Disclaimer: The company we are working for this summer has a very specific media policy. I will not be mentioning them by name, or mentioning the specific names of anyone I am working with, except for Lee. Also, because it’s not really that difficult to figure out which company it is, I want to be clear: I in no way speak for the company or my co-workers, and am only recounting my personal experiences. Also, any details I get wrong in this or any other post are due to a misunderstanding on my part.
I’ve been toying with writing this post for a while and because I wasn’t quite sure how to present my thoughts, I kept shoving them back in the corner and sticking with the easy stuff. This happens on occasion. It’s much easier to write about the pretty stuff, and the fun stuff, and even the not so pleasant events than to talk about personal shortcomings. I’ve always been a person who prided myself on good customer service. I have tons of experience, starting with my earliest jobs, and although the necessary patience doesn’t always come easily to me, overall I think I am above average in this area.
It’s relatively easy to be pleasant when you are in a good mood, fulfilled in your work, being paid well, and the people you are dealing with are being decent. It’s not so easy of course when you are under stress. My worst experience in this was a job in my 20’s when I worked a “retention” position. It was with a company who gave you a “free” service for 90 days as part of a new credit card, and then after the 90 days if you didn’t cancel they charged your credit card. I started almost every phone conversation by being yelled at. People were upset their credit card was charged, didn’t remember signing up in the first place, and wanted that charge reversed immediately. My job was to talk the person into keeping the service (and the $39 charge) and a 40% recidivism rate was considered excellent.
It was brutal and I think I lasted about 9 months before I had to leave and I only lasted that long because I was pregnant with my second daughter at the time. The job had good benefits (which I needed), I could sit in an air conditioned environment all day, and the supervisors did whatever they could to make a crappy job more pleasant. Plus, with the retention bonuses, I was making decent money at the time and with a 1 year old at home and another on the way, we needed the money. Still, it took it’s toll. Minute after minute, hour after hour, getting yelled at every 5 minutes or so wore me down. There were people who seemed to be able to completely turn off any emotions associated with the other people, but I was too young and too empathetic to just ignore it.
Nothing in my work experience has ever come close to how horrible that job was, and this is not even close, but as I am writing this I am reminded a bit of how there was a cumulative effect on my overall ability to provide good customer service. In a perfect world we would treat every customer encounter as our first and use all of the positive energy we had to resolve it amicably. But unless you are one of those rare people who seem to have a boundless store of energy, that simply isn’t the case. I’ll give you a simple example.
For some reason whenever we pull up to clean a bathroom, people see the truck and immediately run over and get in line. I get it, and have absolutely been guilty of it, and asking the cleaner to “wait just a minute” seems totally reasonable. The problem is that the time we spend waiting for them delay other cleanings down the line and if there are enough of them we get behind schedule. Initially I waited for everyone. I was being a good guy, but then I found myself rushing through the jobs, or worse not getting to a location because of those delays, and now generally if someone isn’t already in line when I pull up I make them wait. There are exceptions of course. Little kids, pregnant women, folks in obvious “distress”, I will even stop mid cleaning and allow them to go, but I try to keep those to a minimum.
And if you think that is crazy I’ll give you an example from this week. I pulled up to the restroom at Moore Creek, which is used by the white water rafting groups and because I was running a bit behind I was barely in front of three large groups of rafters. I let a young girl go and by the time she was done there were 7 people in line. 25 minutes later (and no I am not kidding about that) the line finally diminished and I was able to clean the bathroom. Yes, this was an extreme example, but it happens on a smaller scale almost every single day.
And not for nothing, it’s not fun cleaning a bathroom when someone “jumps in” and then is in there for awhile. All the guys in the campground have had people come into nearby stalls while they were cleaning and I was cleaning the men’s toilet one day, was in a stall, and a guy walked in and used the urinal. I waited until he was done to leave, but I had no idea how awkward something like that could be. I never understood why people made such a production out of closing down the bathroom and always thought they should leave it open while they cleaned other toilets, well, now I totally get it. I’m still trying to use good judgement and err on the side of the customer as much as I can, but when you are doing something unpleasant to begin with, and just want to get it over as quickly as possible, it’s pretty tough.
