A spoonful of sugar

Often in my travels about town I’m asked, “What can Organization X do to get more/better coverage in your paper?” The answer is simple, but often taken as glib. “Say please and thank you,” I tell them.

Sounds kind of trite, but it’s perfectly true. The same lessons that mom imparted on you as a toddler are every bit as effective in the adult business world today as they were when you were eating paste in kindergarten.

We’ve sadly become a culture of instant gratification, firing off requests and demands with only our own aims in sight. The axiom holds true not only for the newspaper industry, but for every service one performs for another, every day.

Personally, I seem to be some sort of magnet for poor customer service, no matter where I go. Though there are shining exceptions, I invariably find myself stuck in an endless line, hoping desperately to gain someone’s attention, forgotten or ignored entirely, or greeted with utter disdain from someone who clearly hates her job.

A good example, and non-local for the sake of propriety – I went down to Binghamton a while ago to do some shopping with friends, and stopped off at a fast food establishment for a quick, cheap dinner (not a usual haunt of mine, I assure you). It was late, about 9 p.m., and the restaurant was devoid of customers. Standing behind the register was a young man who looked as if he had slipped into a coma hours before.

Glassy-eyed (not that he made eye contact) and hopelessly forlorn, this kid took our orders reluctantly and punched them into the cash register as if he were simultaneously taking his dying breath. I have no doubt that a career of any length in fast food is indeed a slow death, but for Pete’s sake kid, grin and bear it while you’re at work.

Not once was a “please” or “thank you” uttered, although I did rejoin his lackluster performance with a hearty “You’re welcome.” After which, I’m sure, he went back into the kitchen and sneezed over my quesadillas.

My point here is that I try to be as cheerful and accommodating with customers on the phone or in person while I’m working, no matter what circumstances I’m currently operating under. And, in my youthful naiveté, I expect others to do the same. That’s why I tell people unabashedly that the press can be bought in this town with just a little drop of the milk of human kindness.

I keep in my desk a “feel-good” file of letters (actual letters!) and notes received over the years from people or groups who sincerely appreciated something I or the paper had done for them. And in my head, I keep a mental list of the people and/or organizations who are pleasant to deal with, tempering their requests, no matter how big or small, with a little thing known as common courtesy.

Unfortunately, my mental list of people and/or organizations who are consistently demanding, thoughtless, ungrateful and downright uncouth is significantly longer.

The newspaper is not a public utility, and “freedom of the press” doesn’t always mean what many people think it does. The squeaky wheel may get the grease in some arenas, but here I can attest that the Golden Rule reigns, and that those who live by the sword, indeed die by the sword. (Excuse me, my metaphors seem to be running amok today; must be that Progress deadline looming). By no means is the curse of the rude indigenous to journalism; I hear my compatriots in other businesses offering the same plaintive wails. Somewhere along the way, some people of self-import have deemed it acceptable to cast aside common decency. It is not.

What separates us from the common savage is the ability to relate to each other socially without resorting to clubbing each other over the head. I’m certainly not advocating the saccharine-sweet, Mary Poppins kind of cheer that reeks of insincerity, but you’d really be surprised how far a kind word will get you.

Follow me on Twitter ... @evesunjeff.

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