Customer Compassion Only Goes So Far

This morning, I had a hilarious conversation with my maid service. The call was a routine courtesy reminder to alert me that I have a cleaning service appointment tomorrow. I usually ask what time they will arrive, so I can be sure I’m not walking around naked (a common occurrence in my home). While I personally don’t care if anyone sees me naked, it’s mostly a courtesy to them. I value my maid service highly, and I would hate to have to find another provider because they arrived to find me cooking naked at 2pm.

Normally, these courtesy calls are quick and all business. They want to remind me they’ll be coming tomorrow, and I ask what time they’ll arrive. Unlike cable installation technicians who seem flabbergasted when I express irritation that they can’t give me more precision than a 12hr window, they typically give me a fairly precise answer, and they’re always spot on. Today, though, the conversation strayed into uncharted territory, as the owner of the service was making the courtesy calls, and she shared with me a little more than the usual courtesy caller does. She first apologized for not being able to give me a precise time. She said she was unable to reach the customer on the schedule ahead of me, and expressed frustration that this customer has canceled at the last minute in the past and may do so again.

Being who I am and having relatively low tolerance for Asshole America™, I engaged her in further conversation about standing firm on enforcing cancellation policy. We talked about the realities and logistics of operating a service-oriented business (as we both do). When a customer cancels last-minute, that means the service staff doesn’t get paid, has no time to reschedule the daycare for their children, and shifts all the other customers up in the schedule. In short, a single cancellation can affect literally a dozen people. This is apparently lost on the canceling customer, who naturally balks at paying a late cancellation fee.

In the case of the maid service, the customers who most often fall into the category of late cancellation are apparently bitchy kept women, stay-at-home moms who insist upon being present while the service is cleaning their fucking house for them. They also apparently piss and moan about every little detail and have nothing nice to say about the service being provided, choosing instead to find fault with every little thing.

I expressed to the owner that the best way to mitigate this sort of behavior is to appeal to their sense of compassion. Explain to them that the cancellation fee exists because there are a lot of people whose daily lives are directly affected by every instance of cancellation. The theory is that by helping the customer understand the impact of their actions, they feel compassion for those directly affected, soften up, and generally stop acting like a spoiled brat. This can be further aided by showing compassion and forgiving the first occurrence. Clearly, shit happens, and sometimes cancellation is precipitated by circumstances outside of the control of the canceling party. By extending a courtesy and waiving the fee for the first incident, the service provider demonstrates the compassion they hope to elicit form the customer. Again, the theory is that social pressure to reciprocate is sufficient to catalyze a compassionate response.

This theory breaks down when the customer is someone whose daily environment consists of their being taken care of in every way. People who are never held accountable for their bratty behavior are highly unlikely to respond to reciprocal social pressure. If anything, they will be offended that the service provider had the audacity to suggest that they could in any way be wrong. After all, their environment has taught them that they get whatever they want. They have decided to stay home and take care of the house and the children, yet the house is actually being cleaned by a maid service, giving them even less responsibility. There is a direct correlation between personal responsibility and compassion. When a person has little or no responsibilities, they develop a sense of entitlement, which is like compassion kryptonite (and the bane of my fucking existence).

My advice to the maid service owner was to keep doing what she’s doing. The service her company provides is awesome, and I praise them at every opportunity for sparing me from having to put my nose any closer to the toilet than when I’m sitting on it. Plus, they follow green cleaning practices, which soothes the savage beast of sustainability (I’m kind of a fascist about environmental responsibility). They have a cancellation policy, charging $50 for last-minute cancellations, and forgiving the first time. All I suggested to her was that she seek to phase out the bitchy kept housewife customers and replace them with folks who, like me, appreciate the service she provides. There are far more of us than them. It’s just a matter of finding us. We’re happy to pay for the luxury of not having to scrub floors, vacuum, dust, and tidy.

If you agree with me, check out Maid Brigade (website). If you’re in Tampa, ask for Carrie and tell her Aubrey referred you.

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