When you are part of a busy family, time is of the essence. Minutes are important. Hours are precious.
You begin to notice small things that knock you off schedule: the extra minutes spent in traffic, the long lines at the supermarket, the disarray at a fast-food restaurant.
Just in the last few weeks, I've begun to notice how minutes drain away.
My sons and I, for example, are fixated on one drive-through burger restaurant that consistently botches our orders. Our chocolate milk request magically turns into a vanilla shake. Our cheeseburger transforms into pancakes. We sometimes joke the bewildered folks at the "last window" seem to disregard our order and randomly hold up food items until we see something we like.
Meanwhile, I noticed last week that one of my credit cards was splitting, so I called the company to get a new card.
After five minutes of awkward conversation with an automated voice, I asked to speak to a real person. Even this was a little hard as my first impulse is not to hurt anyone's feelings, even a robot's.
I was connected to a real person with a lilting Indian accent, but I found our conversation to be only slightly more manageable.
He said, "Would you like me to expedite this?"
I heard: "Do you like expialidocious."
"I'm sorry. It's me. I can't hear well, so could you please slow down a bit?" I begged. "I didn't get that last sentence."
At that point, he switched from hyper-speech to a Gomer Pyle cadence, and things went much better.
Later that day, I opened a letter from my bank informing me that it had accidentally failed to report our mortgage interest to the government in 2014 which could result in an inquiry by the IRS.
Great, I thought.
This is the same bank that inexplicably stopped sending me a mortgage statement, requiring me to walk to the little branch office near the newspaper to pay the bill. When I walked there last week, I was greeted with a sign notifying customers that the branch has closed.
"Well, of course it has," I muttered.
Everywhere in American commerce, it seems, shareholders have supplanted customers. It may help the bottom line for the short term but, in the long term, companies that re-commit to customer service will do better, I think.
Here's a case in point.
I appreciate Chick-fil-A restaurants. I enjoy the food, the service, the whole customer experience.
I love the way the workers say "my pleasure" instead of "you're welcome." To me, it's like the difference between a tepid handshake and a warm hug.
I admire the way the workers seem to be always be hustling with all the urgency of a bucket brigade of grandkids trying to save Granny's house from a fire. I've read that employees are encouraged to look for innovative ways to charm customers, like helping mothers with children carry their trays to the table and offering left-over nuggets for the family dog.
I even like the way Chick-fil-A restaurants close on Sundays, signaling that the owners put more emphasis on employees than profits. As a consequence, turnover among the company's employees is said to be only a third of industry average, and the company is reportedly growing about 13 percent a year. Chick-fil-A also gets industry-leading scores on customer service surveys, I discovered.
For years, our family avoided Chick-fil-A because of a dietary restriction with one of our children. Now that he is older, I sometimes lunch there alone.
Company President Dan Cathy explains the company's philosophy: "We think of Chick-fil-A as an oasis where people can be restored. We're all people with a lot of emotional things going on that don't necessarily show on the surface, so we try to offer amenities and kindness that minister to the heart."
Stumbling upon this island of excellence in a sea of mediocrity has been — well — a pleasure.
Contact Mark Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6645.