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Are There Enough?

Here’s my rockhounding site:

Are There Enough?

Certainly there are those who care but are there enough? Are there enough to overcome everyone who doesn’t?

I’ve been incredibly disappointed by how poorly big companies and many people have responded to this virus crisis. Instead of rising to the occasion, most have used this crisis to cut services to reduce costs.

We have an enormous amount of unemployed people sitting at home who could take orders, answer questions about a product, or locate a package. A call center seat can be set up anywhere a person has a net connection. Like at home.

Yet every website I go to says that longer wait times must now be experienced because of the COIVD-19 pandemic. I waited for an hour and forty minutes a month ago for UPS to answer my call. What is going on here? Staff up. Use temp agencies. My company uses writers in the Philippines. Plenty of people in America and abroad willing to work.

I was in St. George two months ago at a Hilton property for an overnight stay. A kid no more than ten years old was pushing a garbage can through the lobby. I asked the maintenance man what was going on. He said that was his kid. What?

He said that they had to lay off most of their staff and they were now getting more money by not working than by coming back to work. Okay. Yet the pool was crowded with people and I know they must have had a pool guy coming in every day to maintain it.

Any janitorial company in that town would love to have another commercial account, even if it were temporary. Yet, Hilton made the decision to save money by not hiring an outside contractor. They would rather let a ten year old do what he could. Which wasn’t much.

For the first time since I have been going to Hilton properties, they stopped brewing coffee throughout the night. Reason? They couldn’t have customers serving themselves. What? Every gas station from Nevada to Utah had people serving themselves. I asked why they didn’t have coffee going when they could simply have the night clerk hand a cup of coffee to the visitor. Nope, we’ve stopped serving coffee. Another way to cut costs.

At another Hilton property two weeks ago, breakfast was in a brown paper bag: two fruit bars and a bottle of water. They could have kept their kitchen going and have someone serve, but, again, this is was a way to cut costs by using COVID-19 as an excuse.

Let me make this clear: government and large industries are now using a pandemic which will kill hundreds of thousands of people as an excuse to provide less service to save money. True, many corporations are making less money overall, but they are setting up a a future in which everybody will expect less from them. Great service will be a long forgotten dream. And creativity doing the right thing may be dead.

I’ve written how in early March (internal link) that I was at a clinic for my badly wrenched back. Seeing the full protocols in place for the virus, I asked if retired nurses and physicians were being called in to help. My doctor said no. “They’re not licensed anymore.”  The nurse nodded her head. Are you insane?, I thought. That’s your kind of crisis management?

It should be all hands on deck instead of selectively picking the deck crew. To Nevada’s credit, the state instituted a limited call back program ten days later. Still, a simple step like this should have been done on the first day. And these kind of simpletons are now in charge of our lives. I’m a layman. I expect professionals to be a lot smarter and more creative than I am. A lot smarter. And I want them to prove it every day.

In truth, I don’t expect much from government but I expect great things from great companies. Yet I am not seeing that at all. Everybody is making excuses. There’s a scene from Apollo 13 in which two characters are discussing the problems they must overcome and how everything is leading to disaster. The character played by Ed Harris replies, “With all due respect sir, I believe this is going to be our finest hour.” Exactly. It will be a demonstration of how great we really are. True character is revealed when challenged or stressed. Some fold, some overcome. Be creative under constraints.

For several years I worked for a landscape construction firm. Part of my job was troubleshooting. Fixing problems that cropped up from day to day. With me doing that, there was no need to pull an entire construction crew off a job  to fix a leaking valve or reset a sprinkler clock. Sometimes, the problems were much, much more complicated. Whatever.

I never had a limit on what I could spend and there was no time limit on my repairs, simply the unspoken order to get the job done, fix the problem, make the customer happy, stop their phone calls. I made all sorts of executive decisions in the field, rarely calling in for approval. I’ll relate one story.

One summer day I was to first pick up a fifteen gallon crepe myrtle at Matsuda’s Nurseryy in Sacramento. Their crew picked out a beautiful specimen in full bloom, all red pink. I think it was $75 dollars, decent money at the time for the early 90s. I loaded it onto my truck, making sure to tarp it so it wouldn’t get wind burn. I’d plant it for a customer later in the day in north Sacramento. The next stop, though, was all the way up in Cameron Hills, nearly sixty miles from our Davis yard. Sixty miles was about as far as we went, given drive times to get work done.

The customer was a problem. They had repeatedly called about minor things in their new landscape, like drip emitters coming off their tubes. Which turned out to be usually from their dog doing it. We had pulled construction crews off of other jobs to go fix these details and it was getting very tiresome. Now, I was sent up to fix whatever had gone wrong this time.

As I rolled up to their house, I noticed the couple was at their window, and then out the door, even before I parked. Never a good sign. I got out and started fixing the tarp over the tree. The owners saw the tree and were interested. I pulled the cover off the tree and started talking it up. I knew exactly what I was going to do. The couple got more and more invested in the tree as I described it. Finally, I said, rather sternly, “All right. You can have this tree for free. I won’t plant it but I will place it wherever you want. The condition is that you never call our office again.” They excitedly nodded and agreed, saying they could have their gardener take care of anything that developed. I left them happy and then returned to the nursery to get another tree.

I told John about what had happened when I got back to the office. I normally never bothered him about how I got things done but that kind of talk to a customer was not how we built our reputation. He was hard at work with paperwork as I related the story. A mild grunt was all I got from him and he never looked up from his desk. Later, the vice president asked why we were getting billed for two identical trees on the same day. I told her what happened and she looked aghast. I asked her if they had called again. She just shook her head and I went on to other errands.

Later, I asked her about our advertising budget because we didn’t seem to advertise, I only noticed that we printed up pamphlets about the company. I knew over 90% of our work was from referrals but not much more.  She said, “Your salary is our advertising budget.”

And that’s it, isn’t it? Put money into service and customer relations, not a billboard. Not an advertising campaign to say how great you are when all that is is show. Like the customer survey emails that are never responded to. They say they want your comments, but not really. Not if you have a suggestion or are critical.

Great companies do great things. They take action, they progress, they expect their people to innovate and get better. Nowadays, most international companies don’t even pay for Caller ID. I can’t tell you the numbers of important calls I have missed because some company like DHL or FedEx or Globalstar has decided not to pay for that service. Now, their calls appear to me as spam, I don’t know anyone in Wichita. Do I?

Yesterday, I returned the call of a physician’s office, only to have it ring until the call was disconnected. Not even voice mail. A doctor. Can you believe that? This is the same doctor last year who I found out did not have an answering service after hours. Or another on call doctor.  I only stayed with her out of laziness from finding a new specialist, which, trust me, with my particular problem, is a long and tiring hunt. Anyway, my Dad and his colleagues all covered for each other on nights and weekends and believe, me, you could get hold of them at two in the morning if your baby had a terrible ear ache and you were deathly worried. Now, e-mail and voice mail, if you can get to a voice mail box, sail away into the ether.

Where are we going with this? Why aren’t we getting better? Why can’t we be more creative? Aside from front line medical people, the rest of corporate America and government seem bent on profiting by this crisis by reducing staff and services. We are institutionalizing an uncaring attitude into the fabric of life. Yes, there are people who care. But are there enough?

By thomasfarley01

Business writer and graphic arts gadfly.

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