Monday, September 16, 2013

Dissatisfaction is not an excuse.

I mentioned last week that I had experienced some of the worst customer service I have ever encounter at the Service Center at Capitol Toyota in Salem, Oregon.  As promised, I'll tell you a little more about that this week, and share some of my thoughts on the importance of maintaining a strong work ethic.

After pulling the error code from my car's computer and doing some research online, it became clear that the only solution was a new ECM, which is one of those repairs which requires special equipment only available to dealerships.  What wasn't entirely clear, was whether or not I'd be able to get them to replace it under a recall, or if I'd have to do it myself since my problem was with a part that was recalled for a very specific failure, but my car's particular failure wasn't the one that initiated the recall. In short; Right church, wrong pew.

Since it's the year 2013 and nobody uses phone books anymore, I did a quick Google search to find the phone number for my local Toyota dealership, which also happens to be where I bought my car back in '06.  In less time that it would have taken to find a phone book, I was looking at their home page with three telephone number right at the top: Sales, Service, Parts.  Turns out that the number for "service" rings once, gives you a message that your call may be monitored for quality assurance, transfers you to another number that also rings once, and then transfers you to a disconnected number.

Now, that should probably have been a sign.  When you call their service number, you're transferred multiple times, played two recordings, and then hung up on without actually receiving any service.  However, not being one who is easily dissuaded by obvious rejection, I went ahead and called the parts desk.

I explained my situation to the guy at the parts desk who was friendly, but ultimately ill equipped to help.  He suggested that I talk to the guys in the Service Center to see if they could contact Toyota on my behalf and see if they could get it fixed without dumping $1000 into a part that Toyota knows to be faulty.  While I was unable to dial in to the Service Center, he was at least able to transfer me.

When I explained, as briefly as possible, the issue with my car and the suggestion of the guy at the parts desk, the person I spoke to in the service center cut me off as soon as he'd heard enough to guess the rest and said, "I'll give you their number and you can call them yourself."  You may be thinking this was simply the limit of what he was able to do for me, but it was spoken as though I was a pan handler and he had an anger management issue.  Then he rattled off the phone number without waiting for any further response from me.  In fact, he rattled it off so quickly that if I hadn't been sitting at my computer with a text editor already open (or leaning over a piece of paper with a pen at the ready if you're the pen and paper type) I never would have been able to write down the number without asking him to repeat it.

Then I told him that I'd already found out the cost of a new ECM at the parts department, but wanted to know what the labor would be.

"I don't know.  Probably $100 or $200 depending on how much crap we have to move to get to it." (Those were his exact words)

"Okay...  Last thing, can I get a direct number to the Service..."


"...Center whe..."

"5-0-3, 3-7-0, 4-8-0-0"

Not only did he cut me off again, but when I didn't stop talking fast enough, he simply shouted the telephone number over the top of me.  That was basically the end of my conversation except that I said, "wow," and he hung up.

Now, I work in a service industry, so I understand that it's not always easy to provide your very best service.  It's also not always easy to take your very best photographs, cook your very best meals, or easy to do your very best of anything.  If it was easy, it wouldn't be your very best.

Sadly, that kind of behavior goes way beyond the day to day challenges of service.  It is a window into the spirit of a person who has lost their work ethic entirely.  Stopped caring about even trying, let alone being the best at whatever they are.

People often talk about a strong work ethic as though it was a list of characteristics.  They might give you a list that says a good work ethic is:
  • Getting to work on time.
  • Not missing work.
  • Working hard.
  • Being honest with your co-workers, employers and customers.
  • Showing commitment and dedication to your work.
I think those are the indicators that a strong work ethic is present, but those things are no more a strong work ethic than warmth and light are the sun.  The sun produces warmth and light, but it is much, much more.  It is also much simpler, and a strong work ethic is no different.  A truly strong work ethic is no more, and no less, than the drive to be exceptional at whatever it is your work entails.  When you have that, all the things in that list will happen on their own.

Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a sermon in 1967, which was titled "The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life."  If you've never heard of it, you've really been missing out.  The complete text, and the complete audio are available here, and it's well worth your time to read and/or listen to it.  This sermon is often referred to as, "The Street Sweeper," speech because of the following passage:
What I’m saying to you this morning, my friends, even if it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, go on out and sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures; sweep streets like Handel and Beethoven composed music; sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry; (Go ahead) sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will have to pause and say, "Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well."
If you can’t be a pine on the top of a hill
Be a scrub in the valley—but be
The best little scrub on the side of the hill,
Be a bush if you can’t be a tree.
If you can’t be a highway just be a trail
If you can’t be the sun be a star;
It isn’t by size that you win or fail—
Be the best of whatever you are.
And when you do this, when you do this, you’ve mastered the length of life.
If you really stop to take that in, you'll realize it's powerful stuff.  Sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures.  No matter how dissatisfied you may be with your lot in life, do what you must do, as though it was the greatest art, and the deepest desire of your heart.

We all become dissatisfied with our lot from time to time.  Questioning our choices, past and direction are part of what makes us human.  However, that dissatisfaction, that questioning, is never an excuse to do your job poorly, or put lest than a full and honest effort into whatever work you must do.  If you believe that your job is beneath you, then prove it by doing your job so well that you rise above it.