February 14th, 2008

Love Like

I started writing a post about Platonic ideals a couple days ago, but what with the weight of saying something intelligent and all the varying demands on my time these days (do not leave kitchen floor covered in crumbs; pay your bills; go to work; write fiction; eat; do not ignore your friends) I’m not sure when that will be done. So, on the eve of Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d do a little easy post, on niceness.

Today, I had a magnificent customer service experience. I had bought a defective product and was sad (and nauseated; it was a defective food product*) so I looked up the customer service number on the brand website and called. The woman on the phone was tensely, nervously helpful–she wanted my first name so that she could “better address” me, and she promised to “address” all my concerns before she even knew what they were.

You can sort of guess why someone in a role like that would sound like you just kicked her dog. I mean, “customer service hot-line” reads “complaint line” to pretty much everyone, and since the number isn’t on the packaging and you have to look it up on the web, you have to be pretty plaintive to call that number. I’ve had jobs along those lines, and it was terribly terribly unfun. I’m sure there are circumstances where it is necessary to yell in order to be treated with respect, but this sort of scenario is rarely one of them. Some people just call to yell.

I, however, only wanted a refund on my snack item. When, in response to the customer server’s tense politeness, I was politely tense back (I get nervous calling strangers), her manner loosened markedly. And when she realized that I had a legit complaint (“I, oh, ew, I *assure* you that that is *highly* unusual”) things went along swimmingly. It was easy for me to arrange a refund, and pleasant. Nice.

Nice, a highly underrated quality. One of my better ones, I like to think, and the reason working in service did not destroy me utterly. It’s so *easy* to be civil to strangers, because they’ll be gone soon and won’t want anything from you again. It’s the people who are around all the time who are going to make demands, who are going to be hard to put up with.

I am not feeling *terribly* hostile towards V-Day this year, but romantic love already gets a *lot* of attention in our society. I don’t know that it needs this particular day. And I don’t think customer service reps are any less worthy of a day than secretaries and nurses, both of whom have Days, and significantly more so than, say, bosses.

People feel free to be rude to store clerks and phone reps because there are no repercussions–it’s a five minute relationship and the outcome is unlikely to improve if you turn on the charm. But the *interaction* will. That’s the thing–I’m not necessarily advocating politeness for it’s own sake here, though if that’s the only argument that will work on you, take it. It’s that you end up with the exact same groceries whether you smile at the clerk and say, “Thanks, have a nice day,” or keep your iPod in and don’t make eye-contact. But there’s no hope for a return smile or friendly comment if you do the latter, and who needs fewer of those things? On my best days I try not to squander any interaction–the bus driver is never going to change my life, but if I say thank you as I get off, he or she will usually call some variant of, “You’re welcome, have a good day!” which are words you just can’t hear too often.

The customer service rep on the phone asked me if there were any further problems she could help me with, and I told her that my only problem had been that I’d spent the money and had no snack item, and now that she was sending me the refund, I could buy a new snack. I thanked her. She thanked me. This all took about three minutes, and was lovely.

I imagine lots of people are going to be do fun Valentinesy things tomorrow, and me too, but one thing that might be nice is to be nice to *everyone* tomorrow, not just the ones we love best.

I’m backed out on the car
RR

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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