Karma and the Lost Art of the Graceful Complaint (Or: How Full is Your Barista’s Bucket?)

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES(Regular Kimberly is taking over the blog today, while Auntie Kimberly searches for a support group for grownups who can’t stop buying Star Wars stuff.  The last straw was the R2-D2 measuring cups and spoons.  No, wait.  Maybe it was the tiny marching Space Opera Darth Vader and Stormtroopers.  OK, let’s be honest.  It was probably the sunshade with the picture of Han, Chewie, Luke, and Obi-Wan Kenobi that makes your windshield look like the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon.)

If you look up “add insult to injury” in Wiktionary (yes, that’s a real thing), you might find this example.  Several years ago, the company I worked for was taken over, and my job was eventually eliminated in a mass layoff.  No surprise there.  Except that our health insurance was cut off on the 15th of the month, which was before our COBRA paperwork could be processed and new insurance cards issued.  “Don’t worry,” said the chipper HR person, “your benefits will be backdated!”

Hmmm…what could possibly go wrong there?  I already had a pre-existing condition that required regular labs, meds, and doctor’s appointments.  And what if I had some other emergency before my new insurance card arrived?  Say, a limb that needed to be reattached after an unfortunate Lightsaber incident?  “Don’t worry about getting paid,” I’d cheerily chirp to the triage person at the ER, “My benefits will be backdated!”

I left a really hateful message with the benefits department at the out-of-state corporate headquarters.  On a Friday afternoon.  I don’t recall the exact content, although it was fairly lengthy.  And something along the lines that the acquiring company was being run by Voldemort, who wanted us to lose our health insurance as part of his secret plot to kill us all.  (If you don’t know who Voldemort is, give yourself a gift and read the Harry Potter books.  Darth Vader might have been a more universally recognized villain, but he – spoiler alert – turned into a Good Guy and probably would have extended our original benefits at least through the end of the month.)

I finished the message and slammed down the receiver.  But as you know, Karma is a B-

Wait, what did you think I was going to say?

As you know, Karma, is a Busy Cosmic Force.  Super Busy.  Crazy Busy.  At that moment, I’m sure she was balancing a number of spinning plates in the air.  For example, cooking up a 5-mile-long traffic backup for the jerk who zipped in to steal a parking space from a little old lady.  Or hacking into the Twitter account of a politician who ran for office on a “family values” platform while cheating on his wife.  That sort of thing.  But I’m pretty sure the deafening sound I heard as I was expounding on my Voldemort conspiracy theory was the crash of a thousand spinning plates as they fell to the earth and shattered.  Karma brushed a few ceramic shards off of her “Have the Day Your Deserve” t-shirt, looked my way, narrowed her eyes, and said, “Game On.”

The good news?  I eventually found a great new job.  The bad news?  I too often find myself on the receiving end of angry tirades from people whose problems were not caused by me, nor by my employer.  Some post disparaging comments online without first looking up any actual facts.  (Shocking, I know.)  Other maledictions are more personal.  One of the more memorable ones was an e-mail that involved the detonation of several f-bombs and invited everyone in our organization to burn in H-E-Double Hockey Sticks.  Yeah, I’m pretty sure that when Karma thought up that one, she laughed so hard, she almost spit a mouthful of Iced Cinnamon Dolce Latte on the computer screen.  (Side note: I’m also fairly certain that Karma was responsible for publishing my home phone number in Robocaller’s Digest).

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESTom Rath and Donald O. Clifton wrote a beautiful little book about the impact of personal interactions called “How Full Is Your Bucket?”  The idea is that each positive interaction we experience fills our metaphorical Bucket.  With a full Bucket, we feel confident, happy, and secure.  However, negative interactions drain our Bucket, zapping our energy, diminishing our enthusiasm, and reducing our productivity.  We each possess a metaphorical Bucket Dipper that with every interaction either fills the other person’s Bucket – or empties it.  I like to think of this in terms of a choice to use our Bucket Dipper for Good or for Evil.

Smiles, laughter, and recognition for a job well done make excellent Bucket fuel.  But an e-mail with the subject line “Burn In Eternal Damnation” will blow a hole in your Bucket faster than the minions of Mordor can blast through the gates of Minas Tirith. And repairs can take a few centuries.

Some service representatives seem to have thicker Buckets than others.  For example, when a customer in the UK complained to O2 on Twitter that he had sent 246 texts to a girl and had not received any of her replies, the response was classic: “Maybe next time you should try sending 1 text to 246 girls”.  I’d love to buy that customer service rep a pint or two of lager.

