Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Interpersonal Pearl: Balance complaints with compliments.

I’m a critical kind of guy. I don’t have a lot of patience when people (including myself) do things wrong. In fact, I have a long history of writing customer complaint letters to report problems with products or services. A friend once called them “Dr. Karl Wiegers Expects Results” letters. But to be fair, I also try to pay compliments whenever they are deserved. I can’t say I’ve reached a one-to-one ratio of compliments to complaints, but that’s a good target to aim for.

Here’s an example. Two of my Meals on Wheels clients live in a large apartment complex that has many lovely azaleas, rhododendron bushes, and other flowers. (Spring is gorgeous in Portland, Oregon.) I saw a man planting some flowers when I drove through there on my delivery route one day this spring. I asked him if he was responsible for the landscaping in that whole big complex. He replied, “Yes, I do all of the gardening here.” I told him what a great job he was doing and how pretty the flowers looked. The gardener seemed to appreciate the compliment. So many people take things like landscaping and gardening in a shared community for granted, but somebody has to plan and perform all that work. If you appreciate the landscaping or any other shared attraction, look for an opportunity to tell the right person how much you enjoy it.

I’ve paid compliments to other people for exceptionally high quality service and products, too. I’ve been with State Farm insurance for nearly forty years. My local State Farm office is by far the best group of insurance people I’ve ever worked with. The staff are always pleasant and helpful, they look for ways to save me money on premiums, and on the rare occasions when I’ve had a claim, they paid up with no hassle. The last time I spoke to the office manager on the phone I told him this; he was most appreciative. So often, people hear only complaints when customers feel that the service they received wasn’t up to snuff. Try to balance even legitimate complaints with compliments when the service exceeds expectations.

Every once in a while you find a product that really blows you away. I bought a rather expensive Travelpro travel bag when I began my consulting career. That bag is far and away the best piece of luggage I have ever owned. Fourteen years later, it has more than 300,000 travel miles on it and still looks brand new. The bag is very thoughtfully designed and appears to have infinite capacity, as I’ve always been able to stuff one more item in it. I wrote the Travelpro folks a letter and told them how delighted I was with this excellent bag. They didn’t reply, but I hope I brightened someone’s day by letting them know what a fine job they were doing.

It’s okay to complain about problems with services and products we buy. In fact, I think customers have a responsibility to complain. Otherwise the vendor might not even know about the problem, like the time long ago that I found a couple of Rice Chex in a box of Wheat Chex. I wasn’t upset about it, but I informed the manufacturer in case their equipment wasn’t being fully cleaned out between batches or something. You can’t expect someone to correct a problem he isn’t aware of.

It’s only fair, though, to offer compliments when warranted, as well. A compliment goes a long way toward counteracting the negative feelings that complaints generate.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Motivational Pearl: A life-threatening experience can open your eyes like nothing else can. (contributed by Bruce Wiegers)

[Chapter 23 of Pearls from Sand, “An Ounce of Preparation,” describes how my brother survived a terrifying accident in a canyon deep in the Idaho desert. Bruce fractured his femur in a fall and had to be airlifted to a hospital for several hours of surgery. Fortunately, Bruce was extremely well-prepared for such an emergency. Those preparations doubtless saved his life. One year after this accident, Bruce reflected on the experience and the insights he gained from it. Here is his story.]

Today marks one year since I broke my leg. The way I view it, this is the first anniversary of my newly-given life.

Initially, I never expected to make it out of the canyon. Once they got me out, since the leg was so badly broken and twisted, I never expected the doctors to be able to save it. Once they did, I never expected it to work right again. You know, it works perfectly! I am so incredibly fortunate that I want to share what I have learned over the past year.

Appreciate every day to its fullest, regardless of the weather, the disposition of those around you, or how well your body might be functioning. However messed up things around you are, it beats the alternative.

Do not waste mental energy on petty items; let them go and focus your efforts in positive ways. Life is too short to spend time holding grudges you may never have an opportunity to straighten out. I believe most problems of this type are the result of simple misunderstandings and can be resolved by openly talking about the issue.

I have learned to trust in my fellow man much more than I ever did before. Strangers put their lives on the line to save mine; that is a humbling experience. My exploring companion Bob, the flight crew, the ambulance crew, and the Sheriff’s posse who winched me out of the canyon all put themselves at risk to drag my butt out of that hole I was in. As awkward as the trip out was, they all did their individual jobs perfectly.

Technology is an incredible thing when it works. Thankfully, every bit of technology used in this rescue worked just as it was supposed to. The SPOT Messenger GPS tracking device sent out its signals, and the SPOT Search and Rescue team sent a Life Flight helicopter exactly to my location; it took the flight crew all of fifteen seconds to find me. The morphine worked, the tension splint worked, the four-wheeler that helped winch me out of the canyon worked, the helicopter flew perfectly. I have to believe that the Zoll defibrillator in the helicopter would have worked if needed (I hope so; my company built part of it).

Yes, technology can provide wonderful tools. However, it does not replace being prepared. This experience reinforced my viewpoint that all of us are responsible for our own well being. Being in good physical condition, knowing the environment I was visiting, having survival gear with me, knowing how to use it, and filing travel plans helped set the stage for the positive outcome of this accident. If I had failed in any of these preparations, the results could have been very, very different. I have learned that, sometimes, you can help make your own luck.

Thank you, everyone, for all of the support over the past year. Without the help and encouragement from everyone, I could not have made the progress I have made. Now, it is time to put this event behind me and only look ahead. I have a whole new set of adventures planned, and I plan on spending some great times with each of you this next year.

Oh, I also learned that good Scotch beats cheap Scotch!

Love one another.