The influence of customers

Sept. 1, 2003
A senior member of the clan is well into his eighties. Beyond being thankful for the minor physical miracles that occur upon awakening each day — his anatomy still seems to function

By Mark Hartley

A senior member of the clan is well into his eighties. Beyond being thankful for the minor physical miracles that occur upon awakening each day — his anatomy still seems to function — life has been boiled down to two items on the daily schedule. The first order of business is to devote as much time as possible to repairing various odds and ends at my house, his house, and anybody else's that will pay his "reasonable rates." The rates are inexpensive. He just wants somebody to have a conversation with him while he's working. His repairs are of good quality, but it does takes awhile for him to pronounce that the deed is done.

The second order of business is where you come in, but it will take me a moment to explain. He likes to wander about among the various retail merchants and wrangle unbelievable deals out of them. He'll vist a particular store multiple times over a period of weeks or months, always chatting with the same salesperson. The primary purpose of his "shopping" is not to buy something. The goal, I think, is to have verbal interaction with others —in this case, the salesperson.

He does land some sweet deals. Perhaps the most amusing one is this huge plasma TV that covers up one wall of his living room. Many members of the clan, including myself, have suggested that even "basic" cable would really enhance the reception of high-definition television. Nope, $30 a month for a cable bill just isn't frugal. He has a terrific television that he whittled down to about a $1,000 less than the retail price, but there's a pair of rabbit ears sticking up from the top — an antenna he probably purchased for a television back in the 1950s.

Yes, the most important thing about this part of his daily schedule is the interaction with the merchants. His philosophy is to keep pecking away a salesperson until he or she relents. In my opinion, some of the great deals he lands are given just to get him out of there, so that the salesperson can snare more lucrative customers.

I wonder about the salespeople behind these deals. On one hand, they must wake up every day thinking about how the "customer is always right." On the other hand, some customers are just not going to allow you to reach the sales quota — the all-important number you need to reach in order to remain employed. Employers have a funny way of expecting you to be charming, yet not waste too much time at it. You are expected to discover a way to make money that doesn't appear to be about making money. If the salesman doesn't find that balance, well, the store manager's office is the second door in the right, if you would like to air a complaint.

In this issue, Dianne Glasscoe's Staff Rx (page 44) answers a letter from a hygienist who's about to be fired after "several" patients complained about her communication skills. Are there hygienists who should find another career? Probably. Dianne plays it straight. She assumes the reader is genuine and sincere about learning some skills that will allow her to keep her job. Dianne offers some good advice, and she sticks to the column's agenda of helping all hygienists become better ones.

I, of course, have the luxury of listening to RDH readers explain that some dental offices will always fuel political arguments about a "shortage of dental hygienists," because no sane hygienist would ever work there. Is the employer of the letter writer to Dianne one of them? I have the luxury of reading Anne Guignon's "The Second Banana Syndrome" (page 38). Hygienists sacrifice their physical health for the noble cause of dentistry, only to be casually discarded when their bodies fail them. I have the luxury of believing that some people's complaints about dental hygiene services are just a matter of simple miscommunication. Sometimes, an old fellow just wants to talk, maybe wheedle a deal out of you if he has to pay out of pocket.

It's kind of tough to keep employers and clients happy all of the time, isn't it?

If you feel like you're in the right place — the profession of dental hygiene — just remember that there really is nothing objective about performance reviews and other employer mandates. Business is an incessant, subjective gauntlet that employees have to navigate every single day. Someone will likely have a negative opinion of you. But if you enjoy what you do, most people will respect you for your commitment to your career.

Mark Hartley is the editor of RDH. He can be contacted at [email protected].