And that’s sort of my point overall. There is a perfect way to handle almost every single customer interaction and I am certainly capable of it, but when it’s crazy hot, I’m physically tired, we are at the end of a very long day, or it is one challenging interaction after another I start to feel stretched. Interestingly, Lee seems to have a much longer fuse when it comes to these interactions. If you had to pick who was better with people overall, I think I would win that one, but he is steadier overall and seems less prone to allowing environmental pressure to get to him. (I’ll take the credit, but I don’t really deserve it. Most of the time the useful part of my brain is occupied with my own bizarre thoughts and I am barely aware that there are even other people in the world. And every time I finish an interaction I reset back to whatever I was thinking about and people don’t exist any more. So each subsequent person pretty much feels like the first one, to me. – Lee)
Even when it does get to him he is able to compartmentalize those feelings and stay remarkably even keeled when dealing with customers. In all fairness part of that is as a smaller guy dealing with somewhat drunk people, he is hyper aware of the fact that at anytime if an interaction escalates someone could take a swing at him. (Something like this happened a week or so ago. We pulled up to our most remote spot, which rarely has anyone at it, and it had one car. Male and female sitting inside. We got out, and I locked the truck, and we went down the boat launch stairs to check the trash, keeping one eye on the couple in the car. When we came up the stairs, the guy got out of the car, because of course he did. I moved a little quicker up the stairs, to get to the top before he did, and I kept myself between him and Tracy while she unlocked the truck and we exchanged the standard pleasantries at the back of the truck. While we chatted he kept moving just a teeny bit closer to me, like a lean that turned into a step, and I would compensate by leaning/stepping back to maintain that ever important personal safety bubble. This happened enough times that we traveled this way, almost imperceptibly, from the passenger side at the tailgate, to the fuel tank door on the driver’s side. And the whole time talking about nothing of any consequence, but nonstop chit chat, which was very distracting. By this time, Trace had actually gotten into the truck and was just sitting there, so I decided I was done with the pointless chit chat and didn’t want to move forward of the driver’s door, so in the middle of his next pointless sentence and lean I gave him a great big smile and said “You have a great night, drive safe!”, opened the door and got in and we left. – Lee) I was completely oblivious to all of this by the way. I rarely worry about my physical safety, although I am more aware now than I ever was in my youth.
When I am tired, hot, and cranky I tend to get a little short with people. (I can attest to this. – Lee) The “mom mentality” kicks in and it takes energy (which I have little of at the end of these long weekend days) to keep my voice on an even tone. Usually I am able to keep my cool, but I’ll be hones,t occasionally some “tone” leaks out. I am not rude or abusive, but I definitely step on the customer service line in these instances and it bums me out. Closing the gate at night is a particularly difficult time for me because we are at the end of a very long day. Lee starts at 4:45 am, and the day ends at 9:30 pm. And we do that every Saturday and Sunday. Even though we aren’t working that entire time, it’s still a long day.
We aren’t eating well (dinner is a quick sandwich grabbed on a 15 minute break or eating at 9:30pm) and I am not sleeping well at all. You would think we would fall into bed exhausted at the end of the day, but I’m still “keyed up” and usually can’t fall asleep until after 11pm. Fridays and Sundays are generally OK because it’s mostly locals who know the end of day drill, but Saturdays are always tough. We have lots of out-of-towners who don’t really understand we close the gate promptly at 9pm and despite giving numerous warnings starting at 8:15pm they often wait to start packing up until the last minute. I get that they don’t know we have been going since early morning, don’t understand we have to get up first thing the next day, and probably wouldn’t care if they did. But we aren’t done when we close the gate and still need to do a security sweep of the campground, empty any trash we have, and eat something before going to bed. It’s a long day.
This Saturday was the worst we have had so far from that perspective. It started off busy because a local combination AA /Veteran’s group was having an all day BBQ down on the lower launch beach. They started arriving to set up their pop-up canopies and food stations at 6am. We had no idea this was happening, but swung into action to help handle the additional traffic. Lee and I both spent all of our morning shifts down there and worked with the group to make the most out of the existing parking space. The group organizers were great to work with and by 11:15am every car and boat space was full, I had cleaned the bathrooms twice, and we had emptied many bags of trash and given them extra bags for later. I even asked one of the guys at Timber Park to do a mid-day sweep while we were on our long mid-day break and I actually felt great about the level of customer service we provided.
Fast forward to 5pm when we came back on and the first thing we did was go back to lower launch to scope out what state it was in. The bathrooms had held up pretty well, but we cleaned them again and we removed 4 huge bags of trash from down by the beach. The group had completely turned over at this point and now we had several small groups at the beach area. Because we hadn’t touched any of the other sites we ran up and dropped off the full bags of trash we had in the bed of the truck and then we hustled to make our rounds. The culvert area was completely packed and that trash was overflowing. Someone had added a third bag which really helped, but it took a while to pick up the overflow and now we were really running behind. We didn’t even have time to recycle, plus it was crazy hot in the full sun and we dealt with the bags and got back in the air conditioned truck as quickly as possible. Thankfully the river sites were in better shape so we got back on schedule and headed down for another quick sweep of Lower Launch. More trash removal, and then a quick bathroom clean and sweep of Faraday.
We made it back to the culvert by 7:30 and there was music blasting from two cars and at least 12 vehicles in the lot. Lee started to make closing announcements on the bullhorn and I started trash pickup and asked the folks with the music blaring to turn it off. Everything was going fine, with most people leaving, but there was one truck that simply wouldn’t leave. We waited and waited and finally I gave last warning and we headed up to the gate. At this point the people in the truck trotted over and making crappy comments about being rushed out they finally departed. Lee saw a campground parking sticker on their window though as they left, and later I made it a point to ask the hosts about this particular vehicle because they were obviously pretty drunk.
