I’m all about staying present, counting my blessings, seeing the glass half-full and all that malarkey. But sometimes, in my weakest moments, I find myself coveting a celebrity or fictional character’s life. We’ve all done it. Standing in that interminable depressing line at the D.M.V., who hasn’t thought “I bet Cher never has to do this?” It’s not that we really want to be Cher (really. Did you see those towns she played for her “farewell tour?” After year two, she was probably fantasizing about being me!) We just want to feel for a moment, that we aren’t part of some populace blob. Who doesn’t bristle or whimper at being reduced to a statistic? Which explains why lately, as I tackle big banks, chain pharmacies or my cable provider, I’m prone to fantasize. Yes dear reader, there are moments when I wish I was Aunt Bee. It’s not the ample bosom or indistinguishable accent I covet, but the way of life.
Aunt Bee was never told that her $63 check couldn’t be cashed after she had just handed the teller a $400 cash deposit. Aunt Bee would not have to fill out three bank forms (uniformly dotted with typos) confirming that yes her legal name is in fact her legal name. Everybody at the bank knew Bee, and if they didn’t they certainly knew Andy. In my pursuit of Bee-ness, I patronize as many small and local businesses as possible. I enjoy a familiar face that acknowledges they’ve seen me before (and the shopper in me appreciates the variety that comes from independent shops.) My weekly trip to the flea market is a great outing for my Bee avatar. There’s always a warm greeting and brief chat with the pickle guys. The (costume) jewelry lady was a tougher one to crack (I think she has that facial recognition disorder) but she’s up and chatting now! The pretzel man has a nice smile and knows I like the broken pieces. He always sends me on my way with a bonus “one for the road.”
There is nothing inherently unfriendly about big business. Friendly, well-trained staff can be employed in any industry. The issue is one of implementing policy. Any time guidelines are instituted for large amounts of people they are going to be very generic and rigid in nature. The customer is seen as an amalgamation of millions. You can toss around words like “client” and “guest” but what we really are is just a speck in the blob. For the record, the “people as blobs” strategy can be quite effective in areas of; crowd control, public health, and emergency preparedness. In other words, it works well in a crisis. But everyday, it can be soul crushing.
Any large organization (public or private) needs policy and strategy. The issue is how these policies and strategies are communicated along the chain. If the organization has decided (consciously or not) that policy will take the place of critical thinking on the part of employees, my $63 check will go uncashed. But if people are hired because of their problem solving skills and ability to translate policy into practice, we all have a chance of being Aunt Bee.
Everyone just wants to be recognized. Navigating the public school system should not be a competitive sport (for parent or child.) Talking to an actual human in the customer service department should not be seen as a tactical victory. Apparently our fastest growing industry is the service sector. If this really is the case, attention must be paid. While offering any color of car, as long as the color is black, worked for the automotive industry, it does not work for the people industry.