August 07, 2008

I have written before on the subject of customer service, tangentially and not so tangentially: so it came as no surprise when, upon causing permanent damage to the flooring, a pair of deliverymen tried immediately to convince me that it had always been there. (Never mind that I personally had gone over every inch of that piece of floor just prior to their delivery, in part because I needed to confirm access sizes.)

In an impersonal system, there cannot be any benefit, ever, to taking personal responsibility. People call in complaints, but only rarely praise ... even though some service does still remain worthy of praise. There are those in the service industry who have gone above and beyond in their dealings with me. There are the bank tellers and managers in a small, local branch, who all recognise me on sight and try to make my path as simple as possible through a morass of estate and power of attorney dealings. There are the post office clerks who understand what it means to have had a break-in and to have to try to replace all your photo ID. There are the bus drivers who, spotting me on the wrong side of a busy street through snow and wet and wind and night, wait for me until the street clears enough for me to be able to cross it. Who remembers these people? I thank them and occasionally provide fruit or chocolates; but much of the time I dare not forward the positive experience on the comment cards, for I know they are bending procedure to do it.

Perhaps I am fortunate. At this point in my life, virtually everything I do, I am responsible only to myself and occasionally to clients, but for exercise and a light supplement to income I deliver flyers once a week. I was shocked, last year, to receive end-of-year tips from two people on my route. I deliver classified and marketing advertisements, not your requested newspaper or your mail: tips are very far from a typical thing. During the first two weeks while I was still learning the route, I missed one mailbox. She called in a complaint to the central office, but said not one word to me. Now that I have the rhythm of it, everyone on my route receives the flyers as early as is possible (which also happens to clear the rest of my day): yet from the one who sent in the complaint for the skip of service, never once have I been thanked for the exceptional service.

These two deliverymen had not told me that they had been assigned far too many deliveries for the time period and the distance, let alone the weather: but I could see it in their clipboard and their impatience when I took a whole thirty seconds to materialise at the door. Apart from the floor (which, as such things go, was minor), they did an adequate job, if far too hasty -- and again, I knew how many deliveries remained to be squeezed into a remaining three hours.

This time I was able to avoid pressing the issue. The flooring did have enough unrelated damage in other areas that I had been going to replace it in any case. Thus I was able to tell them, "Don't worry about it. I was going to replace it anyway" -- letting it be known that I knew exactly when and how it had been caused, letting it also be known that I was not going to make an issue of it.

When they had done an exceptional job, had anyone mentioned it? or had it fallen as an invisible and unacknowledged expected, without even so much as a thank you? Did they remember, this time, that I did give them the break, and try to do much better next time? Or -- far more likely -- did they shrug, relieved that it would not be reported to the higher-ups, and let the memory slip with the shrug?

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