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Large companies must have a certain amount of apparent red tape in order to properly conduct their business, but even a successful small company has this same red tape, only the manner in which it is used being different. All of the resident managers present depend upon their assistants to do the general routine every day work and I venture to say, that many of them frequently sit down within hearing distance of the complaint desk phone or look over the complaint orders as returned from the shop workman. These are some things he can do, to learn how these assistants do treat the public and the consumers. When they fall down, he can show them where they are wrong and explain to them how the complaint should have been handled so that the next time the consumer may go away thinking well of the company.
First of all, it is necessary that the manager consider that the public have careful and thoughtful consideration and the successful man does, but just how he accomplishes it he may not be able to say and that which he does may not be what you or I could do in our respective locations. This man will also mingle with the various employees, learning what their troubles are and also where they have their greatest personal lacking for treating with the public. Knowing this the manager can give them the assistance they need to overcome these faults.
What Mr. Olds says about business methods, is one thing that should not be overlooked. Be square and frank in regard to your business. Let the consumer know some of your difficulties. Ask him for assistance, and see if he cannot devise some means of determining whether or not his personal grievances are not the fault of his family or employees. Compare for him your business methods with the ordinary business methods he is familiar with and so show him that you are endeavoring to conduct your business along the lines of good sound business principles.
About politics, Mr. Olds has said just enough. But that does not mean not to know “who is who” although it is not always advisable to let the other fellow know it. When the time comes for your decision, act according to your best knowledge as a good citizen of your community.
The newspapers we will always have with us, but the newspaper man is working for the same reason we are, that is, to make money. They have their troubles and at times give apparent poor service. Make business comparisons with them and also remind them that you are both endeavoring to give the public good service, and by giving good service so increase your income. Be frank and honest, explain and show to them what you are trying to accomplish and what it costs to do it.
Finally, I believe that the gas man should so educate himself that he has some general ideas of every business or manufacturing institution in his locality and so that, regardless of who he talks to, he can show come interest in his consumer's affairs and demonstrate to the consumer that the gas company has his welfare in mind.
R. Shacklette, Detroit:
Mr. Olds has written a great deal into few words when he says: “When public service corporations and the public discover themselves to each other, better relations will exist." There is really no difference between the interests of the public as represented by the public service company's customers, and the public as represented by the public service company's employees, officers and investors, and probably the only reason for the apparent differences which have arisen has been the many instances of secretiveness and high handedness on the part of corporations in the past. The corporation has to-day become so nearly universal that the individual who is not in some way deriving benefits from their activities, is the exception rather than the rule, though the majority of the individuals themselves may not realize it.
Certainly the fullest publicity is to be desired for with the facts before them the public can be trusted to judge fairly, and to give less heed to the demagogue; while exposure and correction of the shortcomings of the indifferent corporation, will in the end clear the way for those aiming toward higher and broader standards.
A striking instance of the ramification of interests between the public and the corporation was brought out last June in the resolution adopted by a railway employees' association, representing 200,000 members, and which resolution requested the President and the Interstate Commerce Commission to give an early hearing to the injunctions in connection with the proposed increases in freight rates, citing that while the railroads had in a measure increased wages, yet they were disproportionate to the increased living expenses, and inferring that the railroad profits themselves were not nearly so great as that of the landlords and tradesmen into whose hands a large portion of the railway employees' wages ultimately passed.
It seems to me from observation and from my own experiences in various public utility offices, that one of the causes of irritation and possible ill will on the part of the company's customers and public generally, is that in a great many organizations it seems to be deemed sufficient if the officials and heads of departments are themselves possessed of sufficient capacity and tact to deal with those individuals with whom they come in personal contact, and largely or entirely overlooking the fact that the public estimate of a corporation is formed, not by the officials, but by the clerks, solicitors, collectors and other employees, with whom they are in daily contact, and who in many cases, it must be admitted, are sadly lacking in energy, judgment and courtesy.
Mr. Olds mentions the existence of a company whose sole business it is to supply material and ideas in the assistance of establishing and maintaining friendly relations with the public. This company is certainly doing an excellent work and is one of the indications of the general awakening to the rights and demands of the public, though in most cases their personal services are not necessary, for a little intelligent foresight and exercise of the Golden Rule would enable the local management to establish and maintain themselves on good terms with the public. The very existence and prosperity of the company referred to should be sufficient evidence to the indifferent or arogant ones, if there are any such left that public confidence and good will are essential to the maintaining of the company's prosperity.
Mr. Olds speaks about back-bone. One of the reasons we have complaints is because we have gas bills. Bills we must have and therefore we must have complaints. Now as to backbone you will notice that the average employe that handles a customers complaint when he drops his gas bill into that window, will listen to the customer's story which will take seven or eight minutes. Perhaps the bill may be double what it was the previous month, anyway the blame thing is higher. The employe makes the argument in return something like this: "I am sure I don't know what is the matter. I believe that it would be a good idea to change and test that meter.” Now, I contend that if it is a possibility at all for a company to do so, they ought to teach the employe and teach him very forcibly to have more faith in meters and if he can't possibly have that faith he ought to be put in a back room somewhere where the public can't get to him—if he is retained on the company's payroll. I believe that the worst thing that can be done by an employe when a customer comes in with a complaint on a gas bill—and I don't care if it is a $25.00 gas bill—is by any look or action let the customer feel that you think the company is at fault, for it strengthens the customer's opinion right away that the blooming meter has a race track in it somewhere. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred and perhaps more, it is absolutely safe to take the stand that the meter is correct and sufficient argument should be given the customer which will convince him also that the meter is correct and if for any reason it should happen to be incorrect it is a very very rare exception.
Now what has been done with the gas? I believe it is up to them to tell you, not you to tell them—but we are apt to say after hearing the customer's story "Well, by jingo! that is strange. We will test that meter, and tell you about it after we get through with our examination.” Now, we have adopted plans where I am from, that we will change a meter, if it is every fifteen minutes, if they want it changed provided they will come in and see the meter tested personally. If they do not want to do that, we will not change the meter under any circumstance, with the exception of our regular three year change. In other words, if they are not willing to put their time against ours in their own behalf we can safely assume that they don't want the truth discovered very badly. There are arguments in favor of mentioning the three years' plan of changing meters and if a customer is told that we change them regularly every three years anyway because almost invariably, if a meter is found off at all, it is slow, that is against the company and in their favor, it is pretty convincing. We know that getting people to see their own meters tested and thus having an opportunity to learn something about a meter, is usually a convincing argument that will last that customer all his life.