It was one of those full moon days, when everyone is a little bit crazier than usual…
Even without the added lunacy, there are some days when you can almost feel the tension in the air, when people seem a bit more on edge, more prone to anger. We’ve long suspected that much of this effect traces back to the unrelenting drama absorbed by a connection to any form of mass media. Most of us shrug it off, or process it with healthy coping mechanisms, or try to avoid as much of the negative stimulus as possible.
Whatever the case, the full moon does seem to bring out opportunities for people to be what the CDC might describe as “mentally underserved,” a theory supported by police records and emergency room admissions for decades.
In any event, in the current climate of political animosity and economic hardship, with many of the diminishing number of people who still work finding themselves overworked, but still falling behind financially as prices continue to rise, there is an increasing chance that we will encounter someone who has “had it up to here” and considers us a convenient peg upon which to hang their frustrations.
Road rage, office rage, neighbor rage, family rage, online rage and even shopping cart rage all have a tendency to increase when the pressure is on, and more so in a culture that emphasizes self importance and encourages people to see themselves as victims.
Several months ago we decided to build a storage shed at home. We needed the space, and the cost of paying for storage made the idea a lot more affordable. The Big Box corporation gladly took our money, and the salesman humbly admitted that with the strangeness of this economy and it’s supply chain issues, there would be a delay, but no more than 7 or 8 weeks.
Fifteen weeks later I estimated that interest on the money I had paid for our building was beginning to accumulate, so I sent the company what I thought was a a polite note requesting an updated estimate on their schedule for delivery. I suggested that if the company was unable to deliver before winter that I would need to make other arrangements and I would accept a refund, no harm, no foul.
The reply I received was unexpected. From somewhere in the bowels of the organization, an overlooked employee in an understaffed office had “had it up to here.” The employee sent me a scolding reply full of “marshmallowing” statements. (In transactional analysis, “marshmallowing” was an informal description of insincere apologies, or sweet sounding statements embedded with needles.)
“I sincerely apologize, but you were advised that…” That was my first clue. A sincere apology is never followed by a “but.”
“Since you have suggested a refund, which we certainly hope you don’t have to do, your order has now been moved ahead of 5 people who actually made their purchase before you did.” (Thanks for expediting my order, and for the invitation to feel guilty.)
What followed was an account of 12 hour days in an understaffed office burdened with a trainee who was unable to lessen the work load for an employee victimized by a company which assigned one person to process building permits for 4 states. “Since you chose to have us process your permit instead of doing it yourself…” (Forgive me for purchasing one of the options your company sells?)
I’m confident that among the people reading this today are those with a living memory of a time, not so long ago, when the customer was always right, particularly when we were actually right. Sadly, social media has etched fundamental change onto the character of our culture, including the long tradition of geniality in customer service. Today we are all too comfortable venting our anger and frustration the instant it appears, without any attempt to process those emotions with discernment or spending any time considering the consequences.
I think it began, perhaps, with the entertainment industry, which gave us celebrity chefs screaming profanity at raw chicken and 120 lb. police women kicking down steel doors before roughing up the bad guys. We began to admire all those characters getting even for us for all of society’s wrongs. Then came social media, which encouraged us to expel our emotions, every one, every time.
The scolding email I received is only the most recent example of a decline in the relationship between customers and customer service. There are too many chips on too many shoulders out there – customers who are weary of the declining value of their dollars are rude and demanding, and customer service from the checkout line at the grocery to the cubicle buried in the bowels of a corporation have seen so much rude and demanding behavior that they now expect it.
Over time, everything under the sun is in tune, but on some days, the sun is eclipsed by the moon. I think eventually a new balance will be found. The Market has a way of eliminating business practices which do not lead to the best results, and that applies equally to the consumer side of the transaction. A civil society, as you might expect, requires civility to function properly, and a drop of kindness, especially today, is like oil in a dry gearbox.