Monday, January 16, 2017

MLK and Mindfulness

Back in the 1980s, when dinosaurs still roamed the earth, there was no day honoring Martin Luther King, Jr.  Dr. King was a Civil Rights leader, an icon, but there was no national celebration until then. I was in high school, and Stevie Wonder came to our school, played the piano and sang.  The next thing we all knew was that MLK(and how many people out there are so very important that they can be identified by just their initials?) had his day.  Federal holidays aren't just handed out all willy-nilly; so this was a big deal.  Since I was a teenager, my excitement was more about having a day off from school, but I'm older now.  I wasn't alive back in 1963, but I wish I had been there.

I don't know what MLK would think about what's happening right now, what he would say.  He wasn't perfect, but he wasn't walking blind.  He must have had a very specific road that he was following toward equal rights when he was murdered.  We know that he had an amazing dream, one that started to change the world.  He spoke about transforming the "jangling discords" of America into a beautiful symphony; our nation seems even more stridently disharmonious today. 


Most of us, when we have a dream and we talk about it, use the past tense.  We're awake, so the dream is over.  It's done.  But Martin Luther King, Jr. didn't say that he had a dream.  He didn't use the past tense.  For him the dream wasn't over.  Instead, he said, quite clearly: "I have a dream."  Present tense.   Here it is, more than a half century later, and we are still in the midst of Dr. King's "fierce urgency of now".  The mindfulness currently being preached about on the internet wasn't a thing back in 1963, but MLK was already there.  Dr. King told us, "I have a dream", and by sharing his moment of mindfulness with the world, he gave us something very special. Our country changed for the better as a result of that dream.  It's difficult to remember that sometimes, with all the idiocy, ignorance, and hatred swirling around.  

The dream is still happening. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

I Actually Do Hold Grudges

As I went through all that cancer nonsense, I had to let go of some things.  There was no point in being angry all the time, for instance.  As much as I wanted to rail and scream about my illness, it was bad for my health to dwell on it, so I let that go.  I also let go of other things, like holding grudges against people who said or did something to hurt me.  

Except that I didn't actually let go of all my grudges, I realized today.  But I also noticed a pattern in my grudges. They seem to be all about customer service. Office Max, for instance.  They got on my list one day about ten years ago when we were trying to buy office chairs.  After searching for a couple of hours for the right kind of chair, the manager showed up abruptly to say that we were wasting her time because Saturday or something.  Office Max was bought out by Office Depot, of course, but I still will not set foot in any of their stores.

I still hold a grudge against Bath and Body Works, as well.  Why?  Because after making me wait in a hideous line for longer than 30 minutes one Christmas, the manager sent the cashier on break(with ten people in line) and did not replace her with another, and became angry when I asked about it.  I had my hands full of gifts, but I put them all down and walked out of the store.  I haven't been back since, even when someone gave me a gift card.  

I understand that things happen that are not anyone's fault.  I understand that employees have bad days.  I can usually deal with the occasional grumpiness or bad attitude, because I have my own days. As long as I can take care of my business and move on, I'll let it go.  Rarely do I feel the need to approach a manager, or write a letter.  But there comes a point, if the service is awful and the employees act like you're at fault, that I lose my temper.  I don't yell or become violent.

I just leave.

I'm done.  It doesn't even matter if the CEO of the company calls me personally to apologize.  I just walk out the door, shake the dust off, and find another store.  Several of the places I've crossed off my list closed soon after, so I have to think that the problem was systemic, and not just my powerful shopping skills ending someone's business career. 

Customer service, at its heart, doesn't require expensive classes or graduate degrees.  In any transaction, there's more going on than an exchange of goods for money. In that few minutes it takes to buy something, there's opportunity.  If you treat people with kindness, or at least basic decency, that goes a whole lot further than the dollars. 

I remember places where I am treated with dignity.  We go back to places that take the time to build relationships, however superficial.  In this current environment, with all the poop flinging encouraged by people who ought to know better, that human interaction becomes even more important.  Businesses need to remember that. Because I do hold grudges. 

How about you?  Any grudges out there?

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Write A Letter. I'll Feel Better.

 On April 12 of 2016, there was a hailstorm of epic proportions in San Antonio and the surrounding areas.  And when I say epic, I mean downright frightening.  Every thud on the roof sounded as if it would break right through the attic and right into our bedroom.  After about 20 minutes or so, the hail stopped, and we went to bed. Our roof, to my eyes, looked okay, but we called in an insurance claim, just the same.  The insurance guy climbed up on our roof and just went nuts with the chalk, circling here, muttering there.  He did not fall through the roof into our bedroom, as I had feared, so yay for that. His verdict was that our roof needed to be replaced.  Yikes.

We went with a particular builder to replace our roof.  One of the guys came by one Saturday and we signed a contract.  Then we heard not a thing.  We didn't expect to hear anything, because over half of the city had been slammed by this particular hailstorm.  My parent's home had holes in the siding, a demolished cable and phone box, broken windows, etc.  Roofing companies were swamped.  We were told late October.  

We still do not have a new roof. 

I decided to write an email, since I had a tendency to forget things while speaking on the phone. My friend Andrea over at Maybe It's Just Me had a successful letter writing series a couple of years ago, which inspired my thinking.  My letter wouldn't be humorous, because I'm not really all that funny. But Something had to be done, before the next big storm struck.

I needed to be polite, but firm, I told myself.  I sat down and started typing:

We specifically chose your company to replace our roof after the hail storm because your company was highly recommended by my parents.  We expected to wait for some time, as we understood the magnitude of the hailstorm damage to the area.  

We were contacted by phone on November 11th by Kevin.  He informed us that your company was going to be working on our roof.  At the time, Kevin told us that he would be contacting us on Monday to ask us what color we wanted the roof to be and whether we were going to want the 30 year roof over the 25 year roof(We had asked questions about impact resistant roofing).   Kevin made it seem as though work would be starting on our roof within two to three weeks.  We waited to get a phone call on Monday, November 14th.  It did not happen.  I called later in the week, and was told by a receptionist/answering service that everyone was in a meeting and could not be disturbed.  I left a message and asked to be contacted. 

This did not happen. 

Now, if any other business 1)agreed to complete a task, 2)called and asked for money "to buy supplies", 3)specifically stated they would contact the customer, 4)failed to contact that customer when they said they would, and 5)did not respond to a specific request for contact from the customer?  The average person might think twice about that.

I understand that there are quite a few roofs needing repair, but phone calls?   A phone call is not considered a hardship, and it is an integral part of good customer service.  It is ridiculous that I've had to wait more than a month without hearing a word.  I expect better from your company.  The only thing we know is that the check was deposited.  That is not the reputation that your company should be cultivating.

I hit 'send', figuring that I'd hear from someone the next day.  It was five minutes, which I consider to be really good turnaround time for an email. It was Kevin on the phone, profusely apologizing for forgetting about us.  He had asked someone named Tyler to contact us, etc., and the rest of the excuse went on for several more minutes.  I ignored all that, because it had zero bearing on when we would be getting our roof.  

After several more phone calls and apologies, we seem to be third on the list.  So we should be getting our new roof in the next two weeks, almost a year after the original incident.  Theoretically. If I don't hear from them in that time, I'll ask for our money back and find a new roofer to complete the job.  But I'm glad that I spoke up.   One of my postcancer resolutions is to be more assertive, and to speak up when I think something is wrong.  This is a good start.