A minor inconvenience gets fixed up -- and it stays minor

It happens to all of us at one time or another: something goes wrong, we wind up delayed or otherwise inconvenienced. Most of the time it's no big deal, although depending on how it's handled it can seem like a big deal at the time.

I experienced one of those minor mixups recently when renting a car -- I wound up waiting longer than I had expected for my ride to the rental office. No biggie at first but as the time dragged on I did become frustrated. Like most of us I had plenty of other stuff I needed to be doing so the unexpected delay was getting pretty annoying.

Anyone willing to put their name on a website stipulating that "Conflict is Stupid!" should probably be able to avoid creating -- wait for it -- stupid conflicts! This situation turned out well, largely because the people involved were terrific and because I was willing to update my attitude as the situation developed. Here's how it went:

When my ride showed up, the gentleman driving apologized profusely for the delay. This was a pleasant surprise! Some of my experiences of things going wrong in similar situations have been met with apathy, some version of "And I should care about this because...?" attitude, which does absolutely nothing to reduce the frustration level. The funny thing is, the facts didn't change -- yes, I had been delayed due to an unfortunate mixup. But the fact that someone genuinely gave a damn just changed everything.

And it got even better once I got to the rental office. The woman who arranged the rental for me was equally apologetic about the delay, which reinforced my growing realization that "Wow, these people genuinely care that I was inconvenienced!" And when we got into the business of getting me a car -- somewhat complicated by a third-party payment situation -- she was so helpful, friendly, and efficient at the whole transaction that any lingering memories of my early frustration completely evaporated.

I got my car, and I wound up with a really good contact for any future rentals. And they wound up with a happy customer. What's not to like?

But in some alternate universes...

How else could this have gone? Let's see.

Alternate Scenario A: same customer (me), but apathetic, unconcerned people to deal with. I've never been a terribly confrontational person so I wouldn't have thrown a fit -- but I would not have been happy. Next time I needed to rent a car I probably would have gone elsewhere, and I would not have recommended this particular company to anyone.

Alternate Scenario B: different customer, the kind that goes ballistic when things go wrong, dealing with the same nice people I dealt with. This is pretty common: something goes wrong but the people involved are trying their darnedest to make it right. Doesn't matter! The customer has been inconvenienced and now there is Hell to be paid.

How dare they delay ME of all people! Don't they know that I am the all-important center of the universe! I will show them!

This kind of unfocused and oblivious -- oblivious to anything beyond one's self-importance -- anger usually just makes the situation worse by damaging or destroying the goodwill of those who are trying to remedy the situation. Yes, companies sometimes have stupid and counterproductive policies in place that can be aggravating at best -- but the people one is face-to-face with are almost never the ones who created those policies. It makes no sense whatsoever to antagonize those who are trying to help.

(There is another scenario, Alternate Scenario C: pissed-off customer meets apathetic customer service people. This is like one of those bad movies where there are no heroes and the audience winds up not caring what happens to any of them. The best that can be said about this sad state of affairs is that the parties involved deserve each other!)

I was really glad to have dealt with such decent, considerate, and efficient individuals; the original minor inconvenience from the delay due to a scheduling error was of no consequence whatsoever. I am glad, too, that I have learned how to "play fair" in this kind of a situation as it generally creates a much better result all the way around.

One of my favorite quotes, from psychologist Nathaniel Branden, applies here. He was speaking of romantic relationships when he said "To find the right woman, be the right man, and vice versa." I have come to realize this kind of thinking applies to just about any interaction. Be the right customer, and your chances of finding the right people to work with will increase. Be the right service, and the right customers will be drawn to you. Hopefully the others will eventually catch on as well!