We made it down to the Lower Launch by 8:10pm and it was still very busy. 5 boat trailers in the lot and at least 15 cars, which is a lot for that time of night, even on a Satruday. Several groups still had pop-up shelters up and two groups were BBQing. We started making announcements at 8:15 and then headed up through the gated area and made announcements to folks fishing and the boats up there. By the time we got back down to the beach at 8:30pm I was pretty annoyed that the largest group on the beach was still grilling. I walked over with my bucket and trash pickers and politely mentioned they really needed to start packing up now because they had a ton of stuff and they made some drunken comments to the affirmative and I started picking up litter.
By the time I made it to the end of the beach the trash cans were once again full and there were several boxes of trash on the ground. I went and called Lee over and we drove the truck down into a parking spot and started picking the trash up. While we were doing that someone pulled a small car up and completely blocked us in while they were “packing up.” I say that because what they were really doing was standing around talking to each other and now it was 8:45pm and we still had to clean the bathrooms. Lee tried to get the truck out, but couldn’t get past them and they just sat there talking and looking at us. At this point I had had enough and jumped out of the truck and told them to move their vehicle because we had work we needed to do. One of the guys looked at me and said, “Relax Lady,” and I swear I saw red. I said, “We have been working all day and we still have work to do before we leave” and then I shut my mouth… with effort, and jumped into the truck. They finally moved and I was fuming as we went up to clean the restroom.
Something about his tone and demeanor really pushed my buttons, but I knew I had said too much and nothing I would say would make it any better. So we cleaned the bathroom, saw all of the boat trailers were out of the water, and headed up to the top of the gate. At this point, most people get a clue and the locals at least (including the “Relax Lady” guy got out of there, but the big group down on the beach was still taking their sweet time. Finally we were able to shut the gate and then we headed back to the campground. Turns out they had a rough day too, and the guys from the lower launch were in one of their “problem sites” but they had already addressed their concerns with them. We made our security sweep, threw away 8 bags of trash in the dumpster, dropped off some items in the lost and found and went back to the rig.
I know in the grand scheme of things losing my temper is not such a big deal and it happened under extreme duress but it bothers me. (Personally I wouldn’t describe it was losing her temper, I would describe it as being another two lines of conversation away from losing her temper. – Lee) It’s not like I was unbearably rude or cussed the guy out, but I hate feeling that upset and certainly hate showing it. More concerning is as the season progresses the fuse is getting shorter and shorter and I know I really need to get a handle on this now. Deep breaths are definitely called for, and remembering that although it is my 100th such conversation, for most of the visitors it is their first. And I really need to figure out how to get better sleep on the weekends.
Oh, one last thing, and for those of you with sensitive stomachs, stop right here. We made it through the whole week with no major messes and then our second to last bathroom on Sunday night Lee opened the door and immediately put up a hand to stop me from entering behind him. That’s part of the problem. Despite our best efforts, when we open the door we never really know what we will find and this was something new. There was tons of bright red…material spattered all over the toilet, seat and lid, with spatters on the wall at the men’s room at Faraday. Lee walked in to get a better look and at first glance it appeared to be blood. I then took a look and it was not good. We have a special blood cleanup kit for instances involving blood, but the quantity was way too much for the materials we had on hand. It looked to me as if someone might have had a miscarriage (which does happen in public restrooms on occasion) and although the color was still bright red neither one of us felt comfortable getting right on top of it and examining it. Plus it was getting late and we needed to close some gates so we took pictures, locked the bathroom, and awaited further instructions from our supervisor. Both of us felt this was the best solution, because there is another bathroom at this location and it was getting close to closing time.
The next day our supervisor took a look at the pictures Lee sent him. If I haven’t made it clear I really, really like this guy. He is by far the best person I have worked for on the road and has gone out of his way to make this experience as pleasant as possible for us. He told Lee he thought it was not blood, mainly because the mess had not changed color, that it was more likely thrown up berries. There are tons of berries in the area and not all of them are safe for people to eat, and unfortunately someone appears to have eaten some bad ones. That was much better than the alternative, but still not great, and on Monday Lee took the water trailer, lots of disinfectant, and a mop bucket to clean it up. It wasn’t fun for him and I was really grateful it was my campground day, but he got it done and we were both glad we received clear instructions on how to handle it. (I didn’t mind so much. It couldn’t have been blood, blood would have been much darker by the next morning. And there was no odor, so I just told myself I was cleaning up spilled food. I hosed everything out with pressurized water using a plant food dispenser on the hose to add lots of disinfectant and than used a mop and squeegee to take out the water. By that point it was so diluted there was no color at all. No big deal. I’ve cleaned up worse from my own kids. – Lee) So if you are keeping count, that is at least three weeks in a row with a major bathroom mess and if the universe is trying to tell me something I’d like to say back: I get it!!
On the plus side, we have lobbying pretty hard for a 100 gallon tank to carry in the truck so we can add the gas powered pump and always have a pressurized water source, and after this incident our boss ordered one. Plus I made $20.70 in recycling (not so bad considering how crazy it was) and we have some fun stuff scheduled for our days off, including a visit from a friend of Lee’s that he hasn’t seen since our wedding.
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