Platitudes Are Not Always Right

This week’s Discover Challenge from the Daily Post is to “write a post that goes against the conventional wisdom — reinterpret something for us.” I’ll take this opportunity to take shots at a particularly annoying platitude.

The assertion that the customer is always right has about as much value as an apple a day keeps the doctor away: you may feel good about yourself when making either statement (I’m providing excellent customer service! I’m taking care of my health!), but using either slogan as a guiding principle is ludicrously short-sighted. I’ve got nothing against apples; there’s even a couple trees growing in my back yard (the blossoms in spring are a particular joy). They’re nutritious and certainly more beneficial than many other things we routinely ingest, but if galas and fujis and golden delicious are a substitute for a balanced diet, exercise, and routine medical exams, you’re in for some serious problems.

Now, about those customers. Let’s cut out the nonsense first: yes, we need to listen attentively to them; yes, we need to show respect for their opinions; yes, they will ask for products and services we wouldn’t purchase. I gotcha, boss. But, always right — please. Let’s return to the business of health, and consider a conversation between a doctor and patient, the doctor’s customer:

“You have the flu. Go home and rest; here’s a prescription for the pain.”

“Thanks, doc.” Patient examines prescription. “Is this an antibiotic?”

“No. You have the flu, which is a virus. We’ve tested you for bacterial infection, and it was negative.”

“OK, but the thing is, I got sick this time last year, and I got better right after I started taking the antibiotic.”

Doctor checks the patient’s file. “That’s right, you had a bacterial infection last year, so that’s why the antibiotic made you better. Antibiotics only fight bacteria — they do nothing against a virus.”

“But my cousin took an antibiotic a few weeks ago, and he got better right away? I just want to get better, doc, and I KNOW the antibiotic will help. What’s the big deal?”

Yes, the customers are always right — except when they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. Or they’re trying to defraud the buyer. Or they’re sacrificing long-term benefits for short-term gain. Or they’re trying to purchase materials for a weapon.

Aphorisms are fun and convenient, but are poor subsitutes for wisdom. Anyone who seriously believes the customer is always right has no business being in any position of customer service.


[This week’s Discover Challenge from The Daily Post is on the topic of Learning.]

Pushing from a left leg too short and underdeveloped to propel his overweight body further than an inch, Butch lunged at Annie, the blade of his weapon pressing into her white-jacketed torso then sliding down to her waist.

“Halt.” Coach Dan stepped forward, from the large area of black tile on the cafeteria floor, to the longthick rectangle of white tile where his two students were sparring. “Annie, did he hit you?”

The athletic teen shook her head, brown pony-tail wagging behind her mask. “Flat.”

“Oh!” Butch lifted the mask off from his chin, exposing eyes wide. “Sorry!”

“Don’t tell me the apology.” Coach Dan extended his open right palm at Butch, his alternative to pointing a finger. “Being sorry helps in no way. Tell me instead what you did wrong, so that we can move to the correction.”

 “Oh!” Butch glanced anxiously between the fencing team coach and team captain. “What I did wrong — didn’t hit with the point, that’s it?”

Mask still concealing her face, Annie looked down, shaking her head. Coach Dan smiled, blinked — “Not hitting with the point was the result, my friend, of at least two mistakes made in the execution of your attack.” His left hand extended out to his side — “Annie, what was one?”

She lifted her mask, exposing her impatient face. “Too close. He started his attack a step closer to me than he should’ve, really.”

“Correct.” The thirty-four-year-old English teacher and volunteer fencing instructor for Bark Bay High School turned his attention towards Butch. “And — what goes first?”

“Oh!” Butch stared up at the high cafeteria ceiling, as if the answer to his coach’s question would suddenly appear. “The tip?”

Annie suppressed a groan, as Coach Dan shook his head, extending his right arm. “Hand. First. You’re lunging then extending — get that hand out first, let it pull your body forward, instead of your body pushing your hand.” He stepped back, nodding at Butch. “Watch your distance, get the hand out. Think you can show me those corrections, my friend?”

“Oh!” The force of Butch’s nodding response brought his mask down over his round face. “You mean, now?”

Annie hummed a laugh, pulled her mask down over her face. “Really no time like the present.”