Don’t know what you have until it’s gone

     Sometimes we don’t appreciate something until it’s gone. 

     Since moving back to my childhood home last November I have experienced extraordinary service.  Not just good customer service, but truly exceptional service. 

     For example, a few days after moving back my cable television and internet service went kaput.  Since it was Thanksgiving Day I called the telephone company, which provides those services, expecting to get a recording and hoping to get my name on a list for service the next day.  My first surprise was when a real person answered the phone.  It startled me so much I almost hung up, but I’m glad I didn’t, because not only was the voice real, but after hearing my problem I was told a technician would be right out.  I explained I could live without television or internet until morning, but she insisted and within 20 minutes someone was at my door!  The technician worked several hours until he located the problem and fixed it, at no charge to me. 

     My previous satellite television company would have promised service sometime in the next couple weeks or so and then, because I had not had the foresight to purchase their “insurance” would have charged $100 for coming out, in addition to whatever they charged for actually fixing the problem.  And with my previous telephone/internet company I would likely still be trapped in their endless computer loop, trying to determine which button to push to get placed on a list for service at some point down the road…a long road, with few real people available to help you.

     Another example of the level of service I’ve come to expect was provided when I needed to replace a couple tires on my car.  I called the local tire and muffler shop, CR’s, and was told the “tire guy” was back from lunch at 2 and to show up then.  When I did I was greeted at the door and picked out my new tires without being pressured into buying more than I needed.  Since I knew I would be waiting while the tires were put on the car, I had taken a plethora of reading materials to help me fill the time.  I barely got the first magazine open before the job was completed and I was heading home, marveling at the efficient and prompt service I had received. 

     This level of caring customer service quickly became the norm, so I began to expect it.  That’s the thing about expectations and taking things for granted.  At some point, you will likely experience the opposite, and this run of extraordinary and caring service ended this last week. 

     When my water line developed a leak past business hours, I planned on catching the water in a bucket and dealing with it as best I could until the next morning.  But within a couple hours the leak became unmanageable and was soon flooding the backroom of my basement.  I had to do something, so I called the “emergency number” provided by my rural water district to ask for assistance in turning the water off to my house.  I was told I’d have to turn the meter off myself.  It didn’t matter that I was without the needed tools to do so, or that I had, in fact, already tried to turn it off to no avail.  The guy was not budging and pointedly informed me that it was past his business hours, he was comfortably at home and he expected me to take care of the problem myself.  Case closed.

     Now, let me reiterate, this was the person at the other end of the “emergency number.”  This was the person who is paid to maintain the system and I assumed, apparently mistakenly, to assist the district’s customers when they experienced problems.

     Fortunately a neighbor drove by and noticing me ass up, half submerged in the tube housing my water meter, stopped to help.  If he had not done so, I have no idea what shape my basement would have been in by morning.  I also have no idea what elderly water district customers, or anyone else in need of help, would have done in this situation, but I find the prospect that they might be treated as I was frightening.

        The irony of this is that if this guy had offered to help, it would have taken him no more than 30 minutes of his time, for which I would have happily compensated him and the water district, and he, as well as his employer, would have had a cheerleader for life.  I would have enthusiastically touted the district’s service and this man’s dedication to serving and helping its customers.  As it is, the story I am left to tell is of someone who not only missed a chance for invaluable public relations for the organization for which he works, but also missed an opportunity to demonstrate a commitment, or even an interest in, helping others in a time of need.  

     Sometimes companies and organizations, as well as we as human beings, get one chance to win someone’s loyalty and to instill a feeling of confidence and compassion.  If we miss it, it may take a long time, if not forever, to gain that person’s trust and loyalty back.  Of course, the rural water district doesn’t compete for customers like other businesses and the person at the other end of the “emergency number” was obviously not the least bit concerned about the image he was portraying of the district or himself, or the level of service to which they are dedicated.  When you are basically functioning as a monopoly I guess you don’t have to be that concerned about whether your customers are satisfied with you or not.

     But, I did receive a very valuable gift from this experience.  And that was, that by experiencing, what was in my opinion, substandard and inconsiderate service it has provided the contrast which allows me to more fully value the times when I receive good, caring and respectful treatment. 

     It’s true; sometimes we really don’t know what we have until we no longer have it.

About louannthomas

Speaker & writer
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14 Responses to Don’t know what you have until it’s gone

  1. Stephanie Blackwood says:

    Oh your post takes me back to the month I was without landline phone service in New York last year. The month I almost lost my mind from the number of missed appointments, raving-crazy-woman phone calls with customer service with Tawanna in Bangalore and lies about how I had not been available when the tech showed up. When the repair was finally made, it took 5 minutes and then he also set up my new wireless antenna. The reward? A personal letter of acknowledgment to his supervisor because he was good, he was courtesy, he was willing to do more than the job required. Of course, now I’m in Senegal. I can’t even begin to describe what how customer service works…or doesn’t…here.


