I’ve been thinking about Dad. July 2nd would have been his birthday. Dad was a small town auto mechanic. When he was hired away midcareer from the dealership he had worked at since his early twenties his customers followed him.
He once told me that the most important thing he did for his customers was to listen. We lived in a working class town where people lived paycheck to paycheck. Having your car break down is incredibly stressful when you need it to get to work, when you know it’s going to cost a big chunk of change, and when you don’t have cash set aside because you foolishly spent last week’s paycheck on groceries and the mortgage. He said when his customers came in they often needed to vent before they actually got to the mechanical problem. Dad knew a lot about the various money problems of people in our town, but he never said a word. He nodded, listened and when the customer was ready they talked about the car. Sometimes it was an easy fix, something that didn’t cost near what they’d feared. Either way, they left Dad feeling relieved.
It is easy to react to a difficult customer situation by wanting to shift blame. I made a call to the billing department of our health insurer last week. I’ve been trying to get my address changed. They’d had it right when I went to the clinic. I called to say that I’d been trying to get the address changed, but the bills were still going to the wrong address, (the bills guys, don’t you want me to get the bills?). The person on the other end of the phone spent a great deal of time explaining that I had never actually called her department (how was I supposed to know the departments’ systems couldn’t talk to each other?). She then went back to her records to see if I had actually ever called in. Finally, she agreed to just change my address. Wow, I was a little frustrated when I began that conversation, but boy was I frustrated by the end.
Dad told me it was the little things that meant the most to people. After he retired he would run the errands. Every month when he went to the pharmacy to pick up his meds, he put a quarter in the Lions Eye Bank box and pulled out two pieces of hard candy. He put one in his mouth and gave the other to the cashier. While the pharmacist put together his prescription, he would ask the cashier how her day had been. When I said goodbye to him at his funeral there were two pieces of hard candy on the pillow by his head.