Gary Tetz

It’s been a rough day for good customer service, and since you live and work in a profession dependent upon it, I’m sharing these still raw and painful experiences because I believe they’ll be relevant and instructive in your long-term care setting. Or else I just need someone to talk to. 

It started with lunch at a pretentious local deli. In a severe lapse of judgment, I had the audacity to request a substitution from sourdough to whole wheat on what was apparently an inalterable menu item handed down to Moses on Mt. Sinai. The look of horror on the face of the frightened waif working the counter made me quickly rethink my request, and rather than face the wrath of the vengeful chef, I chose to order the grilled masterpiece with its “secret blend of cheeses” exactly as the Creator intended.

I should also note that over the next hour, in the heat of the noon rush, only one other person chose to eat at this fine establishment. This tells me that word had already gotten around — to everyone, apparently, except the bald guy ordering the grilled cheese. But the lesson to be applied to dining programs everywhere is that the absence of satisfied customers, or customers at all, is a small price to pay for the right to serve pure condescension and maintain menu purity. This particular proprietor has stayed true to himself against the capricious whims of the market — no small consolation I’m sure as he readies his records for inevitable bankruptcy.

My stress-free, uber-satisfying lunch now completed, I next chose to call my health insurance provider. Or tried to. As I sat on hold for the next 34 minutes, through multiple transfers and endless repetitions of “She’s Got a Way” on the pan flute, my blood pressure climbed and angry veins pulsed in my temple and neck. Without pity for the unfortunate agent who would eventually be doomed to deal with me, I crouched and waited to unleash my accumulated wrath. Until She answered.

Her name was Sasha, meaning “helper of mankind,” and she turned out to be exactly that. Before I could carpet-bomb her cubicle with indiscriminate rage, she apologized profusely and with genuine empathy for my long wait time. Then after defanging and disarming me, she went right to work efficiently answering my questions and solving my problems. By the time the call was over, her spell was complete. I even reported Sasha’s animal-taming prowess to her supervisor, and demanded a raise on her behalf.

The point is that whatever your job description or location, from reception area to parking lot, sooner or later you’ll be put in a similar circumstance— on the front line and forced to engage with an angry someone. You haven’t done anything to deserve this random and unpleasant engagement, but there you are, a pawn in the hands of the wheel-spinning goddess Fortuna. At that point you’ll have two choices: Get angry and defensive yourself, or just Sasha the heck out of the situation. To learn how to do that, I suggest you memorize the following speech, write it on your coffee mug or add a teleprompter to a nearby rolling computer cart: 

“Hello, obviously Angry Person. I know that whatever you’re about to say isn’t directed at me personally, but is the product of unpleasant interactions with heartless strangers, or frustrating hours spent trying to navigate a long-term care labyrinth that resembles a fraternity hazing experience. Therefore, I will treat you politely and with compassion, recognizing I may be the first and only person to do so today.”

If it helps, also introduce yourself as Sasha, Defender of Mankind. That’s what I’ve been doing lately and it’s working wonders.

Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, who cobbles these pieces together from his secret lair somewhere near the scenic, wine-soaked hamlet of Walla Walla, WA. Since his debut with at the end of a previous century, he has continued to amuse, inform and sometimes befuddle long-term care readers worldwide.