Onward & Upward

I’ve written three posts over the past few weeks exploring lessons I’ve learned about customer service through a variety of past jobs and experiences, as well as from my more recent years as a public librarian. I’ve spent a lot of time lately looking back over my working life and mining it for all the wisdom I can.

There’s a reason for this retrospection:

On June 11th, I begin a new job. I’m leaving the Kansas City Public Library—today is my last day, actually.

I’ve accepted a position with the Johnson County Library system in Johnson County, Kansas (the Kansas side of the KC metro area). I’ll be the Branch Manager for three of their locations: Gardner, Edgerton, and Spring Hill.

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I Hate Saying “I’m Sorry”

I’ve done customer service in a lot of different jobs and in every one, a typical exchange goes like this:

Angry Customer: I need you to do [something completely unreasonable]!

Customer Service Rep: I’m sorry but I can’t do that.
*or*
I’m sorry but that’s against policy.

For a long time, every time I heard a customer service rep say, “I’m sorry but…,” I cringed. I hated hearing it. I tried never to say those words. Why?

Because I’m not sorry. Because I haven’t done anything wrong. Because my employer hasn’t done anything wrong. We’re not at fault.

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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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