The customer isn't always right

I think I’ll write a little bit about some of the customers I encounter, unless it gets too tedious. You’ll let me know if that happens, I hope.

This particular customer arrived, looking, if I may say so in a way that paints a picture, rather than suggesting prejudice, well, looking like a member of the republican party. Short hair, puffy face, thirty-something, polo shirt, blue tooth on the ear.

He asked about a particular piece of property, and prefaced his questions with, “I’m planning to build a 5,550 square feet, eight bedroom home here.” I think he thought this might impress me, but it really had the opposite affect. I try to check my prejudices, and do the research I can from the computer.

“Let’s see, we’ve done a study on the property next door. The stream that runs through this parcel is fish-bearing, so …”

He interrupts with a loud, bellowing, “HA HA HA. There are NO fish in the stream. I’m sure of that. I’ve been watching this property for three weeks now, and I’ve never seen a fish.”

I try to stay calm, and stick to the facts. “The report completed on the adjacent property describes the stream as 5 feet wide, and directly connected to a major salmon-bearing stream a few hundred feet away.“

HA HA HA. That’s ridiculous.”

“I’m just telling you what we know. If you were to come in for a permit application, we’d visit the site, and if there's an error, we’d correct it at that time.”

“Seriously? You’re saying that there are fish in there? That’s just crazy.”

“Since you haven’t purchased the property yet, it’s useful to find out all of the possibilities, and what the resulting limitations might be. As I said, we’d do a site visit when you come in for a permit application, and we’d make a determination then.”

“Well, I can tell you right now that’s not even a stream.”

“So, what did you have in mind for the property?”

He describes a scenario that requires a driveway crossing of the stream. “The stream crossing could be allowed, subject to some limitations.” I start reciting them, and he interrupts.

“Look, there is no stream. The driveway is already in. There are no fish. In fact, the culvert is about 3 feet above the stream channel.”

I do a little more research, and see that the driveway is new, and was constructed without permits. “Hmm, you would need to legalize the driveway by getting a permit, and from what you describe, we would likely require that you replace the culvert to restore fish passage.”

HA HA HA! When are you going to drop it about the fish?”

“You might be right,” I say, “but since you haven’t purchased the property yet, it would be helpful to learn the worst case scenario, so that if it turns out to be true, you can decide if you’re still interested.”

“Are you telling me that I can’t access the back of my property?” He’s yelling, by now.

“No, I’m just suggesting that there may be some limitations to crossing the stream, and it would be useful to find out what they are before you buy it.”

“What you’re saying is that I can’t use my land? Based on what I’m hearing from you, I’m walking from this deal. I don’t you know if you know my realtor (he names someone who, yup, we all know, and it explains everything – the unpermitted crossing, the bad culvert placement, etc.), but he knows what he’s doing.” It’s funny, but I get the sense he’s bluffing about walking from the deal, and he thinks that statement will cause me to change what I’ve told him, which, well, is just weird.

It would be like if a tourist came to Seattle, and went to an information booth to ask about going up the space needle, and were told, well, it costs $15, and it’s pretty rainy, so there won’t be a view today, and the person got all huffy, and threatened to not go, as if the whole thing were the fault of the information booth person, and as if the info booth person would be disappointed if they didn’t go.

“Well, if the property wouldn’t suit your needs, that’s probably a good idea.”

My voice is pretty even, but if you know me, you’d know I was getting really irritated, because I went into that mode of talking a little quieter, a little more slowly. I try to imagine myself on my little yoga mat, hands to heart center, just exhaling, and being compassionate, but it isn’t working at all. It isn’t working because one of my strategies is to picture people in their natural habitat. Some people can be jerks when faced with the bureaucracy, and I get that. Seriously, has anyone ever dealt with Broadstripe, or Verizon lately? I'm just saying, I get it, people hate dealing with huge systems that make them feel insignificant.

Some people, even though they're being kind of jerky, I can imagine them reading to a child, or lighting candles at a family dinner, but unfortunately, the best I can do with this guy is picture him in a toga at a fraternity keg party, and it isn’t helping with the sympathy, not even a little.

“I think I’ll go get a person who can answer some of your other questions.” This is two of my last-ditch effort strategies combined: leaving the room, and getting a man to come talk to this person.

I run up to the third floor and find one of the grading people. He’s a big guy, and good at staying calm. People tend to listen to him. “I need a boy-answer, please. Could you come downstairs?”

He does, and says the same thing I’ve been saying, “Yes, you’ll need a permit to legalize the road.”

The same conversation re-starts, but with a slightly different energy, because certain men really like the answers to come from a man. I do the “human sacrifice” trick, and leave those two to discuss it, but it ends pretty quickly, and I don’t hear any more loud “HA HA HA you think there’s fish?!!”

I give R. the shoulder punch when I depart, because he knows I owe him for yet again providing “boy answer.” I guess I’ve been thinking about this for a few days now, because our agency is getting attacked for delivering poor customer service, and it’s a little frustrating. I guess we have different definitions of who the customer is, and different definitions of what service looks like than the people doing the judging.

But I’m also amazed and disappointed that there’s still this weird gender thing, where some men, men who are young enough to know better, really don’t want to get information from women. Grr, I was hoping it would be different for my daughter…

Thanks for enduring this whiny little post.


  1. I'm so glad you do what you do. I would be terrible at that job; I imagine that any encounter with someone like that would end in a fist fight and a bloody nose (mine).


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