When I first worked for a member of parliament I was tasked with responding to all of the correspondence that came into the office. This was back in the day when correspondence involved the postal system and computers had two colour options for screen displays, orange or green.
Some of the messages we received would be from industry leaders expressing everything from concern to dismay about a recent government announcement. Some were outraged letters from constituents complaining about misguided government policy. Many of the letters were, well for lack of a better word, crazy.
They reminded me of nothing so much as, Letters From A Nut, these missives from Ted L. Nancy were rife with odd requests and strange preoccupations. The difference is, that while comedian Barry P. Marder wrote the Ted L. Nancy letters, the letters appearing on my desk were written in full earnest by constituents.
The woman who wanted the grass around the mailbox cut, not the lawn…that was cut, but the grass a few inches from the box, “it was a disgrace on federal property.”
Or the lady who felt she had a democratic right to a free air conditioner. Then there was the gentleman who wrote to his MP to explain how much he liked to eat road kill. He at least was pleased with government policy that made that possible. Of course he was not nearly as disturbing as the two brothers from a rural part of the country who wrote in demanding wives. I’ll admit an air conditioner seemed almost reasonable by comparison.
The thing is, no matter how odd or outrageous the letter, a polite and reasoned response had to follow. The issues could not be ignored, dismissed or blown off. Constituents who had taken the time to write in deserved an answer. Whether it was clarity on constitutional rights or a quick call to Canada Post requesting that someone with scissors head over to the post box in question, letters were not only answered, the issues in them were fully researched and addressed as far as possible.
What that experience in a political office did was give me an effective lesson in customer service. What it looks like, how it operates and the lengths you need to go to. You see it didn’t matter that we did not deliver the air conditioner, what mattered was that we took the request seriously and responded thoughtfully. People remembered that on Election Day. To be sure there were times when people wrote in or called the office with issues I found offensive, but my job was to listen first, see what if anything could be done to address the issue, explain why if it could not be addressed and offer up alternate solutions.
Since my time on the Hill I’ve had plenty of moments where I’ve thought back to those letters. Instants where I would have liked noting more than to kick the person in front of me, instead, I’ve smiled and thought of ways I could help. It isn’t always easy, it doesn’t always work, but the interesting thing about that is, in the end, whatever was making them/me/us crazy didn’t matter. We didn’t remember the issue, just how we felt at that moment. People don’t remember the specifics of the product they remember the service.
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