HAPPINESS AND CUSTOMER SERVICE

A rock hit my windshield. It left two little chips with cracks radiating like spider legs, and I thought, “This time I am not going to ignore this.” The last time cost me a couple of hundred dollars. One day a tiny rock chip became a crack that ran from one side of the windshield to the other, and I was grateful that the universe keeps teaching me not to procrastinate.

Even then about three weeks went by before I saw a car wash that had a sign up about fixing rock chips. I pulled in, saw a small office, and went inside. A large young man sitting in a chair glared at me.

“I’ve got a rock chip I would like fixed. How much do you charge?” He asked if I was going to use insurance. As a matter of ethics, I do not use insurance for something I can afford to pay for by myself. I think that should apply to all medical procedures, but that is another topic for another day. He said rock chip repair was $20.00.

“Where is it?” he challenged.

“Its in my windshield.” I was tempted to say it was in my tire to see what he would say.

“Where in the windshield?” Already I didn’t like him. I told him to come outside and look for himself. He silently stared at the two little indentations and got his tools. Drilling a couple of small holes in the centers of the two places the rock hit, he then placed a suction cup on them with some kind of clear cement.

“That is $30.00″ he said. I scrunched up my face, replying I didn’t like him changing the price. He rolled his eyes and said, “OK, $20.00.” I didn’t begrudge him the extra $10.00 but I was annoyed at him not saying something before he did the work. I gave him a $5.00 tip, but he still seemed annoyed.

Haven’t you had some experiences like that? World’s worst customer service? There are just so many things that people do wrong when it comes to customer service, but I was thinking that the core problem is not a lack of skills, it is what is in the heart. Marty Seligman has talked about the Word in the Heart. Is the word in your heart “yes” or “no”? Do you embrace life as a wonderful privilege, or do you regard it as an annoyance? Why did Mr. Rock Chip Repair glare at me? I wondered later if it is because he resented having to work. Perhaps he wanted to be in front of his computer playing Halo. Maybe living in his mother’s basement.

Do you ever resent having to go to work? I like to think of it more broadly. Is it necessary that you even exist? Is there a universal requirement? Or is existence itself a gift? I like to think of it as a gift. Many years ago when my hair was long and my experience was short, a young man stopped me on the street. Clipboard in hand, he asked if I would be in a survey. I agreed and he began asking me a series of questions about life satisfaction. I had worked for a survey company and quickly saw this was B O O O O G U S! The questions were clearly leading somewhere and I felt curious. Finally his nonverbal behavior said he had come to the critical question. “Are you as happy as you want to be?”

I thought in my head, “Oh, ho! I’ve got you now.” I feigned a sad expression and said “No, no I am not.”

He brightened up, and I sprang the trap. “No,” I continued, “I am happier than I want to be.” I paused and reflected. “Actually, I am happier than I deserve to be.” His lip curled in disgust and he started to turn away, which amused me. He was asking about happiness, and when he found a happy person, he had no interest. We spoke for a few more minutes, and I learned he was representing a silly cult. I offered him information about my own cult, which of course is far better and even less expensive, and we parted on particularly poor terms.

Later I was thinking that there was no requirement I be born into a middle class American family, where we have clean water, schooling, cars, freedom to pursue our own interests . . . In other words, I really am luckier than I deserve to be. What I had lightly thrown off as a bon mot was actually deeply true. Why hadn’t I been born on the Indian subcontinent or in China during their insane cultural revolutions? Statistically I should have been. Life in America, in any of the first world countries is a huge gift. I felt very lucky.

The poor soul in the glass repair shop, wishing he was back in his mother’s basement playing computer games is likewise extremely lucky. Which finally brings me to the point of this essay. Where ever you are working, why not see yourself as lucky?

You see, customer service is a part of every single job. All legitimate jobs (not involving extortion or theft) must needs be serve someone. Whether it is your boss or paying customers, you exist to serve. It is built into you as a human being. We now know from research that excitement and pleasure and very short lived sources of happiness. Of course, all high school students think the opposite, but they are wrong. When students are given exciting experiences they are temporarily happy, but soon revert to boredom. Greater excitement! Greater pleasure!

“What do you want, Rocco?” asked Humphrey Bogart in Key Largo.

“More. More of everything” was the answer.

It is a dead end. Things don’t matter. People do. What ever your job, your life is a gift of incredible value. But if you gave an expensive pearl necklace to my dog or my cat, they wouldn’t appreciate it. If you don’t think it is a privilege to be of service to other people, you are operating at the level of a dog or cat. You are asleep.

Wake up. Be grateful you are awake, that you are permitted to live. Forget computer games, and move out of your mother’s basement. Love the people you serve, and you will never “work” a day. Each day will be a wild and crazy adventure, and your life will be filled with joy.

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2 Comments

  1. Katherine Galarza June 20, 2012 at 6:52 am - Reply

    Very thoughtful and useful to me as I head off to an overworked and underpaid day. I try to stay positive but am in a profession where the work is becoming more overwhelming by the day with constant increases in governmental and professional requirements and half of the salary of 20 years ago. One also needs to know when it is time to change a situation that is untenable. I am a primary care physician in the community and where I live (suburban NYC) it is difficult to survive financially. We are surrounded by Wall St millionaires which raise the costs for everyone else and set an impossible bar. I work like a madwoman trying to keep a practice afloat with pitifully poor insurance reimbursement and trying to be a decent mother to my kids. Iowa is looking good but our pathetic small home (on a freeway with high power line behind us) is a bit under water so moving isn’t an option. I try to stay positive when I give my services away for free at 2:30 in the morning or 6:30 in the morning (usually on the same night with a full day in the office ahead of me) and people don’t appreciate it. They interrupt me when I am nicely answering their questions before I can get one sentence out or worse don’t believe what I (and science) are telling them. There is no longer money for primary care MD’s, there is also no longer respect. I try to stay positive but it is becoming very hard. I also fear that my children won’t be able to afford college and I have little to retire on. Happiness is still there in my work and I struggle to stay positive but some situations are not winners.

    • Dr.J July 10, 2012 at 10:22 am - Reply

      This is a powerful and touching report. My heart goes out to you. I wish there were something I could do to be of help. My best wishes are with you.

      By the way, if you want to give away my book, The Happiness Checklist, to your patients, I give you permission to do that!
      Lynn

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