Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Promises, Promises

For those of you who don't know, I work for a moving company, helping to plan moves, resolving claims, sending quality surveys, managing the social media channels, etc.  My title is Customer Relations Coordinator.  [Shameless plug - if you're moving and want it done right, feel free to send me an email.  I can give some free advice or can have one of our moving consultants contact you to provide an estimate.  And it doesn't matter where you live - we're well networked and can probably recommend somebody local to help you.]

For the past couple of weeks I've been trying to get in touch with a firm with whom we did some business in the US.  We contracted this company, an automobile hauler, to move a large boat trailer for one of our customers, as it wouldn't fit on our tractor trailer unit.  They did move it, but in order to attach the trailer to their truck, they needed to improvise the trailer's connections to the extent that the hydraulic brake fluid for the trailer leaked out, depressurizing the whole system.  When our customer received the boat trailer and realized what had happened, he took it to a dealer who re-pressurized & resealed the brake system at a cost of $155.  Naturally, this expense should have gone to the auto hauler, as it was their fumbling that caused the problem in the first place.  Whether or not it was a necessary problem, I don't know.  But ultimately, the customer should not have been saddled with the cost.

We asked the hauler to send a cheque to our customer in compensation.  This is where this post's title comes into play.  After a bit of a runaround, I was referred to Julie in their claims department.  I emailed her on Sep 7, and followed it up with a phone call on Sep 10, asking her to send a cheque and to let us know when it was done.  Her voicemail greeting is fairly standard, but it ends with something unique: "I will call you back by the end of the business day."  That emphasis is hers.

I thought that promise was impressive, but seeing as she hadn't responded to my email from three business days earlier, I was skeptical.  I waited until the following Monday, Sep 13, and still having received no response at that point, for the sake of our customer we decided to send him a cheque ourselves.  We didn't want him to be the one stuck waiting for a reply from the auto hauler.

To this date I have never actually spoken to or received an email from Julie.  I left another message for her on Sep 21 letting her know that we had sent the cheque ourselves and that we are expecting them to reimburse our company directly.

My only complaint here is that unfulfilled voicemail promise: "I will call you back by the end of the business day."  Most companies out there, in my experience, provide mediocre follow-up as a matter of course.  I've come to expect that as a norm.  Very rarely can you find a person or a company to whom you can assign a task and expect it to be done without at least one reminder.  I'm blessed to have a good collection of coworkers who are exceptions to this rule (although everybody has their off days).  But for third parties, I've grown accustomed to following up on all the requests I make to other people and companies with whom I work.

So if that line hadn't been there on Julie's voicemail greeting, it would have no cause to complain.  Following up with our auto hauler for this cheque would have been just another item on my to-do list, and I wouldn't have thought any less of them.  This would have been just another mediocre firm with whom we had to do business because there were no better alternatives.  But Julie led me to believe that she and her company were better than that.  With one email and two phone messages unanswered, she's proven they're not, and I'm reluctant to send any more work their way in the future.

The moral of the story: don't make a promise that you can't keep.  People notice.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Transformations #35

In the past few months, as I mentioned before, I've been reading a lot of Star Wars novels.  Eighteen of them, to be precise.  I've got two left in the series I'm currently in, but I've decided to put them on hold for the time being and read a book I just had delivered.

Give God Permission: The Memoirs of Fr. Bob Bedard was published this year, based on the handwritten notes this venerable old priest (my former spiritual director, and the Church's official witness of my marriage vows) had been compiling for the last few years.  About a year ago he ran into some health issues, most of which have settled down, but a sad curtain of dementia has remained, shrouding this once bright mind.

Fr. Scott McCraig wrote in the book's introduction, "The signature dry humour and compelling directness of Fr. Bob suffuse the book from beginning to end.  More than a few people have found themselves laughing aloud at times.  But it also deals with serious matters.... It is a very personal reflection on his life."  Buy it here.

I'm wrenching myself away from my fiction obsession to take in the truths and lessons contained in this book, and to reminisce on the life of a dear old friend who shall enrich Heaven with his worship there when the Lord finally calls him home.

Transformations: Change of Strategy

My initial concept of these 100 Transformations posts was to do three per week.  Lately this hasn't been happening.  I started this initiative at the beginning of summer, when the Lord was granting me a season of rest.  Now that the chaos of the school year has resumed, my free time has diminished.

I am therefore changing the rules.  I will still aim to do 100 posts on the theme, but I will take my sweet time to do it. My blog, my rules, my prerogative.  I refuse to feel bad about it.

That permission to change my own rules is almost worthy of a Transformations post itself...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

"Work is not Rabbit"

This post's title is a quote from the eminently readable David Warren's Labour Day column.  It's a quote from an old Czech friend of his, followed by, "It will not run away."

The meaning is that one's job, or more precisely, work in general, will always be there, and one should not sacrifice one's soul to it.  Rather than endorsing irresponsibility, he encourages priorities, by saying, "Lose a job, and you may find another. Do not lose a child."

Reading it reminded me of the job I held for 3 months before my wedding.  I was the receptionist at an electronics repair shop.  I took in customers' VCRs & stereos, arranged dates for service calls on large TVs, and did a lot of general office work, including filing.  I enjoyed the work and my colleagues were great.  The boss, however, was a weasel, as I learned after about a month on the job.

