Speaking Truth to . . . No One

By the time the front-office employee hung up on me, I had been on hold for 22 minutes. More precisely, I’d been shuffled through menus for eight minutes and on hold for the other 14. The voice had said, four times at regular intervals, “If you want to make an appointment, leave your name and number and you will be phoned back within two business days.” But there was no opportunity to leave your name and number.

In a chain reaction, make sure you know where both ends of the chain are.

In a chain reaction, make sure you know where both ends of the chain are.

When the front office finally picked up, she told me that the doctor was not accepting new patients. I began to ask for another doctor in the same practice, and she hung up on me. Just like that. Lunch break was 30 minutes, and I had used 22 of them with no result to show for it.

This was a training issue. An overworked employee, overwhelmed by ringing phones, undone work, too much responsibility and no authority. Faced by a problem she couldn’t solve, she hung up on the problem. Bad training. Even worse customer service.

It’s a new insurance company to me, and luckily, they are publicly traded. Not exciting news, except I could easily find their annual report online.  Before lunch break was over, I had a phone number of a person senior enough to care about an unhappy client.

The phone call was brief. I left a message on his voice mail giving the date, time, of my disappointing call and the name of the person who hung up on me. I asked for a return call so we could take care of the training issue. And I asked for an apology.

In the end, that is exactly what I got. A heartfelt apology and a doctor’s appointment (with a different doctor). I posted a much briefer version on Facebook, emphasizing the training issue and the importance of customer service training for any employee who ever speaks with the public.

In a chain reaction, know what you are setting into motion. Know the end before you begin.

In a chain reaction, know what you are setting into motion. Know the end before you begin.

Instead of sympathy or other stories, a rash of comments told me to “speak truth to power” and name the company and the employee. I didn’t understand. The matter had been taken care of. There was no need to name a company or to hold an overworked woman up for derision.

It felt like relentless retribution–a senseless escalation of anger that would not be resolved or made better by “speaking truth to power.” I’d taken the steps that might solve the problem–spoken calmly to someone who had the power to create change, and received both an apology and the appointment I had wanted.

Sure, I had been angry. Seething. That’s an emotion that is strong. But every action after that emotion bloomed was my responsibility. Did I want this woman fired because she was overwhelmed? Had I not been overwhelmed myself? Did costing this woman her job equal my inconvenience?

Anger is a powerful fuel. It leaps along our brain, creating rationalizations. Demanding a job lost to justify our own importance. At that very moment, you have a chance to be fair. To give the fairness you were denied a new life in another circumstance. And it’s much harder to do than go for the throat

That’s truth to power.

—Quinn McDonald knows that retribution isn’t worth it.


14 thoughts on “Speaking Truth to . . . No One

  1. I find writing to the president/CEO of a company works wonders. our little ISP was blacklisted by AOL, and I penned a letter to their president, signing myself chief people person!! Six phone calls from his staff, and we have never had a prob. with them. did the same with yahoo, before whatshername, and had the same good result. Staffers who deal with the public should (a) be chosen for their temperament to answer a phone and (2) trained for crises calls.. and not left to flounder..

    • Writing to a marketing officer or a senior person in the company is a skill, and you sure seem to have it. Staying calm, asking for what you want and explaining only the major point are keys.

  2. I want to comment. Actually I want to rant but I’m going to control myself and agree that, Quinn you handled the situation very well. Not only did you get what you originally called about taken care of but perhaps the next person to call will get better service because of your vigilance.
    Nicely done.

  3. You did the right and proper thing. It is easy to let anger guide you, but to let a level head, not quite as when the anger is there. I agree that there was no reason to let people know names. That would be anger speaking. I think you handled the whole thing beautifully. Sorry about your lunch though.

  4. Anger aside, a good reason to name companies that don’t function well enough is to help people. Someone else deciding on a product or service might check with the BBB or Yelp or the like and discover that A is a better choice than B.

    Because what if it’s not a training issue; what if it goes beyond just one person? Then it’s a systemic issue — like designing a small car with the gas tank in the back and bumper bolts sticking right at it ready to cause a puncture, or a credit card processor with such lax security that hundreds of thousands of accounts are released.

    Long ago my job was analyzing companies and recommending improvements in organization and training, and one of the things we taught managers was how to figure out the cause of a problem. If someone’s performance needed improvement, you’d ask “could they do it if their life depended on it?” If not, “where can they find out how to do it”? And then, to the managers, “can YOU find out where to do it?” Lots of times the answers were all no, and then you knew it was a systemic problem.

    “Y’see, we’re putting cover sheets on all the TPS reports now. Did you get a copy of that memo? I’ll just make sure you get another copy of that memo. If you could remember to put cover sheets on your TPS reports from now on, that would be great. Ok then.”

    • My action was appropriate for the situation. If it continues; I’ll take another, different action. It’s hard to withdraw an over-reaction, Pete. Sometimes a mistake is just a mistake, not an early warning of disaster.

  5. I am so glad this was resolved. I agree that there is no need to call out people or companies about it. Calling out Chick Filet is one thing but as you say, an overworked employees is quite another. It has become all to easy to ruin a persons life through the use of the internet.

  6. Years ago we kept loosing our internet connection for days at a time and naturally I called the service provider’s technical support. The first call lasted for 30-45 minutes. No-one picked up the call. The system would put me on hold, then put me through so that the phone rang but no-one ever answered, then I got put on hold again. I run out of time and I had to give up but I called again the next day. That time I was prepared. I first waited for about 30 min, then put the speaker on and got on with my chores. I got both the kitchen and bedroom windows washed before anyone answered (mind you, we have triple glassing here). By the time the call ended, I had been ‘on call’ for almost 2 hours! But I did get the windows done! What I didn’t get was an apology but that company had such a lousy customer service that some clients filed complaints about it to the consumer ombudsman and the company did got officially warned off.

      • And that’s not all! No, sir. The apartment was a rental in a housing complex owned by a student accommodation foundation and the internet was included in the rent which meant we couldn’t change the service provider even if we wanted to. Sometimes the service was simply down, sometimes their systems lost our connection and we had to reconnect as if it was a completely new connection. This meant getting new ip and everything. But that time if was a really weird stuff. There was three houses in that complex but for some bizarre reason it was always ONLY our house that lost the internet for days. Our friends in the house right next to ours had no trouble at all during that time.

        But I can give you the name of the company if your still considering signing up. I’m sure they want to expand to overseas (they sure spent a fortune trying to get to the German markets. Guess how that went.).

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