Imaginary Barriers

Readers of a certain age will remember the television show WKRP in Cincinnati. One of the recurring gags in this sitcom was the imaginary door and walls around news director Les Nessman’s office. Upon approaching his desk, he would pause and turn the knob to his pretend door before entering his fantasy of a private office. He felt that he was too important to be sitting with the commoners. The joke was that he was mystified why no one else was impressed. It was funny when it was fictional.

The sad reality is that I see similar behavior and attitudes acted out constantly. Not long ago on a trip to a fairly remote destination, I found myself boarding flights at multiple airports. The airline that I was booked on uses a boarding system that must have been designed by Les Nessman himself. They have an assortment of aluminum poles and nylon straps designed purely to keep “the classes” in their proper position.

If you are among the privileged, you are allowed to walk on the left side of these straps across a blue walk off mat to enter the jet way. However, if you are among the lowly majority, you must wait to enter three feet over on the right side of the barrier without enjoying the pleasure of walking on a special mat. Oh, the indignity! While boarding one leg of the flight, I counted seven verbal reminders that some customers were greater than others.

My observation has always been that those who got on the plane first were not necessarily impressed by which side of the barrier straps they entered. However, the reactions of those who were told that they weren’t worthy ranged from amused to annoyed.

My rant has nothing to do with having a class system. These were hardly invented by the airlines. They existed on the Titanic over a hundred years ago as Wilbur and Orville were still flying their plane on the beach! Those who spend more typically expect to receive more in return. My problem is in constantly reminding customers, with less sizable purchases, that they are somehow less important. This couldn’t happen in my store, you say? My bet would be that it occurs more often than you realize.

At my destination the next morning, while being shown around a dealer’s store, I was advised of a “huge contract job” that they were in the process of installing. He was obviously proud of performing this job. I admired his enthusiasm.

The problem came when I overheard staff members tell other customers twice that morning that their jobs would have to wait until our “big job” was finished. One customer was told that they could “possibly work her in”, while another was actually advised that “we simply don’t have time to do a two room job anymore this month”. The salesman’s chest was puffed out as if he was telling of the big fish that he just landed. This poor lady actually apologized for “bothering them” with a job this size. Baloney! She should have kicked the clod in the shins for being made to feel that her business was trivial to any other.

The moral of this story is to train your staff that there is no such thing as a small sale, nor, is there ever a less important customer. Remove the perception of any “class barriers” that may currently exist. Just as at the airport gate, they only get in the way. As customers, most of us will be reasonable in our requests when treated with respect. We just don’t want to be treated like the schmuck who is constantly reminded that he has to board the plane last in Zone 7!

Wednesday, August 28, 2019