Good customer service. One of the most important undervalued things on earth as far as I'm concerned. Good customer service can make your day. Bad customer service can ruin it.

There's a lot of talk about 311 calls and requests for service being handled very slowly, or not at all. A CBC analysis of average turnaround times for over 800,000 citizen requests over the last three years revealed internal response time targets are not being met for nearly half of all 311 service request categories. In some cases, response times are more than 10 times longer than internal service standards.

I'm all too familiar with the disappointing 311 experience. A month ago, I emailed with a question and after receiving a computer-generated reply noting that I could expect a response within a couple of business days, I gave up after a week.

The other day, I called with a different question, thinking perhaps the phone would be a more efficient way of handling inquiries and might even generate a response. Wrong again. After a super-long series of options, being put on hold and ultimately confused and frustrated, I gave up on that too.

I remembered the many other times before that I had the very same experience. Disappointment. Frustration. Powerlessness. Without answers. Maybe this is why people become apathetic, angry and sometimes full of rage about the state of things. They can't get through to anyone, in any way, with concerns and questions. Bad customer service.

Good customer service

The other day, I had reason to take one of my malfunctioning devices to a computer store to have it looked at. As soon as I walked in, I was greeted by someone and led to the appropriate area, where I was told how long the wait would be and where to wait for service.

Taylor, the young man assigned to help me, was pleasant, courteous, engaging and super-efficient, taking me through the many options on my device, educating me on ways to extend its battery life and avoid future issues.

A fine example of good customer service. Very good customer service. The kind that leaves you feeling good for the rest of the day because you believe that there are people in our workforce who are not only well-trained and good at what they do, but actually enjoy it too. A beautiful thing when that happens.

I've always been an active citizen, eagerly participating in a number of committees and projects. Part of that for me has also meant recognizing the importance of good people doing good things, acknowledging good customer service. So when I'm the receiver of such, I make a call or send an email in the hopes that the person or people who made my day, and likely the days of many others, will be validated and appreciated.

The other side of that involves writing letters, sending emails and bringing attention to situations that are concerning. Those like the 311 experience, or the rude restaurant staff or the cashier who shares too much. It's about paying attention.

I like to eat in restaurants and because of my many dietary issues I engage servers in, at times, long conversations about food preparation and other things. I always appreciate those who genuinely look after me, because if they're looking after me well, good chance they're looking after others well too. Good customer service.

Human nature

I think of the bus driver I've seen a few times now who goes out of the way to stop and help those who have trouble with mobility. And then about the one who sneers, stops too abruptly and clearly doesn't appear to like his job.

I remember the police officer who kindly walked me home on a cold winter night after finding out about a neighbour passing away. And then I think of all the stories I hear and read of the ones who aren't quite so considerate of others.

There are people doing rude, inefficient things in every culture, class, gender, age group and profession. And there are people doing helpful, wonderful things in every culture, class, gender, age group and profession.

It's human nature. We are flawed. All of us. If we could just work on increasing empathy in the workplace instead of living from a place that generates anger and frustration, maybe, just maybe, we could make some big progress in how we live with each other under the same sky. And maybe we could even get our inquiries answered through 311.


Janine LeGal is a freelance writer and a grassroots activist​ in Winnipeg.​