Kindness Takes a Holiday…

“If you treat people right, they will treat you right … ninety percent of the time.”  (Franklin D. Roosevelt)

Attribution: Bill WiederkehrI’m not sure how kind I was yesterday.  I don’t think I was exactly unkind, but no one hearing me would have remarked on my kindness, that’s for sure.

Maybe there are times when “not unkind” is the best we can muster.

It all started Friday afternoon when a work colleague alerted me to the fact that a client’s website would not accept credit cards.  We had set up the account months ago and this was the first occasion this small client had needed to process credit cards through its website.  And the need was immediate.

Since I was the name of record on the account, it was my responsibility to resolve it.  It wasn’t clear where the problem was, so I tried to communicate electronically with the two companies involved.  Neither company would recognize the account number.  So, I got on the phone to them.  After nearly two hours of back and forth and lots of automated messages and irksome hold music, it became clear that the account I had opened had been inadvertently closed, and an account we had closed had been kept open, but was not compatible with web-processing (more information than you could ever want, sorry).

Since I had a copy of a letter in hand confirming what account they told us last November was open and what account was closed—and the reverse had clearly transpired—it seemed like a simple matter to rectify the error. However, by the time it was discovered, it was close-of-business on the east coast and I was told that I would have to call back Monday.

It was a frustrating weekend, imagining members trying to register for an event and getting continued error messages.  We put a note on the website asking them to call us if they encountered problems.

First thing Monday morning—after a fortifying cup of coffee—I took to the phone again.  All the relevant information was at my fingertips: The name of the person I had spoken to when I opened the account, and the one who had assured me in November that account “A” was open and account “B” was closed, and copies of correspondence confirming the same information, and specifically saying that it was “web-ready.”  I also had copies of all the monthly bills our client had paid for a non-functioning account.  I was prepared.

Upon finally reaching a live human (no easy feat on a Monday morning), I was shuttled to three departments before someone would acknowledge that there had been an error and it was theirs.  Then I made the mistake of asking what I thought was a perfectly reasonable question, “How are you going to fix it?”

Well, it turns out, that’s another department, and they would cancel our non-functional account (at a charge of $125) and send me the paperwork to open another account.  If they expedited it, we should be able to take credit card payments within a week or ten days.

That’s when I got cranky.  “This was my problem, but it’s now yours.  You’re not going to charge my client a cent to cancel an account that is entirely useless to us.  And this needs to be fixed today, not tomorrow, not next week.  Whom do we talk to to make sure that happens?”

She named someone in another department.  “Okay,” I said firmly, and maybe a teensy bit loudly, “get him on the line, and you stay on the line, too, until we’re all in agreement that this is resolved.”

“But once you’re in Bryan’s hands, he’ll take care of you.”

I was now well into hour four of phone wrangling (phone hours being much longer than standard hours) to resolve this issue.  Bryan might be Pope Francis’ kinder brother, but until my problem was fixed, I wasn’t going to let Elsie off the phone.

After about 15 minutes I had assurances—both oral and emailed to me—that the account would be opened within 24 hours, there would be no fees for opening or for canceling the incorrect account, and they would personally petition for the repayment of monthly charges since last November.

One of our team members had heard part of the exchange.  “That wasn’t a pleasant conversation,” she commented.

I filled her in on some of the details.  “Was I terribly unkind?”

“Not unkind.  Not kind, though.  You were rather, uh, forceful.”

I found I was okay with that. Sometimes forceful might be what’s called for.  I don’t think I was rude, and at no time did I yell or swear at a human*.  I flunked “kind,” but I got at least a passing grade for “civil.”

When I started this blog, a cynical (but lovable) friend asked me if “living kindly” meant I was going to be a pushover for everyone who wanted to take advantage of me or of my kindness.  I told him kindness and pushover don’t equate in my estimation.  Perhaps we tested those waters this week.

I know there are people who could have resolved the credit card issue and remained kind throughout.  I am not yet one of those people … and perhaps may never be.  I guess that’s why I’m here….

*Is it wicked to yell at automated messages?  If so, I confess I was unkind.  In my defense, the disembodied voices seemed not to care….

“Being kind doesn’t mean being gullible.” (Aniket Jawale)