I’m On A Rant!

It’s Friday, the end of the week. The world is spinning around us with reports of strife, bad news and so on and so forth, and if you don’t know what so on and so forth means, look it up. Yes, that might be a little snarky. I had someone tell me once I don’t write enough snark. On another note, I am plunking this out with one finger because I have an injury on my right-hand ring finger and though it is a small handicap to deal with, it does hamper my words. I  downloaded a new speech to text program but I haven’t mastered it yet, maybe I never will,  the one plunk method takes more time.

Now that you have an idea about the attitude you might get the direction this post is going.

In my latest mystery, #ASmallTownCanBe #Murder, I write not only a murder mystery but about the nuances of small towns. I live in a small town. I have been a small-town girl all of my life but there are some changes that make me sad. Communities in rural areas have to fight for their identity and survive with ambiance and coziness in a world sacrificed to ideas of people in offices far away that have no idea adding us to their growing number of generic businesses is not only bad for the survival of the community but for their own bottom line as well.  When you become a number in the line your identity ceases to exist. At that point, even the line may disappear. When we don’t seem as profitable as the big city we are like the baby thrown out with the bathwater, and as residents, we have to fight harder for our mainstreets to survive.

We do survive in my community. We reinvent ourselves, pick up the pieces and move on. What brought about these thoughts is a couple of recent experiences. A few weeks ago an editorial in a Twin Cities newspaper mentioned that Mike Bloomberg, the presidential candidate, visited a farm outside of our community. The writer lamented that Bloomberg should have taken the time to stop in town and visit with the rest of us to get a good picture of the joys and struggles of rural America’s main streets. It mentioned what we had lost in the past years. The writer had a good point as we have lost to the changing worldly ambitions of businesses. I took a small issue with it because I felt we also gained so much and are alive and well, moving forward.

This past week I had experience with a corporation that has been contracted to pick up garbage in our city. That is the other thing that brought this column on. You see I wanted to discontinue their service in favor of a local business. A year ago when I called to cancel they lowered their rate so I stayed. In the meantime, I found a neighbor that was paying almost $30.00 higher than what I was paying. Their service kept going up and they didn’t know if they called and complained their bill might be lowered. It was then I realized none of us are probably paying the same amount for the same service. This year my bill went up and I decided to go local and not with the service the city contracts with. My surprise was how much it was going to cost me to discontinue that service and have them pick up my container. However, I wouldn’t have known this until I got the bill as it was not readily given to me in a dollar amount until I asked. It was almost as much, save for a $2.00 difference, as my three-month bill. This shouldn’t have surprised me as many of the big corporations such as cable and telephone charge you a disconnect charge, This is how I knew I grew up in the small-town world when hidden charges were not part of the small-town landscape.

It goes farther than that. A nationwide chain came into town and our dry-goods store closed. One of our banks that were in our community as long as I can remember was sold to a larger bank. The old bank employed many people and the new bank cut most of the staff, and if we need support we have to call another state. A larger chain bought our hometown’s bustling drug store that was also a gift shop and had the original old fashioned soda fountain still serving treats.  The drug store hours have been cut so much that the working person cannot get in there with those hours. And the soda fountain is shut down along with the gift department greatly minimized. It is no longer about the consumer.  We used to have more than one gas station. An Iowa chain came in, bought land, bought the other stations and closed them down. Those are only a few of the changes that happened when big businesses try to change the landscape of a small town. They haven’t looked into the faces of their consumers because we are a number on their chart instead of a face that is familiar.

Now that is the bad news of my rant. I and I imagine you, get tired of sitting on the phone to get service. I think we get discouraged because we feel we are not heard. I am telling you if you want to be heard, shop in a small community at a locally owned business. You will be heard. You will experience what customer service really is.

In my community when we needed a new school we built one. Our meat processing plant closed down. Our city worked hard to get a new one in place and it has provided employment and good wages. You will find it hard to get a parking place downtown on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays as our local thrift shop entice people in town and out of town to shop. They might take time to visit one of our locally owned eating places or the coffeehouse or take in a movie at our theater. The library is always busy with readers, speakers and different project days and evenings. Moving on down the street our locally owned hardware store has reasonable prices and the flowers at our locally owned flower shop will make you ooh and ah.

Our liquor store is building new. Our new industrial park is starting to fill up and our craft and quilt store is in the process of moving to a bigger building. You can have your choice of different denominations of churches and if you need to pick up a gift the local funeral home also has a room of unique items by local artisans. Locally owned for generations, there is no better place to let them take care of the loved one you have lost. There is so much more to our community with a grocery, beauty shops,  newspaper, exercise facilities,  depot museum,  veteran’s memorial, parks. golf course and a swimming pool along with senior care facilities and senior housing, trucking firms, plumbing, electrical businesses, car repair and I could go on. Yes, we have more.  And yes, we still have another locally run bank. And our local window company can make your house warmer with the right windows.

The best part of a small town is its people. They care about each other. The business owners care about their customers. We don’t give up, we regroup and move on. Did I mention we are a community somewhere around 2200 people? It is not the numbers it is the heart of the community. When one hurts we all hurt. It is what makes a community unique.

Large corporations don’t understand that our bottom line is people and that is what makes a business in a small community a success. We have to tolerate the changing business climate in the larger world. We don’t have a choice with some things. I will admit to ordering online, usually things I can’t get in town but it isn’t the same.

My long rant is done. I might also add we have our local utility too and that too is a blessing. We know them and they know us. The same can be said for our local emergency services such as fire and ambulance. And for the garbage company that seems to be playing with our heads and finances — I wish I would have known your garbage bin was such an expensive object I would have painted it gold to match its value.

If anyone knows Mike Bloomberg, tell him to come back and see a successful, small community. We are the heart of America. He missed out but don’t you. Come for a day. come for a season, we will give you a reason to come back.

P.S. We have building lots available if you want to stay for a lifetime.


Julie Seedorf is a former columnist and now is an author of eleven cozy mysteries. To find out more about her books visit  julieseedorf.com

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.