ERMA's desk...: In praise of good service…

We have the ability to serve each other in a manner that the
experience leaves the recipient with dignity and a smile which
is reflective of the power of “one”.

My experience in working with service providers is challenging to the point of leaving me with a bad taste in my mouth. I recently had the opportunity to call Phillips Lifeline to put their service on hold while a family member is in convalescent care. In the busyness of caring for an ill family member, keeping a full-time job and keeping medical appointments I was not able to put my hand on the contact information for Phillips Lifeline. I delayed calling for three days because I thought they will ask me for an identifier such as a reference number.

To my surprise, when I called the response was far from what I was expecting. Even when the conversation was finished, I was still thinking that he was going to ask me a question to spoil the entire experience. To my pleasant surprise it was one of my best experiences. I know that I am not alone when it comes to the service industry/customer service. Whenever I walk into a department store, I have a sinking feeling that I will spend more time in the store than I want to. With On-line shopping many stores are struggling to keep their doors open. I empathise with these businesses, but they are partly responsible for this situation. I still like to see people, talk with people and socialize a bit face to face. Social media has its purpose and place but face to face also serves a purpose.

There is still a middle age range population who still wants to talk about the warranty in person and discuss the different options that are available. We are on a downward spiral, but I hope we can maintain some degree of public space where shopping for food, groceries, clothing furniture and household items will still be a part of our social fabric. I am from old school, so forgive me if I am not completely convinced that robotics (AI) is the way of the future. This impersonal way of living is creating a society of young people with no interpersonal skills and the older generation is faced with increased loneliness. There is a valid reason why we talk so much about family and holidays when we can spend time together. We have fellowship in the community, at town hall meetings and church gatherings. These gatherings are valuable as they show support for different ideas and oppose ideas which are considered less worthy for whatever the reason.

Service can be abstract or tangible depending on the purpose. There is a need for both types, but we cannot replace one with the other, especially moving toward self-service. We are to serve each other and as we do that it fuels longevity for businesses. Customers comes in because they want to have a quick consult to make an educated decision about their purchases. Self-serve is good when you are on the run but for some of us, it creates anxiety. There was a time when we walked into a store/business and we would hear someone say, “can I help you?”. Gone are those days in a big way. Today’s consumers must walk all over the store and maybe look for someone to assist them. What a difference? Some companies have customers waiting on the phone for 2 hours. It is an insult to think you have to wait that long to get a live person on the phone and then you may even get cut off, hence, some phone calls cannot be made unless you are home and have the day off from work.

The next aspect of service is nothing new, but I feel it’s worth mentioning. Telemarketers who call you after 9 pm. Not good for many people. Some of us are already in bed to get up at 04:30 am. Grandchildren are asleep. My elderly mother is already in bed. I try to cut them some slack because they could not call me during the day. They only have about 3-4 hours of appropriate calling time. Duct cleaning, home security, carpet cleaner, furnace person, air conditioning person, windows and doors company, lawn care personnel, driveway maintenance people and the real estate person.

I understand there is a need for service, but I get a little flustered when I try to tell them that I am not interested and they want an explanation or they want to speak to the owner of the house. The lawn-care people offer you one price to get the contract signed and then they begin to offer you what they call a basket of services for your lawn. If you should follow all their recommendations, you will not be able to pay attention to anything else.

I end with this. Not everything that sounds good is good. Not every service is needed every year. Those things that require ongoing service need to careful consideration and review. The challenge is, after you sign the paper and they start the service you may have to spend many hours trying to get them to stop the service. This is mainly because of the method of payment. Most payment are automatic and if you call and mention the term “termination of service” the phone may just go click and you have to call back many times to get someone to tell you that if you end the contract, you will still have to pay all the money. I truly enjoyed my experience when I called Phillips Lifeline and that is the sole reason for my writing this short comment. I hope in my dealing with my patients they can experience my service to them in a like manner.

Erma Washington
July 25, 2019

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