When I was a teenager, I was embarrassed when my mother would get stern or assertive with people in public places. (Because you know, teenagers are generally embarrassed by anything their parents do - up to and including breathing in the same room.) I can distinctly remember a situation when she got (in my silly opinion) pushy with a woman at a department store.
Fast forward to today when I find myself grateful for the example she set on how to handle a difficult situation. Looking back with adult eyes, I see that incident in the store completely differently.
I would like to share what's happened in our home recently that has reaffirmed this feeling.
WSSC: When we got our first water bill from, it was ridiculously large ($2000). We FREAKED OUT. I'm not kidding you when I say blood pressures were raised. My husband opted to handle it and figure out what the problem was. We were sure there was a leak.
He called and the young woman he spoke with only made things worse. Not only did she get snippy and say, "Well maybe you should run your sprinkler less" but she said they couldn't help us adjust the bill until it was paid. She refused to let him speak to a supervisor and basically blew him off, threatening that the water would be shut off if it wasn't paid in full. So we scraped money together as we went into the holiday season, right on the heels of the water through the dining room ceiling, and paid them. My husband was so angry and admitted he lost his temper with the woman by the end of the call - and this is a man who RARELY loses his temper at all, even when it's deserved.
Fast forward to the next bill. At this point, we have had the sprinklers turned off and the line bled. We now know the previous owners had set the thing to run several times a day every day. We were basically watering our house, the houses down the hill, and possibly the people beyond them. Having never had a sprinkler system, it was a genuine mistake. The bill however said we now owed $1400 and this time I decided to call (to save my husband's life, he was too angry to safely call them without his head exploding).
I got a different customer service person, I'm sure, but I also made sure to control the conversation so that I couldn't be put off with pat answers. Forcing the person on the phone to listen to what I was saying and being pleasant as possible about it while firm was a huge success. The woman apologized for her colleague, told me some steps to get the bill corrected, instigated a request for a rate adjustment for the previous bill and gave me some other tips to possibly same money on our future bills.
When the bills arrived earlier this week, they were still not correct. The amounts were smaller but there was no credit for the adjustment or the money we had already paid accounted for on the bill. I called back and spoke with a lovely older woman at WSSC. Funny thing is, I think she was prepared for an irate customer not someone being friendly so her initial tone was stern and aggressive. Again I approached things in a firm but pleasant manner, keeping the focus on the concerns I had. We chatted and I explained my concerns. She realized something was wrong and pulled in a supervisor (who then had to pull in some other experts). They called me back the next day with it completely fixed, apologetic and wishing me a great weekend. I went from being "Ma'am" to "Ms. M" by the end of the entire situation. Refreshing.
Washington Gas: In the midst of all this, last weekend we went to bed and woke up to a house at 58 degrees. It was COLD and getting colder. Plus there was a storm coming through (less of a storm than advertised, but still below freezing temperatures) and we had the kids for the weekend. At first we thought, the furnaces are broken. But logically, the odds of them both going at the same time were pretty bad. So we called the gas company to see if there was an issue.
Now, we've been paying a bill to the gas company since last summer when we moved into the house. The bill comes in my husband's name to our address - the same address receiving gas service - and we pay it. So why was it cut off? Because the account had the name "Occupy" on it and they thought someone was stealing gas.
WHAT?! You have our name and the address and we PAY you, so that MAKES NO SENSE. Plus, before you cut off someone's gas service, you should give them notice. You may also want to check the weather before you do it. So, I offered (was asked) to please call them because my hubby was told, when he called, that they couldn't reconnect us until the following Monday. During the snow event. After two days at feezing temperatures. With children in the house.
So, I called and I was... irate. However, I didn't curse the unhelpful customer service rep out (I did raise my voice a little) and I just kept pressing my concerns to the forefront. I finally realized she was unable to say anything but the scripted responses. She couldn't commit the company to anything. So, I pulled my mother out of my memory and said, "Look, I understand you don't have the authority to help me, but someone there does. If there was a gas leak or explosion at my house, someone would have the ability to schedule service today at my house to fix the situation. So, as this is an emergency for the protection of children, the gas needs to be reconnected immediately. The paperwork issue is not one we're going to solve right now. Please put the person who has that authority on the phone."
Voila, I was connected with someone who didn't have to read from a script. We had a candid conversation and he contacted the dispatcher and someone came to my house and turned on the gas. Now we still have a paperwork and bill issue to handle, but I'm convinced it will be fine. I'll just remember to Keep Calm and Press On.
There are times I open my mouth and my mother comes out, and I wince. This was not one of those times. All I can say is, "Thank you, Mom, for teaching me how to handle a situation like this." No need to get nasty, curse, or scream. Persistent professionalism wins!
Even if it looks like an embarrassing situation in the eyes of the teens.