I’ve also developed a whole extra level of respect for those who work in challenging service positions, but who weave courtesy, positive energy, and humor into a Deflector Shield capable of warding off all but the most determined Bucket Dippers.  For example, the folks who work for TSA constantly have to deal with people who are tired, cranky, and completely unwilling to listen to reason. (Kind of like adult two-year-olds who haven’t had a snack or a nap). But I will always remember the agent at Phoenix Sky Harbor who announced that if our whole group got through security without a single bag check, he was going to take our picture and post it on Facebook.  And the gentleman at Spokane International Airport who spotted my Old Navy flag shirt and greeted me with a big smile and, “Hello, Fellow Patriot.”  I’d love to buy each of these guys an adult beverage, except that I wouldn’t be able to get it through security.

And a special shoutout goes to Rick Just, the dancing Mears bus driver.  Last year, I visited Universal Studios Orlando to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  As I was walking through the transportation area in search of a taxi cab back to my hotel, I heard music and saw this guy in a uniform busting some serious moves outside a giant tour bus.  Everyone around him was smiling and laughing – and some were dancing as well.  Turns out he was the bus driver.  Well played, sir.  Well played.  When I return, I’ll be sure to buy you a Butterbeer.  Or an actual beer if you can find a designated driver.

Being on the receiving end of someone else’s rage, especially if you didn’t cause their problem, is like a blow to your gut and your Bucket.  Maybe other people get used to it or deal with it more effectively.  I don’t.  I wish I had thicker skin.  And a thicker Bucket.  Note to self: check Amazon’s Health & Personal Care department for blast-proof Buckets.

Now that I’ve walked a mile in those customer service moccasins, I wish I could go back in time a few years and tell my newly unemployed self to leave a nicer message.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I still think it’s inexcusable to compromise a laid-off employee’s ability to get medical care.  But the person on the receiving end of my Voldemort message was almost certainly NOT the person who made this awful decision.  And really, I should have checked my facts on the Voldemort thing.  If I had consulted LinkedIn, I would have quickly found that my former employer was actually not listed in the “Experience” section of Voldemort’s profile.  (Top Skills: Leadership, Horcruxes, Herpetology, Legilimency, Dark Arts, Apparition, Flying, Possession, Cursed Artifacts, Unforgivable Curses).

Of course, I still have to make complaints.  The Internet goes out.  A package doesn’t get delivered.  Products break.  And don’t even get me started on health insurance.  But now I try to keep the following in mind about the folks on the receiving end of my Airing of Grievances:

(1) They probably care about doing a good job.

(2) They probably did not personally cause my problem, nor do they stay awake at night trying to figure out how to screw up my life.

(3) If they did personally cause my problem, they probably want to make it right;

(4) It is NOT their fault that in addition to having a problem with their product or service, I also happen to be angry about traffic jams, politicians, paper cuts, autoimmune diseases, Apple discontinuing the iPod Classic, the Facebook newsfeed, robocalls, HMOs, Windows 10, and the fact that I forgot to buy a PowerBall ticket.

(5) Their company is definitely not run by Voldemort.

Occasionally, problems won’t get resolved satisfactorily.  And for those cases, there’s always plan B, C, D, E, or Z.  Talking to a supervisor.  Posting a review on Facebook, Google, or Yelp.  Contacting the Better Business Bureau.  Filing a complaint with a trade group or regulatory agency.  Or just not doing business with the company anymore.

But most of the time, I’ve found that a graceful complaint will fix my problem without involving the Bucket Dipper of Doom.  Amazon.com representatives are always quick to resolve any issues.  Starbucks has their “Love Your Beverage or Let Us Know” Barista Promise.  (Although I suspect that unfortunately, more than a few customers take advantage of this.)  And kudos to the customer service team at Discovery Toys for quickly replacing a rocket-shaped clock that broke my nephew’s heart when it stopped working after one day.

So these days, when I need to make a complaint to the barista at the Starbucks counter, to Jake from State Farm (at 3:00 a.m.) or even to a nameless, faceless page admin on Facebook or Twitter, I try very hard to be courteous.  To be factual.  To keep my anger in check.  To not let my bad day infect someone else’s day.  Because it’s the right thing to do.  Because I want to use my own Bucket Dipper for Good, not for Evil.

And, of course, because Karma’s a…well…you know.


2 thoughts on “Karma and the Lost Art of the Graceful Complaint (Or: How Full is Your Barista’s Bucket?)

  1. Pingback: Fixing Facebook: A (Kinda Sorta) Live Feed | Auntie Kimberly

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