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A Fine Line

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I try, when dealing with customer service people, to treat them with respect and understanding, because I know all too well that they have rules to adhere to, want to do a good job both for their customer and for their company, and, perhaps, are one call away from snapping.


That’s part of why these last couple of weeks at work have been interesting: when people are calling in and actually talking with a human being, most seem to be polite and kind and patient (unless you’ve given them reason to be impatient). But, when people e-mail in their issues for resolution, well, sometimes decorum goes out the window.


Oh, I have no illusions that I don’t work in really a glorified complaints department–no one calls in to tell us that everything’s working normally. So all we ever hear is the bad stuff, or the things that really piss people off.


But one e-mail I got to process today was a clincher. It came from a VP, one of those sorts who seems to identify themselves based on their title, because their e-mail signature very loudly called out their position as a VP and head of a team. Right there, I should have known to hide under the desk, but foolishly, I went on.


This VP was writing to tell us that they had received an e-mail telling them the needed to complete an online training. They said they dutifully clicked on the link to go into the training system. They even said they logged into said training system, and went to the page that showed their pending training modules that needed to be completed. And then, in a sure slap in the face to any red-blooded American professional executive, they discovered that there were no incomplete or pending training modules waiting for them.


I’m certain the audible gasp from their office on this occasion could be heard campus-wide. Indeed, great flocks of cube dwelling workers no doubt paused in their labors and realized, lo, that there had been a mistake, and this simply would not do.


The VP in question then pointed out how big a waste of their time this was, to be taken to a website to complete a training that was not in need of completion. Alas, I imagined the herds of cube dwellers under this VP in complete pause, bereft of direction from their VP, while the invaluable leader took three minutes away from wielding the whip and chair and barking orders. All production stopped during that time, I’m certain. All collaboration ceased. Memos went unwritten for moments. Phone calls dropped. Instant messages suddenly went blank–like those minutes of Nixon Watergate tapes which were found to be blank. The team no longer had purpose without the iron fisted leadership of their VP while that iron fist was focused on clicking a mouse to get to a training website.


But this must be why I’m not in leadership: the VP then demanded, with the last breath they could expend on that e-mail, that the source of the e-mail directing them to the training site be determined, investigated, and remedied so that they would no longer be bothered to take three minutes out of their busy lives. It made me wonder if they wrote letters to cities and highway departments complaining about stop lights delaying them from making their way to work, or wrote to Panasonic to take issue with the fact that a Hot Pocket takes two whole minutes to cook in one of their microwave ovens. Or that bread neglects to take on a golden brown appearance immediately after being removed from the bag in the morning.


Well. As you can surely imagine, I was flabbergasted, and it takes a great deal to flabbergast me with an e-mail complaining about another e-mail. This problem had indeed risen to such monumental heights that I knew there was only one proper response–only one way to appropriately address the issue.


I passed it on to the contractors in India who support the training system. The pithy incomprehensible response they will deliver to the VP’s voicemail in two to three weeks will almost certainly be appropriate. Though I hope they’re thoughtful enough to not waste anyone’s time with it. Maybe they can figure out how to make time go backwards while the voicemail message is listened to so that it’s actually two minutes earlier at the end of the message than it was then the message started.


I feel so envious of the team that works under this VP. To observe, on a daily basis, such unrelenting efficiency, such attention to time management, such…Oh wait, the VP is writing another complaint e-mail. Really? It takes 5 minutes to make a pot of coffee? Who the hell thought that one up?


See you tomorrow.