Laughing at a customer, while rarely good for business, is sometimes justifiable. It was once when I was working as a waiter; several times when I was a campus police officer (of course, the students are not exactly customers; they are something much much less). And once, just once, it happened when I was working as an operations manager for a storage and moving company.
‘Yes sir, we did receive your things,’ I said to the man. He sounded younger than me but calling someone sir can help head off a lot of problems – a concept synonymous with the moving industry. ‘When would you like us to deliver?’
It was mid-June. The board on the wall was already overflowing with work orders, most of the insidious triple-copy printouts crammed into the slots reserved for the last few days of the month.
Everyone wants to move in the summer. The kids are out of school, the weather is nice, and what better time to parlay your move into a road trip? Provided, of course, someone is doing all the heavy moving for you.
The outfit I worked for had the added privilege of doing military moves, code named G-2, meaning ‘drive two hours, pack and haul a ton of storage and get paid peanuts.’ And since our armed forces prefer nice weather as much as the rest of our customers, summer for us was, in a word, busy-as-hell.
Humans must have some innate proclivity for change in June. How else to explain the sheer number of people who get married, travel to Europe and move (sometimes all three) in June, far more than in any other month? Unlike weddings and flights to Frankfurt, move-out-day is almost always the last day of the month.
Cram all these factors together and you have the perfect storage and moving storm, an annual event we in the business prefer not to talk about.
‘Well,’ the man on the other end of the line said. ‘Can you deliver on June 30th?’
I looked over at the triple-copy monster growing out of the wall. I couldn’t even see the 30 anymore. We were going to be all over the road, the crew physically and me mentally. The only thing he had going for him was the small size of his shipment. Maybe I’d find an opening in the course of the day to get his stuff to him. I just needed him to be flexible.
‘And can you come about 3:00?’
This is when I started laughing.
‘We’ll see what we can do, sir,’ I said (once I caught my breath). ‘But I’ll be honest, I can’t say exactly when we’ll be able to get to you. We’re talking about the busiest day of the busiest month of the entire year, and it looks like we’re already booked pretty solid.’
Silence. Then stuttering indecision. This is what we in the business call the more agreeable customer response to getting laughed at.
‘Don’t worry, sir. We’ll definitely get to you on the 30th.’ At this I almost started laughing again. ‘But I really can’t promise a specific time. Best I can do is give you a heads-up once we see how the day is shaping up.’
‘…Okay, well…You have my cell phone number, right?’
What more could the kid do but hope for the best? I was the operations manager and I couldn’t do more than hope for the best. We still had almost two weeks for more end-of-month work to come pouring in. I only had so many trucks and so many guys (and so many guys with proper licenses to drive those trucks but certain niggling legalities can be ignored in a pinch). I could try to move a few jobs around, maybe piggy-back a couple to save some time. But jobs go longer than expected sometimes, and there are only so many hours in a day. And as the hours drag on those couches and dressers and TV sets start getting pretty heavy.
My advice in all of this, kind reader, is two-fold. Eventually a waiter or a police officer or an operations guy at a storage and moving company is going to laugh at you. Take it in stride, it just means that, like most people (this writer not included), you don’t understand the ins and outs of the business.
And second, unless you don’t mind sitting, eating and sleeping on the floor of your new place for a few days – or, more preferably, extending your road trip at the last-minute – do whatever you can to avoid having to ask your moving company to do something for you anywhere close to the busiest day of the busiest month of the year.
Still, if you find you have no choice, don’t despair.
We ended up getting that young man’s things delivered at the stroke of three o’clock.
So he’s probably still wondering why I was laughing at him.
About the Guest Author
Kevin Kato has in fact waited tables, patrolled campuses and managed operations for a storage and moving company. He’d rather not talk about any of it. Find more of his witty insights (along with the occasional introspective bit) on his blog, read about his travels on his website, connect with him on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. And check out his free, just-published e-book recounting his experiences in Japan after the big earthquake.