Does Your Community Have A Gratitude Attitude?

My column from the week of February 22 in the Albert Lea Tribune and the Courier Sentinel.

Boris the shysterCan a negative attitude make or break a community? It is always interesting talking to people when they move to a new community. Does negativity itch, get scratched, become infected, and break open and spread to an entire community?

I was feeling the negativity recently in conversations with different groups of people. Some outsiders, you know, those who move into a small community but never fit in because — gasp — they aren’t from here, remarked that it was hard living in a community always being reminded they couldn’t do something a new way because it has always been done a certain way and they wouldn’t understand because they aren’t from here.

Another group was complaining about businesses and business owners and things not being the way they thought they should be, so they would never support the business again and they would tell everyone about it.

Another conversation was with business owners. They told the opposite tale of nothing ever being right no matter how hard they tried. And admitting they weren’t always cordial to their customers because it was hard keeping the smile on their face day in and day out in the face of such negativity.

As a former business owner, as a customer and as a person who moved to a smaller and new community for a short time, I could identify with the feelings of all of these groups. I have been the crabby customer, I have been the crabby business owner and I have felt like the outsider. I must say all of these situations fed the negativity in me, the negativity that resides in all of us, and festers if it is fed by our contact with each other.

Here’s a little tip, not everything that is said is entirely accurate all the time so as Mr. Negativity is fed, it grows sometimes with untruths and explodes. Pretty soon we all jump on the bandwagon and join in because we want to fit in to the conversation.

There is a saying in business that the customer is always right, but I don’t know if I agree with that premise in the world we live in today. My reasoning comes from a phone call I received when I was in business. The phone call actually wasn’t for my business, it was a wrong number but when I picked up the phone the language and screaming coming out of the other end was not for the faint of heart. I asked who they were calling and they named the business. I told them who they had reached, and they profusely apologized and hung up. The phone rang again, it was the same caller, and they apologized again for their language and their rudeness as it was to be directed at another business. My thoughts were why apologize if they were going to call the other business and repeat the mistake message I had heard. No business owner deserves to be treated to verbal abuse.

They say it takes 10 compliments to cancel out an insult. As an author, I get reviews on my books and most of my reviews are positive but it is the one negative that I always remember and the same can be said for things said in our communities.

Bullying wasn’t a big factor for me when I was growing up. I can only remember two instances in my middle school and teen years when it happened to me. The key is I remember those instances, the negativity directed towards me, more than I remember some of the positive complements or experiences during those years. And I remember who directed those attacks. The memories of those people’s actions have lived on for more than 45 years.

The best way to keep our communities from growing — the best way to close our businesses — is to not support them by our words, what we say and by how we treat those who are new, those who choose to run their businesses and those who chose to shop and visit our businesses in our communities.

Choose to help our communities and our businesses grow by planting seeds of encouragement and positivity instead of feeding the weeds of negativity shutting down anything positive that is trying to peek up between those weeds. The choice is ours. Our communities health may depend on it

 

 

Customer’s Have Role In Customer Service Too!

Column: Something About Nothing, by Julie Seedorf

“The golden rule for every business man is this: ‘Put yourself in your customer’s place.’” — Orison Swett Marden

I have written about customer service and how important it is in a business. Recently I have pondered what it means to be a customer. Maybe we need to change the Golden Rule and put ourselves in the checkout clerk’s place.

A few weeks ago I was shopping in a fabric store with my daughter-in-law. It was around 8 p.m. As I walked up to the checkout I had to wait for a customer and the clerk to finish a transaction. It didn’t take long, but when it was my turn the clerk apologized to me for the wait. I replied that it was no problem. The conversation continued, and I remarked that she was probably tired at this time of night after working a long day. She replied that she had started work about 4 p.m. so it wasn’t so bad. My next comment was: “That’s good. I don’t hear that too often at this time of night. Usually checkout people have worked long days and aren’t quite so cheery.”

I don’t know what there was about that sentence that meant anything, but the next minute the woman was saying to me, “I could just hug you. You have no idea how much what you just said means to me. Thank you.”

I, not knowing exactly what meant so much to her, replied, “I’ll give you a hug if you want.”

The clerk reached across the counter and gave me a big hug and with tears in her eyes thanked me again. We finished our transaction, and I left the store. I must admit I have never had a reaction like that before making a purchase, but I felt good leaving the store. She had a smile on her face, and so did I.

I have concluded customer service goes two ways. Yes, companies need to give good customer service to keep their customers, but what do we as consumers have as our responsibility? Is it our responsibility to be rude to a service person, even if at times they are rude to us? Maybe they have a reason to be rude to us. We have no idea how many rude people they have had to contend with before we met them.

If I think about the number of people many customer service reps and clerks come in contact with during a day, I might understand their attitude when at times they do not seem very friendly. We, as customers, have a tendency to want our way and to want it right now. When something isn’t as we think it should be we complain loudly and not always graciously. Meeting this woman gave me pause to think about my interactions with clerks, customer service people and even telemarketers. Yes, there have been times where my impatience with a service has resulted in my treating the person trying to help me rudely.

In fact, it almost happened the other night. I was on the phone with a service technician who did not understand my problem. He tried taking me through all of these tests. I explained that the tests he was taking me through would not find the problem because it wasn’t relevant to the problem. He told me it didn’t matter because the company made them go through all these steps before they could report a problem, even if they knew it wasn’t the problem.

It didn’t make sense to me, but it was taking up my time and lots of it. I realized that he was a cog in a wheel trying to do his job that was strangled by the red tape he had to go through because of a large company policy that didn’t give their workers the freedom to make common sense decisions. It wasn’t his fault, and he wanted to keep his job.

Yes, I have hung up on telemarketers. After my experience with this woman I have tried to think twice about doing that. Again, they are trying to make a living like you and I try to make a living. Those jobs might make the difference between a person having employment or being on the streets.

Maybe a telemarketer job is the only job the person on the other end of the line could find. After all, who would want to be abused on the phone time after time the way the general public treats telemarketers? They are the scapegoat for a business that most people dislike because telemarketing intrudes in our lives on a device that we pay for and should have more say in the calls we receive.

Our world of technology has us moving so fast that we forget about the human factor of wear and tear on the human when we actually have a warm body that interacts with the public.

Yes, I want good customer service. We have become frustrated consumers because businesses and corporations, and even our medical facilities have become large businesses that become difficult to navigate because they are too large. We take our frustrations out on the people at the bottom level of those corporations, folks who work the checkouts, customer service lines and are the first contact with a customer. These service people receive the brunt of our frustration, and they, most of the time, are powerless, bound by rules of companies that give them no decision-making power in how the structure is set up.

The next time you are in a checkout line or on the phone with a customer service rep, be as focused on the kind of customer you are as you are on the service you are getting.

Thank you to the person who gave me a hug and made me smile. You thought I was helping you, but hopefully you helped me to be a better customer no matter where I shop. You made a difference in my life.

Julie Seedorf’s column appears every Monday. Send email to her at thecolumn@bevcomm.net. Her Facebook page is http://www.facebook.com/sprinklednotes.