Just as I'm willing to acknowledge my skills and accomplishments, I am comfortable admitting my short suits and failures. From time to time I've shared that I've always worked outside my home because I'm so much more confident in my professional arena than I am in certain areas of my personal arena. My husband and grown children seem to think I've done a pretty good job, but even they would admit I lack much ability to diagnose, repair or evaluate some essential technology-dependent functions in my home.
That's why the company that provides me with a "bundle" of phone service, TV and Internet is such a part of my life – I'm dependent upon them for communication, entertainment and research. And I have disliked them intensely because, during the last three or four months, they've all but taken over my life – not just a part of it. Allow me to vent (by the way – they don't seem to want to hear me vent when I call, and, five times out of six, struggle to find my two-year account, and totally overlook that they're hardly the only show in town, and I could easily switch to a competitor. And we plan to!)
Our TV service is interrupted sporadically, and our Internet is spotty at best. When one fellow came to jiggle or joggle whatever he thought would save the day, he determined that we didn't need a battery back up to our main "box," and removed the battery that I had replaced about a month ago when said battery began squealing endlessly. A new service person followed him shortly thereafter for some other now-forgotten problem. This genius insisted that I had to have the battery back-up because of the way my system was configured, and he put one in. He replaced the "box" at a foppish angle, rather than the usual straight up and down, all the while whining that the company hadn't given him the right equipment. It took five phone calls and four weeks to get that straightened out. In the process, this last service person gave me a written sheet that happened to have his manager's name on it. That will become important in just a moment.
We've hobbled along with the usual inconveniences and service "blips" until this past Monday when, without notice, we completely lost Internet and land-line phone service. I tried calling on my cellphone – I didn't know if this was "my" problem, my whole neighborhood's or the country's. I began to suspect the latter when I consistently got a busy signal. After 20 minutes of busy signal, I happened to recall that piece of paper with the manager's name. Imagine my shock when he picked up the phone on the second ring, very nicely told me that it was a widespread outage and they were trying hard to determine the cause and repair it as quickly as possible. He also told me that if I wasn't up and running in an hour, to call him back, even just to vent. Well, that was a new angle: Personal, empathetic reaction from a real individual! He completely calmed me down with that one offer, and I returned to what I could accomplish on Word, leaving my need for the Internet until the problem was solved – and, thanks to the manager's approach, I actually had confidence that it would be. . . .and it was. Within an hour and a half I had phone and Internet.
This hasn't changed my attitude toward the company at all, and we'll definitely be making different arrangements when our contract is up in another month. But this excellent manager who responded to a call from someone who just happened to have his number sure has taken the edge off my irritation.
It got me thinking. . . .what about the parent whose child's a.m. bus was late twice this week, and, two weeks ago, the p.m. bus was late three times. After being put on hold by dispatch for 10 minutes, she was finally put through to you. . .and spitting mad, by that point. I think I can relate – that's about how I felt until that last tech company manager cooled me off. A few things to consider:
- Each proverbial fire we put out may delay our department's response to some growing, systemic problems we implicitly ask parents to overlook. Do we consider the impact of tending to the urgent while the really important threatens mutiny by a crowd of parents?
- If you're the one who takes that "last" call, are your customer service skills and empathy well-honed? If someone who reports to you is the one more likely to take the call, is he or she sufficiently sharp in soothing furious parents?
- If most of our customers could actually "shop around" from among competing transportation providers, would we retain them as customers?
Peggy Burns is the former in-house counsel for Adams 12 Five Star Schools in Thornton, Colo., and currently owns and operates Education Compliance Group, Inc., a legal consultancy specializing in education and transportation issues. She is also a frequent speaker at national and state conferences and is the editor of the publication Legal Routes that covers pupil transportation law and compliance.