The power of the people

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 By nature, I am a ‘conflict-avoider’. I prefer not to get involved in contentious conversations and should situations become a little too overbearing, I tend to take my exit. Cowardly? To some perhaps, but to me, it is about reducing my stress levels and working on self-preservation. I do admit, however, that some conflict is necessary for development, change and progress of self and society.

What has caused this reflection on the power of the people? It was a simple scenario. Just two days ago, my family and I decided that we would have an ice-cream to spend some much-needed family time together. It is alarming the rate at which people are dying these days and as such, as long as we have our relatives, we should spend time with them. Don’t waste the time dealing with contentious situations, which in the grand scheme of life are irrelevant.

The children were excited when we got to the location as they had been hounding me for weeks for these ice-creams. They quickly chose their flavours and to my eye-watering, saliva-producing dismay added even more sweet toppings to the ice-creams. I really do not like ice-cream but in the heat of the moment, I ordered one as well. The last member of our party was ordering her ice-cream and she gave a non-committal, nonchalant answer to the young lady serving ice-cream.

As my relative was walking away from the counter, I saw the employee purse her lips, put her right hand akimbo and to top it all off like a bright red cherry on a sundae, she rolled her eyes.

Immediately, a million volcanic thoughts erupted in my mind – Oh no, she did not just roll her eyes! She fuh real?? She gots (yes I thought ‘gots’) to be crazy!! Cancel the order and let us go! Where is the manager? – I bit my lip as I hoped that would stem the flow of exclamations and questions rolling around in my head.

I am proud of myself to a certain extent because I practiced self-restraint and potentially avoided what could have been a very slushy situation. In contrast, I am upset with myself because I relinquished my power as the consumer. It is unfortunate that in our society there are so many encounters like the one about which I am writing, that go unspoken of, with no consequence to the offending entity.

Money is snatched from our hands; receipts are shoved into our faces accompanied by a lemon-flavoured scowl; phones are dropped in our ears and employees of various establishments shout at us as though we were begging for the products they advertised. This is our fault as a people because we are too docile and too sympathetic.

Should I walk into a store, whether to purchase an item or simply to look around, it is the duty of a shop assistant or whomever, to enquire as to my intentions (hopefully after an appropriately pleasant greeting) and to see in what way he or she can lend assistance if needed. I should not leave said store feeling as though I bothered the employee or asked him or her the meaning of life and a solution for poverty in the country. The last thing a business owner wants is what happened to me. I left that particular ice-cream store, vowing never to return as long as I live. And I am sure there are many others who have left various establishments with the same intention and have kept their word.

It is not the responsibility of the consumer to wonder whether it was difficult for an employee to find a job or whether the one in which he or she is currently serving is not where he or she wishes to be and to suffer that sentiment being worn plainly on the face and borne out in every action or inaction. I will categorically state that there are some customers who are overbearing, nauseating and unreasonable.  But I have seen, on many occasions, an employee treat a difficult customer with dignity and respect without showing the emotions I might show in such a situation. It has to do with training and preparation for service and whether an intuitive employer can see where there are ‘round pegs in square holes’.

We have power as a people.  We can politely speak to the employee about his or her unpleasant and offensive behaviour or we can speak with a supervisor. ‘The pen is mightier than the sword’ is a truism that is quite apt for these types of situations and this is exactly why I am writing about this experience.  An appropriately worded letter (or article) can ignite a fire under the feet of those involved and is not an act of cowardice. I think it takes more courage to write a letter of complaint than to do nothing about a grievance. Additionally, there is the advantage of having to take some time to carefully choose words which are likely to be nicer than those spoken in the heat of the moment as I highlighted earlier.

Having written this article, I am somewhat calmer than I was before but I am more resolute in this regard – I am entitled to service excellence. In my profession, I too provide a service.  It is expected that I be sympathetic, empathetic, kind, understanding, patient and just two feathers short of being an angel.  If all of this is expected of me, then the standard should be no different for another individual in another service. As such, I believe that we as consumers, (once we are not being unreasonable), reserve the right to speak out against poor customer service.

I just had this idea of starting an association – The Barbados Association of Complainers against Poor Service. We, the members of BACAPS, would make it our business to rid the country of poor customer service. Let me know if anyone thinks that this is a viable idea!

(Renee Boyce is a medical doctor, a wife, a mother and a Christian, who is committed to Barbados’ development. Email:reneestboyce@gmail)

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