Home MB HeraldColumns Flesh-covered robots, familiar strangers, or neighbours?

Flesh-covered robots, familiar strangers, or neighbours?

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I was outraged. Back in June, our friends had booked a provincial park campsite for us. We were planning to stay two nights one August weekend. But our friends were only allowed to book the Friday night because the park was too full. Park policy dictates that 10 percent of sites must be saved for walk-ins. We were told if we showed up on the Saturday morning right at 8 a.m., we should be able to reserve our sites again. My two friends and I got up early and dashed to the camp office as soon as it opened. The park staffer checked the computer and told us our sites were already booked for the night – as were the other 1,000 sites in the park. No room in the inn.

I was livid. There had been a miscommunication of park policy. Ten percent of the sites are actually saved for people already in the park who decide to extend their stay. Someone may have booked our sites a few days earlier. We were going home.

“That’s stupid,” I said. I proceeded to tell the attendant why the policy made no sense. Tensions rose and the attendant was getting stressed.

Then my friend said, “Thanks for your help. I know you don’t make the rules and that you’re just trying to do your job.” Grace and peace were released, and the woman behind the window relaxed. I vowed to memorize and repeat my friend’s words the next time I got into an altercation with a service provider.

Wait a minute! “Service provider?” Maybe that’s part of my problem. I tend to see the person behind a cash register as a flesh-covered robot who is paid to provide me with service – good service, no less.

The person at the other end

I’m ashamed to confess I often treat salespeople as second-class citizens. As a customer, I act according to the business mantra “it’s all about me.” If I’m not having a delightful customer experience, I let the sales staff know.

And then there are the pariahs of the customer service world – telemarketers. Many of us are annoyed by them and feel justified in treating them poorly. We have all been regaled with stories about how someone nailed a telemarketer with a clever remark.  But have you ever stopped to think about the person at the other end of the line? It could be a student earning money to pay for school or a single mom trying to provide for her children. Regardless, it’s a person, with a story, who is loved by God.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit,” Paul exhorts the Philippians (2:3–4). “Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” I’m pretty sure that includes salespeople – even telemarketers.

Before I am a customer, I am a child of God. The world says, “Customer satisfaction guaranteed.” The Word says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).

I need some renewal when it comes to the way I treat people who provide service. I want to get to the place where after an interaction, I can comfortably say, “By the way, God loves you,” and not feel like a hypocrite.

I’ve lived in my downtown neighbourhood for about 15 years. I visit many of the same stores monthly if not weekly. Yet, most of the salespeople I interact with regularly are only familiar strangers. I don’t know their names or anything about them. What if I treated them like neighbours? You know, the people God has asked us to love as ourselves.

Lately, I’ve been slowing down as I interact with salespeople. I look them in the eye and smile. I read their name tags to remind myself of their personhood. Sometimes I comment on how busy it is, or on something else, to show I know they are people not just job functions.

And when I am irritated by something, I try to remember my friend’s words. “Thanks for your help. I know you don’t make the rules and that you’re just trying to do your job.”

Sandra Reimer finds community at Glencairn MB Church in Kitchener, Ont. She is a freelance writer and editor.

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