Words & Banter

RED & BLACK … May I Help You?

Design by Sawyer Pennington, Underlying photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash


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Why does everything have to be such a struggle? Even a simple phone call to a doctor’s office. I don’t know whether it’s because I’m tired or getting older, but I just don’t have the time or the patience for this.


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Me, neither.


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Do you mean this conversation? Or are you agreeing with me? Which, although nice, doesn’t make sense, as you don’t even know what happened.


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I listened to what you said and suspect something that should have been simple became a production. I do not need the specifics to understand the concept.

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Well, at least you’re listening. Which is part of the problem.

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OK, now I need more information.

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I used to think that the phone systems where you call a company and get automated prompts were the worst thing imaginable, as I wanted to speak to a human. Now I’m not so sure.

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Yes, they can be very time-consuming and frustrating, but there are ways to bypass the system.

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Thanks, but the problem started once I reached a real person. I don’t think people listen anymore.

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I agree with that, too. Or, maybe you do not get to the point quickly enough.

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Fine. A few months ago, I got a bill for my annual physical, and it included an item I shouldn’t have been billed for. But it was during the holiday season, so I got busy with other things. About a month later, I called the office, and after spending quite a bit of time going over everything, I thought it was resolved.

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Let me guess; it was not.

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Not even close. I received a letter from a credit collection agency! Which led to having to start all over again with a different person in the doctor’s office. Hopefully, it has been resolved this time, and I’ll get a corrected invoice, not a second letter from the collection agency.

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You do realize you could have paid the uncontested amount at the start. And, FYI, the collection process is probably another automated system the doctor’s office uses.


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I was looking for sympathy, not advice, but I should’ve known better. Anyway, the whole thing is ironic. I know that I’m always saying that with everything being automated these days, I want and miss dealing with people. And then it was people that created this problem.


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Technically, technology and automation caused the problem. But, whoever handles “customer service” should have been able to fix it. This means businesses need employees who are knowledgeable, good communicators, and problem solvers.


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At the risk of being old-fashioned, is it too much to want them to ask, “Can I help you?” and mean it?


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“Can” means having the ability. And, is a separate question from “May I help you?” which reflects the desire the help. Both are required.


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I’ll ignore the English lesson, but that’s what Home Depot does! They hire people who are knowledgeable about the products, and they’re always happy to help. In fact, they’ve often walked me clear across the store to help me find something. I remember trying to buy a new toilet, which somehow became complicated, but the store manager went above and beyond to make everything right. Bottom line, and this may sound crazy, but they take pride in helping customers.


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That started at the top. It was how the company was built. They wanted to be a big business that offered the expertise and service of a small hardware store. When the chain first started, they stacked empty boxes on high shelves to give the illusion of being bigger than they were, but provided training for their employees to make sure they could help customers with most home repairs or improvements.


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Impressive, but it must be expensive to train everyone.


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It is an investment. And, reflects priorities. But, not all jobs require that level of training. It is about mindset and perspective. Each employee that interacts with a customer has the power to make the experience a good one or a bad one. Customer service should be more than a stand-alone department.


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I remember when we were “teaching” at KIPP Houston High School, and you explained to the seniors that taking pride in how you do your job, regardless of what it is, doesn’t “cost” anything and doesn’t require special training. And is a great way to stand out in today’s workforce.


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When I was in corporate, I told my employees the same thing.


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Do you remember when you interrupted the manager’s meeting at the table next to ours at Pappadeaux’s Seafood Kitchen to say that same thing? I bet that was the last thing they expected to hear from a customer.


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I could not help myself. Although it had been years – no, make that decades – since I worked at the Strawberry Patch, one of the Pappas’ first restaurants, I still remember the manager, Steve Sims, explaining that the hostess is the first employee the customer would meet and that they set the tone for either a great start or a bad experience. Each person, no matter what their job, is an important member of the team. It has stuck with me all these years.

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What a powerful but simple lesson. However, I have a hard time picturing you working in a restaurant.


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You would have an even tougher time if you saw the uniform I had to wear. Luckily, there are no pictures.


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Are you sure? Maybe I should call their customer service.


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Maybe you should not …

Want to read other columns? Here's a list.

Photo by mevans on iStock
Let’s be very clear. Autism has no correlation with intelligence; it’s a developmental disability (or what Black refers to as “DIFF-abilities”). And it’s a spectrum disorder, which means each autistic person has their unique mix of abilities, challenges, and ways of seeing the world (can’t that be said of all of us?!) So, as we celebrate World Autism Acceptance Week, remember it’s more than just awareness – it’s about acceptance.

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Did you know that April's Autism Awareness Month? I wasn't aware (pun intended) of it until I read our local homeowner's monthly newsletter and it caught my eye.


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Actually, last month the founding organization, the Autism Society, changed "Awareness" to "Acceptance" to foster inclusivity, as knowing about something is very different from accepting it. But I am guessing that is not the point of this call.


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Although it isn't autism, it reminded me of years ago when we found out that Natasha has learning disabilities.


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I think you mean DIFF-abilities.


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Of course, that's another thing I remember. I was focused on the negative aspects of her diagnosis until you asked me, point-blank, "Why are they called disabilities?" And proceeded to explain that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses.


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Exactly! Imagine the world if everyone excelled at math, but flunked English. Or, a world of lawyers, but no musicians. Some people are better at social skills, while others excel at handling technical data. Why not just say that people who have different skillsets and abilities have DIFF-abilities versus making them feel like they have shortcomings?
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Design by Sawyer Pennington, Underlying photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash


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As much of a history buff as I am, I’m embarrassed to admit that for a long time, I didn’t know March was Women’s History Month. But now that I do, I’m amazed by all the inspirational stories of women’s remarkable achievements.


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Too bad Natasha and Sawyer do not still live at home; it would be fun to start a conversation by asking them what women they find inspiring.


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I already know who they would pick. The first woman to race the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And I’d have to agree with them. Your Ferrari racing has made an impact on so many people. But especially girls.


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Until you mentioned it several years ago, I never thought about that. In the 1970s, I was one of the few women in business school. I then made a career in the male-dominated oil and gas industry. I am used to being a “token” female.


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Trust me. I watch people whenever we’ve done speaking engagements. It’s predictable ... we put up the family tree, and Natasha and Sawyer get awws, but your two racecars get everyone’s attention.
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Image by filipefrazao on iStock

Were you like Red and shocked when the actor Chadwick Boseman died at the age of 43 after battling colon cancer for years? Cancer isn’t only for older people, and recent studies show more people under 50 are getting cancer. (Doctors aren’t sure why but suspect it may be due to less physical activity, more highly processed foods, and new toxins.) That’s why cancer screenings are more important than ever!

February may be Cancer Prevention Month – but we need to do it all year! Every year. And is why we’re rerunning last year’s post …



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I know that cancer isn’t the “death sentence” it used to be when we were growing up, but it’s still a very scary word. Especially if it’s heard “close to home”.


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When we were young, the word was rarely said. And if it was, it was whispered or referred to as the “ c-word.”


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Kind of like when I had my two miscarriages. No one wanted even to acknowledge, let alone talk about, them. Which made it all the more difficult to get through it, although intellectually, I knew it was not uncommon.


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Unfortunately, neither is cancer. It is the second-leading cause of death in the world, surpassed only by heart disease. But, at least, it is no longer a taboo subject.


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Please don’t make this about numbers. It’s about people. Which you should know. I’m sure you remember when Daddy was diagnosed with parotid gland cancer , which luckily was treatable. And I’ve had skin cancer, although I was very fortunate, it was caught early and easily treated.
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