  2. louannthomas says:

    I bet there is a glaring difference. But, I’m with you, I believe in rewarding good service. Letters, recommendations, telling of it to anyone who will stand still. I felt this experience, however, deserved a different telling.


  3. Larry Belew says:

    Great observations and a study in contrasts. Reminded me of a few years back when I had an infected tooth and, understandably, my dentist was closed for the weekend. It was late Friday afternoon before a three-day holiday weekend. The dentist’s voicemail referred me to “Emergency Dental Services.” Wouldn’t you think such an entity would stay open for emergencies? Not so; the woman who answered very curtly told me they were closing for the three days, I needed anti-biotics, and no they couldn’t prescribe without seeing me and no they couldn’t see me. Her parting remark was, “Well, you have to get anti-biotic somewhere. Good luck.” Click. I reluctantly went to Wesley ER, apologizing for showing up with something relatively minor when they deal with trauma. The young man (not sure if he was a doctor or a PA) was very understanding, very kind, treated me like the most important case he would have all weekend and in a matter of minutes I walked across the street to Walgreen’s with a prescription in hand. Yeah–it doesn’t take much to create good will, or to become someone you will never recommend you to anyone.


    • louannthomas says:

      Ouch! I know, I don’t get it. It truly does take very little to please us. Why not go the extra inch or two, or in this case 6 miles to insure our “take away” is positive and something they would like to hear back about themselves? Maybe I too should be more aware of that…hummmm…..


  4. lulu says:

    I was also surprised when moving back to my home town how great the service could be. The people who bag the bags at the grocery also CARRY THEM TO YOUR CAR as a matter of course. Of course. I’d forgotten after having been gone 20 years. Recently back in Lawrence on a hot day, I smiled as I lugged all the bags to my car alone. What a difference the little things make when they are present and how frustrating it can be when someone is so obviously lazy and rude. Thankfully a good neighbor stopped to help. So nice to hear you got help when you needed it. Good blog!


    • louannthomas says:

      I know, Lulu, you are so right about carrying the groceries to your car. When I first moved back and the bag guy started to carry my groceries out for me I thought he was trying to steal them! Thanks for reading and commenting. You rock!


  5. Verlee says:

    I like to think I give ‘customer service’ no matter where I am employed. Currently, I am employed at a Topeka church as the administrative assistant, and have been here just over two years. Anyway, recently a long-time church member died and the funeral was at the church. I did the ‘usual’ things I normally do for funerals, mainly the service bulletin. When I returned from lunch the next day after the funeral there was an envelope on my desk. I opened it and inside was a thank you card with a note from the four children with a sizable check from the widow. I was overwhelmed, and still am when I think about it. A few hours later the widow and her daughter came in to pick up DVD copies of the funeral service, and I thanked them for the note and gift of money. The daughter said will mom went on and on about the little things you had done for her and dad. And, here I view it as doing my job.


  6. wendy says:

    I keep thinking “try a little tenderness” ha ha…It is hard to remember that a little bit of giving goes a long way. I thought about how my grandpa was with Dillon’s from age 13 until retirement. They were responsible for most of my family’s well being all my life. My great-grandpa was one of the Dillon brothers’ original butchers. And yet, I shop elsewhere because of the service. Service (with empathy) is the epitome of humanness, where altruism comes to light. Thank you for acknowledging this!

    Great blog, great post!


  7. Gail says:

    I also get so tired of “push 1 if….” I tried to close out a credit card for SEVEN years and never once talked to a “real” person. Finally, they sent me a letter saying that “We noticed that you have had no activity for seven years so we regretfully are closing this account”. I have three computer messages just to reach my doctor…to leave a message. Thanks LouAnn for your insight and clever way of stating things.


  8. Lori says:

    Amen sister! There is nothing more important to a business than good customer service, I think we’ll get to a point of rebellion and the pendulum will swing back that direction again. I certainly hope so.


  9. Linda says:

    LouAnn, I am a retired USPS rural letter carrier. I like to think I gave my customers good service with a smile. However, there are those out there who are negative and quick to call the postmaster to complain regularly when often we are only doing our job. However, I had many like you on my route who appreciated good service and their kind words made my day.


  10. Marty says:

    Hey Lou Ann… you know where to go to find your footing. That hill is there for you! I can’t help but believe that that spot will never give you grief.
    HUGS Marty


  11. Gail says:

    I agree!


  12. KJ says:

    Great post, Lou Ann!


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