Treating customers with compassion and kindness 

We were driving toward our next job — a large apartment complex near downtown.

Crew Leader Carl was driving. “You know,” he said, “I’m sure glad the company has been educating employees lately on the importance of customer service. Too often, we forget that our jobs encompass more than just mowing lawns and pulling weeds. It’s also our responsibility to be ambassadors for the company and to treat the customers with the highest respect.”

All of us in the backseat exchanged glances and rolled our eyes.

“Great,” whispered Slim, who was sitting next to me, smoking a cigarette. “He’s going into lecture mode. Now he’s going to drone on like a politician.”

I nodded. Whenever Carl went into lecture mode, we knew were were in it for the long haul.

We arrived at the apartment complex and climbed out of the truck.

“Customer service is crucial,” Carl said, as we unloaded our rakes, shovels and trash containers. “Our customers are the company’s bread and butter. It’s not the lawns or the weeds that pay your salary. It’s the homeowners who hire us to tend to their yards. They’re the true founders of the feast, and they deserve our highest respect.”

“Holy crap,” Slim said, mumbling. He dropped his cigarette to the ground and crushed it with the heel of his sneaker. 

Carl followed us as we walked along the curb behind a row of first-floor apartments, pulling weeds and picking up scattered garbage.

“Both of you could stand to improve your people skills,” Carl said. “If you see one of our customers, greet them with a smile. Ask them how their day is going. Offer to lend an ear if they have a concern. Don’t just stand there like a clueless imbecile when they try to engage you in conversation. And most important of all, be sure to treat them with respect, compassion and kindness.”

Slim kneeled to pick up an empty soda can. He looked at me and rolled his eyes with a dramatic flourish. 

Up ahead, an old lady was sitting in a rocking chair on her back porch, watching us. A cup of coffee rested on the table beside her. A pair of granny glasses was perched on her nose, and her white hair was pulled back in a tight bun.

She mumbled something as we approached her. 

“What’s that?” Carl asked.

The woman spoke again, but her voice was inaudible. She motioned toward the parking lot.

“I’m not hearing you,” Carl said. 

The woman continued to mumble, waving her hands.

Carl bent down so that his face was right in hers. 

“Lady!” he yelled, spreading his arms wide. “I have no idea what the hell you’re talking about! If you spit out all the damn marbles in your mouth, then maybe I could understand you!” 

The woman’s rocking came to an abrupt halt. She just sat there, blinking.

Carl, Slim and I continued to walk along the curb.

“What was that you were just saying about the importance of customer service?” I asked.

“Screw her!” Carl said. “She didn’t hire us to clean this place — the apartment complex did! You don’t need to give someone quality customer service if they’re not even a customer!”