Every now and then he would give me a stack of completed repair invoices for filing.  The moment I realized his weasel-ness was when I noticed that one of the invoice copies I was filing was one I had already filed, and the total cost at the bottom of it was higher than the original had been.  I pulled the original out to confirm what my memory had told me, and as I looked through the whole stack of copies he had asked me to file, I realized that every single one of them - dozens - had had the price changed.

I looked deeper into it.  All of these were for work done within the manufacturer's warranty.  If the solution to the customer's poor VCR playback was a simple cleaning of the internal components, that's what the original invoice would say.  The customer would come and pick it up, sign the invoice, and be on his merry way.  I would file that copy.  The pattern I saw emerging was that my boss, a few days after the customer picked up the unit, would open up the invoice software, add a few fictional replacement parts and more labour, reprint the invoice, forge the customer's signature, and use that invoice to bill the manufacturer.

The manufacturers were none the wiser, with the exception of RCA, who had obviously been burned by this in the past and required all of their warranty shops to keep the faulty components they replaced.  Every few months RCA would send somebody in to collect them, so my boss couldn't pull the scam off on them.  But Panasonic, Phillips, Sony - they had been nailed for years this way, I realized once I started looking back through the older files.

My moral compass was, thankfully, well formed by that point in my life, and I confronted my boss on it.  "This is fraud and it's wrong," I told him.  "You've got to stop this."

He balked at that idea.  "Warranty work pays peanuts compared to non-warranty work.  It's not worthwhile to do warranty repairs at the rates we get.  Everybody in the repair business does this, and the manufacturers know and don't care.  They practically expect it."  Classic justification.

I stuck to my guns.  "If you don't stop doing this, I'll have to resign," I said.  It was an ultimatum, and I meant it.  I'm sure he didn't take me seriously; he kept saying things like how young and naive I was; that once I grew up a little and had more life experience I'd see things in more shades of grey that I was capable of right then.  This was eleven years ago, and I'm proud to say that my sense of right and wrong has not changed.

Ultimately, he refused to stop doing it, and I resigned.  It was a month before my wedding, and it wasn't easy to put a search for a new job on my to-do list right then.  But my spiritual advisor at the time, the venerable Fr. Bob Bedard, counselled that I had indeed done the right thing.  What kind of husband would I be, he asked, if I caved at the pressures of the corrupt world around me?

It all worked out - I got another job after the honeymoon without any difficulty.  Looking back, I'm very glad that I made the decisions I did back then, with the exception of one, which was a wee bit churlish.  I had written the poem below to capture my feelings as I went through this struggle.  On my last day, I programmed my computer to pop-up the poem about three months later.  I never found out if it worked or what the reaction was.

The Fool

To have a conscience in this day of lies
To be a light when darkness is preferred
To dare to stand, when "Sit!" the planet cries,
O pity me, for I must be a fool.

Uneducated, fresh, young, and naive,
I beg your sympathy for my poor fate.
I know my non-conformance makes you grieve.
O pity me, for I must be a fool.

You hearken to me; pray you, listen close!
For neither this, your system, nor yourself
Will be the judge of earth and all its host.
So reckon as you will.  I am no fool.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Transformations #34: Cycles of Life and Love

At Mass this past Sunday, I had a moment of reflection thrust upon me while watching the faithful gather.  As the worship leader for our service, I stand up front, and thus have a great view of the people filing in.

I saw one couple enter, good friends of ours, who this last week have been dealing with the anxiety of a sudden ectopic pregnancy.  They're scared, and torn over the moral dilemma of how to resolve the danger to the mother's life without overtly taking the life of the little one.  As they took their seats I could see evidence in their faces of a morning full of tears already, and their reservoir of sorrow was still brimming.  He wrapped his arm around her, and she held close to him.  They were for each other a pillar of strength, yet themselves broken and leaning on the other and the Lord for support.

My heart breaks as I ponder them even now.

A moment later, another couple, also good friends, entered the church.  This last week he had proposed marriage to her, setting up the evening with a repeat of their very first date, followed by some time praying together in the Perpetual Adoration chapel, and topped off with a romantic proposal in the courtyard of the church with the moon and stars gazing at them through the trees.  She said yes.  Theirs will be a good marriage.

They were positively glowing with the aura that only newly deepened chaste love can emit.

These two couples sat not far from each other, a stark contrast in extreme emotions.  Yet both had faithfully come before the Lord to share with him their deepest longings; to open to him their hearts.  After Mass as I was putting away my sound equipment I noticed these two couples talking to each other.  I wondered who was empathizing with whom in that exchange.  It also got me thinking: a mere two years ago, the first couple was engaged; swimming in the delight of new love full of unimagined possibilities.  The second couple wasn't even a going concern two years ago, as the man had just gone through an unpleasant breakup and was quite despondent, wondering if he would ever find love.

I saw demonstrated here the power of the vows of marriage in their fullness, covering as wide a spectrum of the human heart as is possible.  Through both spine-tingling joy and soul-crushing sorrow, the promise of each other, through the model of Christ and his Church, was the ideal to which both couples clung.

It was humbling to observe, and left me with a stern reminder not to take my wife and children for granted.