My Customer Service Philosophy: Lessons from a Ten Year Old

I was asked recently what my customer service philosophy is. I responded with this:

The customer isn’t always right but they’re usually not wrong.

What do I mean by that?

I mean that some behavior is simply unacceptable. Customers don’t have the right to abuse staff, to expect preferential treatment, to demand we make exceptions just for them. Basic human decency and respect are still required. I won’t tolerate threats to the safety of staff members.

However, in my experience, when someone is acting out there’s usually a reason for it. There’s usually a need or a want that isn’t being met—and that need or want is usually legitimate. Problematic behavior arises when someone can’t figure out how to get what they need or want. And while the behavior may be a problem, this underlying reason can be productively addressed.

A ten year old boy taught me this lesson.

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I Hate Poet Voice

We all know what “Poet Voice” is, right? A poet reads their work aloud and they take on a vocal style that’s flat, slow, monotonous, weighted down with cringing self-conscious significance.

I harbor an intense dislike of Poet Voice. I’m happy to see rigorous analysis backs me up on this.

An Algorithmic Investigation of the Highfalutin ‘Poet Voice’ by Cara Giaimo, posted on Atlas Obscura, May 1, 2018

Still, it bothers me when people critique Poet Voice primarily by comparing it to regular conversational voice. Poetry shouldn’t be treated like normal speech—it’s an elevated use of language and recitation should reflect that. Poetic recitation should be more performative, more crafted, distinct from casual conversation. Each word of a poem is significant and must be heard and understood.

The problem isn’t that Poet Voice is unnatural or different from conversational voice. The problem is that Poet Voice is boring.

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Experience & Context

Some years ago, when I was still doing theater work in Chicago, I had gotten off a job late one night and found myself craving a pint of ice cream. So I stopped by a corner market on my way home. Another gentleman—a complete stranger to me—arrived at the same time I did. We approached the door just in time to see the proprietor throw the lock and change the sign to “Closed”. He shrugged at us, pointed to the sign listing the store’s hours, and walked off.

I was disappointed and somewhat miffed. The other guy proceeded to throw a spectacular tantrum.

I stood there nonplussed, unsure what to do. Once this strange man had stopped yelling and stomping around, I asked him, “Are you OK?” (Inane question, I know—clearly he wasn’t—but it was late and I was tired and hungry.)

He proceeded to tell me a Tale of Woe for the Ages. All about his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, very bad week, very bad month. Everything that could go wrong in this guy’s life had gone wrong. All he wanted now was some potato chips—crunchy bites of salty comfort. Is that too much to ask?

So I took him to a local bar and bought him a beer.

He apologized for making such a scene. He knew it was a ridiculous overreaction. I assured him I totally understood. And I did understand: for me, having the door locked in my face was annoying. For him, it was ONE MORE THING in a long line of crappy things that had happened to him lately.

For him, it was the one thing too many.

This experience taught me something important:

Context matters.

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Book Review: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
The Song of Achilles
by Madeline Miller
Ecco, 2012

This review was originally posted on my Goodreads account in early February 2013. I’m reposting it here, given that I refer to it not infrequently.

I was astounded by this book. Madeline Miller’s achievement cannot be overstated. Here’s a novel that’s absorbingly readable for a modern audience, but that still has the poetry of Homeric sagas. What’s most impressive to me is the balance she finds between exploring the universality of human nature throughout the ages and maintaining the innate alien-ness that I experience every time I read The Iliad—the culture of archaic Greece was so very different from this world we live in today. She lets the truth of that age live and breathe without trying to tame or update it.

And yet, I recognize myself in this story.

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Book Review Circe by Madeline Miller

Circe by Madeline Miller
Circe
by Madeline Miller
Little, Brown and Company, 2018

I have a difficult time imagining how any book will be able to unseat Madeline Miller’s Circe as my favorite book of the year. It’s lyrical and poetic, intimate and grand in scope, human and godly, challenging and comforting. It’s wise. It’s profound.

It fulfills all the hopes I had for Ms. Miller’s work after her astounding first novel.

Where The Song of Achilles is her reinterpretation of The Iliad, Circe is a looser, more oblique riff on The Odyssey. Told from the first person perspective of the titular character, the work spans centuries and is filled with famous characters from throughout ancient Greek lore: Titans and Olympian gods, Scylla, King Minos and the Minotaur, Daedalus, Jason and Medea, and, of course, Odysseus, Penelope, and Telemachus all make appearances. It begins with Prometheus stealing fire and ends with the aftermath of Odysseus’ death. The largest part is taken up with Circe’s relationship with Odysseus and what happens after.

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Some Thoughts on Libraries & Neutrality

At the 2018 Midwinter Conference of the American Library Association, the President’s Program was a panel discussion titled, “Are Libraries Neutral? Have They Ever Been? Should They Be?” There were debaters and commentators assigned to represent both sides of the argument. This debate inspired a vigorous parallel discussion among librarians and library professionals on Twitter.

I approach the issue of library neutrality from two different directions: ideology and pragmatism. Let’s start with ideology.

When we talk about neutral library spaces and services, we talk about being a place where everyone is welcome, where all views are represented, where everyone has the freedom to make their voices heard and have their needs met. As James LaRue stated for the pro side of the debate: “Everyone gets a seat at the table.”

I passionately agree with Mr. LaRue on this point: libraries should be spaces where everyone gets a seat at the table.

But these words don’t describe neutrality—they describe equality. They envision a space where everyone is equal in access, representation, voice.

The world we all live and serve in is not equal.

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2017: My Year in Reading

All of the data that follows was collected by me throughout the year using a combination of Google Sheets and Google Calendar. All seasonal and monthly calculations are based on the date each title was begun. Average days to read titles are based on the number of days actually spent reading each title, and not necessarily the full span from begun date to completed date.

A complete list of all the books I read in 2017 is at the bottom of this post


First things first: I’m a hypocrite.

In 2016, I wrote a post about the importance of reading more widely in genres I don’t normally read. I even posted lists of titles and swore to spend some amount of time in 2017 reading them.

I didn’t. I didn’t read any of them.

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