On October 17th, we’ll talk about originality and the movie, Pulp Fiction.


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