The Squeaky Wheel

Grinding Grid’s Gears

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been encouraging readers to communicate with their dealer, marina or manufacturer. I based that encouragement on my years with Hertz. If a customer had a complaint or a compliment, he contacted customer service, which issued an acknowledgement to the customer and a summary to management in the Hertz city referred to. Management had one week to research, respond, do whatever was required to make the customer happy and take corrective action. If employees received praise for their work, management made certain they were aware their efforts had made a difference in someone’s life. One week to get that accomplished and make the customer aware of the resolution.

In the past five years, I have written Walmart several times regarding the miserable attitudes of employees in one of its stores, and the great attitudes of employees in another store — so good I drive an extra 30 minutes to shop there — identifying the employees by name. I have written Lowe’s explaining why I’d rather shop there than Home Depot. Have you ever tried using a “Contact Us” form? Save your fingertips. We’re exhorted to contact our elected officials, so, armed with an idea I saw as an equitable tax increase, I wrote our local commissioners. No reply. I cut and pasted the same letter to our state tax department, copied the locals. No reply. Wrote the state legislature, copied the preceding, no reply. Cut and pasted the letter to the senators and representatives who represent us in D.C. No reply. For giggles, wrote the president, copying all who I had written earlier. The process took about a year, and to date, I’ve received no response from anyone.

On the flip side, I wrote Mr. Truett Cathy, who began Chick-fil-A, and thanked him for business ethics that promoted pleasant, courteous, intelligible employees, and edible food. He sent me a thank-you note and a copy of his first book. I sent him a thank-you note for the book. He sent me a thank-you note for my thank you, plus a copy of his second book. Not to be outdone, I sent him a three-year subscription to Boating World.

I hear you ask two questions: When do you find time to do all this correspondence? Why keep beating your head against the wall?

First, my work is all performed outdoors, so when the weather’s inclement I get a lot of my bookwork and writing done. Aging has an interesting benefit, too: Sleep patterns change, so many mornings I’m up at 3 a.m. doing billings, QuickBooks, columns and letters.

Second, I remain convinced that direct communication en masse to the CEOs of businesses is the way to effect changes, whether it’s factory field representation or product quality control. Social media comments stating “X” outboard is a piece of trash, or “Y” restaurant is good — but service is slow — doesn’t get to the root of problem. A CEO is insulated enough from his customers (try to find a name or mailing address). Being served with a class-action suit drives accountable management further into its shell. A good CEO makes himself and sub-management available to respond promptly to constructive criticism or praise for employees.

Is the adage “the pen is mightier than the sword” still effective? If you watch the nightly news, it seems the sword and the pistol are currently mightier than the pen in problem-resolution. I could surely use some help in turning that scenario around.