24-hours a day, call 1-800…


There’s a photo booth close where I work… one of those automated ones where you sit behind a funny curtain, feed it a couple of dollars, and have it snap a shot of your face completely unprepared.

I pass it several times a day actually, and every so often the display screen will be down with a 1-800 number on it to call if there are any problems.

And I ignore its plea.

Nothing unusual there to my way of thinking. Lots of machines have 1-800 service numbers on them. For some reason however on this particular September morning, I began wondering…

Does anyone ever call these numbers?

I’ve seen people servicing this machine on a regular basis… replacing paper, taking out money, using a keyboard to do something… and I never really worried about it. I’ve never wanted to use the unit… never needed to decide between a color or a black and white print, a photo or an authentic fake drawing.

I suppose when I’ve seen it out of service I could have called the toll-free help line, but I haven’t.

It isn’t a machine that has anything to do with my work.

When it’s not operating, it isn’t interfering with my life.

As one of my friends so wonderfully observed during a coffee break a few years ago… assign me anything you want, ask me anything you want, just “don’t inconvenience me.”

I like that.

And taking two minutes to make a service call on a machine I don’t use would be an inconvenience.

You don’t think so? Sure it would…

I was in the rest room on my floor at work perhaps two months ago. One of the four faucets there was dripping… heavily enough that it might as well have been running. So, gold star for the day on the line, I left the men’s room and went to the phone to call Engineering. Now I understand they have their procedures to follow. But… (1) I was literally three minutes from going home, and it was my weekend so I wasn’t going to be back the next day. And, (2) it was the men’s room… a common area if you will… not my desk, not my area, and not my department. So the conversation that developed between the receptionist taking the information and myself went a bit off the track when we hit the final stages of reporting the problem.

“Can I have your phone number?” asked the friendly voice on the other end.

“Umm… sure, but I’m not going to be there.”

“I’m sorry?” as if she was surprised that I wouldn’t be where I was… so to speak.

“Going home for the weekend. Leaving in a few minutes.”

“Well, just for the report. The engineer might want to call and ask a question.”

“Right. More than happy to give it to you. Here it is. But, I’m not going to be there. It’s just the men’s room on the floor and I have no clue who is up here tonight or over the weekend.”

“I can’t finish this and assign it a project number without a contact number.”

Finally, I just gave her my number and went home. When I came back after my days off the faucet was still leaking and there were three messages on my voice mail…

Message number one… “Hi, this is Phil (not his real name). You called about a leaking faucet. I’m calling to find out which one it is.”

Message number two… “Hi, it’s Phil again. Calling about the leak. Call me back.”

Message number three… “Hi, this is Phil. Until I hear from you about this faucet I won’t be able to get it fixed. Please call me when you can.”

No good deed goes unpunished. I called for a general maintenance issue and that in turn made it my problem. I had evidently taken responsibility for it.

So I called Engineering back, and got the same receptionist from two and a half days before on the phone…

“Hi Bob. Yes, Phil tried to call you, but you weren’t there.”

“I know, I told you I wouldn’t be there when we spoke.”

“Oh.” (Long pause.)  “Right. Well, you should have given me a different contact number.”

“Umm… right… well, no one else works up here on the weekends. There really wasn’t a separate number. It’s the men’s room. The only men’s room on the floor.”

I don’t want to stay too long with the leaking faucet… long story short, it took three weeks to repair. That’s not the main point here.

What I mean is that most people have that “don’t inconvenience me” approach to things. Instead of comprehending the problem, instead of troubleshooting it, almost every one of us lets an attitude of “not my job” creep in, even if only occasionally…

I had called Engineering. She had a format to follow to collect the information and pass it along to the appropriate person. It didn’t matter that we don’t make a practice of having a desk in our men’s room with someone staffing the phone there around the clock. She needed a number, that was her part of this process, and she wasn’t going to have someone ask her why she didn’t get it. The idea of using common sense… that this men’s room was an easy enough area to find and to check, and with me going home for the weekend it was understandable as far as my not being available… wasn’t part of her job. Using common sense… hey, here’s a sink that’s leaking in this area, even if Bob isn’t answering his phone I should still go and check it out because I’ll probably see what sink it is… wasn’t part of Phil’s job.

And yet, somehow, after reporting it I was finding out it was my problem.

It seems, all too often, that unfortunately even when you do want to take that extra step and do a good deed, more often than not it backfires. I for one, like many of you, don’t need to place my hand on the hot burner more than once.

Don’t inconvenience me… and I won’t inconvenience you.

About three weeks ago I was visiting friends and we went over to the New York State Fair. It was hot, and I wanted a soda. We happened to be in one of the horse barns… actually it’s called the coliseum and it’s the main competition ring for the horses… and I walked over to a soda machine. After putting in fifty cents, I realized I hadn’t heard any coins drop. So I peeked into the slot and saw that the machine was jammed.

There was a number on the machine to call in case there was a problem with it… but… I was on vacation… I was spending money on food all over the place… I didn’t need my two quarters back… I didn’t need to wait for a check or an envelope for that amount. I walked out to a stand and got a soda. Done.

I see the need for these signs, but I’m wondering about the guilt. Mainly if there is any. You might legitimately put several dollars in a machine. Or perhaps it is the responsibility of your department or staff to check on them once or twice or more a day.

Having that 1-800 number handy helps.

But it’s also a way of avoiding responsibility. It’s becoming a way of shifting the blame. It’s a “you didn’t tell us” instead of a “we followed through.” It’s a “this machine doesn’t belong to this company, so don’t approach them with your troubles.”

And I don’t think I like it.

We’ve become an automated society. So much so that literally you can walk into a building to participate in whatever business the company that owns that building offers. Entertainment… retail sales… whatever. And if you use a vending machine there and things go wrong, the best they can offer you is a 1-800 number and someone else to talk to. Because it’s not their fault that the machine on their property that a different company made arrangements with them to place there isn’t working.

So much for the customer is always right.

So much for positive customer service.

Doesn’t seem right, does it?

I wonder if there’s anyone I should tell...


If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com