“What do you people think,” the customer put an emphasis on “think” in a way that suggested that the attendant was not capable of thought, “you are doing? This is ridiculous.” The line was long, the airline employee was doing his best, but we were, all of us, if we were not careful, cranky.
Thanksgiving weekend flying is hectic for airline passengers. We should be thankful for relatively inexpensive flights, safe flying, and hard working flight crews, but if things go wrong, we sometimes are not. The cranky passenger was right: the area did seem absurdly understaffed for a day that was predictably busy. Recent lines for Houston’s new In N Out (rendering California superfluous, outside of friends still there) produced impatience, generally with overworked staff. Even our recent Christmas tree experience- purchase the tree, wait in a line of minivans and pickups for the tree to be loaded, tested the Christmas spirit of jollification. Not everyone passed the test.
Assume for a moment that the crankiness is warranted, at least a bit. Of course, we are all blessed who can fly, eat In N Out, and buy a Christmas tree. (At least in the case of the tree, the wait was a chance for much merriment and the car became raucous. This is a great thing about lines: a man can enjoy himself secure as the line moves that his jollification is also fulfilling his quest!) There is, however, a reasonable expectation of competence on the part of a customer and a grossly understaffed airport line may (just may!) demonstrate mismanagement.
The crank, if he keeps his complaint within reason, has a point. In fact, a good business welcomes the feedback. Things went wrong, a good manager wishes to know. The trouble, it seemed to me, was that in every case I saw this weekend, the crank was cranky with the wrong person. He ended up delivering his message to a fellow sufferer.
The problem with the average cranky customer is that he misdirects his complaints.
The sound complaint must be directed to a person in a position to either do something about the problem or pass the message on to a person who can. Being caustic to the server seems ineffective at best and nasty at worst. You have taken a bad day for that worker and made it worse. If this is not the worse sin we commit, there is also little justification for it.
Our problem is (generally) not that bad. We have attacked a (usually powerless and innocent) person. If we want action, isn’t the better idea to ask for a manager (calmly). Better still, since the problem is surely not going to be fixed as we are in line, we can wait, document the problem with pictures, and then write the appropriate person at the company calmly and reasonably describing our bad experience.
If we are so steamed up in most such situations, then we do have a problem with making our anger proportionate to the problem. A long line in an airport, even a missed flight, is not (almost ever) worth standing at Armageddon and battling to board. Even when talking to the “mismanager,” a Christian must keep in mind she or he is a soul created in the image of God. We (God help me!) should try to help or make things better, not get a pound of flesh.
Here are five tips that have served me well when I do feel I must complain:
1. Be calm.
2. Be rational. Make an argument why things should have been different than they were. That helps make the case.
3. Suggest what would, could, or should have been done. (This might include restitution.)
4. Persist and ask for the proper level of supervisor. Often the poor person answering the phone is commanded to “stay on script.” Ask to go beyond the script: calmly and rationally. In fact, my general rule- the person who must read a script cannot help you. Ask to elevate the discussion until you get to the person who is having a discussion. (Can I say Amazon has the best customer service in this record? Everyone strikes me as empowered!)
5. Be prepared to fail. Once when wishing to retain a number by moving it from a line land to mobile, I was working on a project where staying on hold for hours with AT&T did not keep me from working. Every hour or so somebody would come on the line, talk for a bit, try to persuade me I should not do what I wished to do (“What if there is a hurricane in Los Angeles?”was my favorite reason). I would chat and then go back to my project with hold music on speaker phone. This lasted about six hours and finally I got to a person who fixed my problem in minutes. This was enjoyable as it was funny and my work was not impeded. Mostly one must calculate the gain (free Tide pods to replace the old ones!) against lost time.
Almost always the reward, or the helpful tip given, is not worth very much time at all. Generally, you should call, complain, and conquer crankiness. After all, not worrying about any of it, at all, is always an option, probably better for our health, and certainly more fun.
Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner, even my “petty” sins.