Wednesday, April 02, 2008

One of THOSE People

Cyber D's nice little rant inspired this post.

There are promises to yourself you keep. And then there are promises you make to yourself that you amend.

My first job out of college was as a video store manager. Anyone who works retail for three consecutive Christmases will say the same thing, "I have never served in the military, but I do know what it means to be surrounded by hostiles." When I left the retail industry, I made a promise to myself that I would not become one of THOSE people.

And by that I mean people who abuse people in the service industry. People who yell or demean or go out of their way to make servants know they are servants. There is this kind of cruelty and arrogance from people with power and money towards the helpless that I have a hard time accepting. I know you are busy, and I know you didn't get a chance to go shopping for your kid until one day before Christmas, but we are out of "The Princess Bride" and calling a sixteen-year-old sales associate a "stupid bitch" and making her cry doesn't magically make one appear.

That was before I became a business traveler.

Timing is very important to a business traveler. In the world of connecting flights and lost luggage, you need to make sure everything not only works, but that it works in the right order at the right time. If you have been on the road for any period of time, you have learned the hard way that a missed flight means sleeping in the airport, and those seats are not comfortable.

For the better part of last year, my week was like this:

Sunday - traveling. It is amazing how a single three-hour flight takes six-to-eight-hours when you include packing, hotel check-in, car rental, security, and flight delays.

Monday through Thursday - Ten-to-twelve hour workdays. Thursday night is a three-hour flight home.

Friday - Sleep in. Paperwork and assorted catch-up work at home.

Saturday - Day of Rest. Somewhere in there a dry cleaners run.

Then it starts all over again.

The mere act of traveling from one place to another is stressful enough, but if this level of stress is part of your routine, you get cranky. You learn to cherish your system and schedule. And you get angry when your schedule is disrupted. If you miss the Thursday night flight and instead fly out on Friday, you have effectively lost your weekend. And if you leave the office at 4pm to catch a 7pm flight and there are two wrecks and you get to the rental car place late, the last thing you want to do is bicker with the dude checking your car in.

For the longest time, I used this car rental company that rhymes with "shifty". I wasn't super-duper happy with their service, but they didn't make a name for their award winning service; they made a name for their low low prices. I was a member of their super-elite frequent rentaholics club and this one associate, Michelle, would upgrade me to Ford Mustangs because she thought my old driver's license picture was funny.

The downside is that Michelle was the only person in that whole office who knew how to work the computer system. If she wasn't the employee that checked me out, inevitably there would be problems when the other attendant checked me in.

So there I was, running late and coasting on fumes when my non-Mustang rolled into the rental car parking lot. The guy checked my car and looked at the gas gauge.

"You're going to have to go fill up this car with gas before you turn it in."

"No way. I prepaid for a tank."

"Not according to this," he said, tapping on his little hand held receipt-spitting device.

"No no no. I'm Platinum-Frequent-WhooSeeWhatsit!" I produce - nay, I whip out - my Platinum-Frequent-WhooSeeWhatsit card and show him my number. I even point out that three of the sixteen-digit account numbers are '007' which I think it kind of cool. "It says on my Platinum-Frequent-Whooseewhatsit profile that I always prepay for a tank of gas. Its on my profile."

"Well, it isn't coming up here." He points to the device again. "At $11.50 a gallon, that will be an extra $172.50. There's a gas station down the road." And he waved in the general direction of South, which did not reassure me or calm me down at all.

"Charge it. I need to catch a plane and I can afford it."

"That's a lot of money."


The look on his face told me right then and there that I had become one of THOSE people. I knew the look of resentment and bitterness because, back in the day, I gave that look all the time.

"Here's your receipt."

"Look, I didn't mean to yell. If I miss this plane, I spend the night in the airport."


I don't like yelling at people, and I totally understand that, from this guy's perspective, he was trying to be helpful and trying to do the right thing by saving his customer almost $200. I also realize that the situation wasn't his fault. The company has a really crappy computer system, the employees aren't properly trained on it, and the customer web service isn't properly connected to the check-in computers which in turn aren't properly connected to the little hand-held receipt thingie.

But I also understand that this guy was standing between me, my weekend with my wife, and quite possibly an alcoholic beverage or two. And that is a bad place to be.

So here is my amendment - be nice whenever possible to people in the service industry, but recognize that "nice" is a nice to have. It is not necessary to get the job done.

And remember to be extra special nice to hair stylists because they put sharp cutting-type objects right up against your head.


Cyber D said...

Well said, Roberto. It is for those reasons that you so eloquently describe that I usually keep my hostility to myself and reserve my complaints for my blog... but it sure as shit still pisses me off to no end.

I too am a super-duper-frequent-who-zee-whats-it. As far as I can tell those are complete scams. Aside from the occasional free upgrade I can hardly tell a damn difference. It certainly is nothing like the way the advertisement describes it. In truth I believe that part of the problem is that everyone and their aunt florence now have prefered traveler accounts. And you know what happens when everyone is special... ? That's right... nobody is special anymore.

Gyuss Baaltar said...

I feel your anxiety, Roberto. After having done so much customer service work, I also hate getting testy with someone.

But sometimes it really is bad bad service. When you're obviously a valued customer, the least that guy could have done was say "hmmm...maybe a mistake was made, let me grab a manager". I hate it when there is an assumption that there was never a data entry fault.

M. Robert Turnage said...

I believe Emily Post recommends you treat situations like this as if they were learning opportunities or if you are being helpful.

For example, if someone is in the 15 items or fewer line with 20 items, you should say something like, "Oh, I believe you have your own special line over there."

Or if you are in a situation where the service person is providing bad service, you should say something like, "Why don't you write down the instructions so you'll have a cheat sheet next time this happens?" And you just be your nicest sweetest self so the other person feels all good and gooey inside even though they are a total @#$! up.

My problem is that I cannot say things like this and not sound sarcastic.

Courtney said...

I could never handle that much work travel. I can barely stand the twenty-minute commute. I would yell at everyone, and unlike you, I wouldn't be nice enough to apologize. I would probably also have frequent strokes. CRAZY making.

And good heavens, over ten dollars per gallon for gas! Where do they get off asking for that?!?! I'll say it again: CRAZY. I hope this isn't a glimpse into the near future.

Your story reminded me of when I worked in a drugstore in downtown Athens. The REM fellas frequented the store, and one day Bill Berry came in because he forgot his watch and so bought a Timex from our case, one of our most expensive crappy watches, around $50. He was in a hurry, so after he paid and the girl helping him set it, he was out the door. She ran out after him screaming, "You forgot your receipt and your warranty! You forgot your twenty-five year warranty!" She was so upset at his loss. It worried her most of the day, even though she knew he could afford to buy a new crappy watch every day for infinity.

Hope you get a nice long weekend with the Mrs. this go around!

M. Robert Turnage said...

Courtney, I will tell you this - there is money in doing what other people are unable or unwilling to do.

I do not think I have any great insight or mental gifts as much as I have a willingness to do things no one else wants to do (like travel).

Also, service industry people of the world pay attention - business travelers have EXPENSE ACCOUNTS! The money they're spending - it is not their own! So some of them (like me) might be extra generous with tips and such because, hey, no skin off of my nose, and it seems to make you happy.