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1 February 2002

"Never go to the foot when the head can be had."

It's a saying that has been in our family as long as I can remember. My godfather (who was also my great-uncle) spent all holidays with us. (He also brought a 2 pound box of Sees candy with him every time he came to visit us, so I eagerly looked forward to his visits.)

UncleFred-sm.jpg (16045 bytes)In his youth he had been a champion bicycle racer, but by the time I came along, he was a vacuum cleaner salesman. He sold Electrolux vacuum cleaners door to door. (I thought of him the first time I saw "Death of a Salesman.") Their ads said the suction on an Electrolux was so strong it could pick up heavy lead balls. And so, apparently, it could. But my father was always complaining that he rarely had lead balls lying around the house, and the damn thing wouldn't pick threads up off the floor.

Uncle Fred had the affable nature of a door to door salesman and always had jokes and stories to tell whe he showed up for holiday dinners. Unfortunately they were usually the same jokes and stories, which we heard so often through the years that they became funny just by virtue of the fact that we heard them so often.

But one of the pieces of advice that he dispensed frequently was "Never go to the foot when the head can be had."

By this he meant never deal with an underling when you can deal with the boss.

I suppose I didn't appreciate the wisdom of this saying I'd heard all my life until I became an adult and began dealing with entities on a regular basis. The older I get, the more I realize what a very wise man my godfather was.

Throughout my adult life I've learned that if you deal with the little guy--the one who answers the phone or waits on you over the counter, you'll rarely have success in getting satisfaction for your complaint. The "little guy" has no stake in your satisfaction. These days probably more than in times past. It matters little to most "little guys" because the loss of one person's business has no direct effect on those at the "foot."

But if you deal with the person who is as high up in the company as you are able to go, it is frequently easier to get satisfaction, sometimes in surprising ways.

I have often thought of my godfather as I've asked a salesperson, or an operator to please connect me with their supervisor. Though I may have been tearing my hair out over trying to get my message across to the "foot," more often than not, the "head" makes it his or her business to see that I am satisfied and that I hang up happy once again.

My responsibility in this interaction is to be fair. I never complain unless it's warranted, and when something goes right, I try to make sure that this gets noticed as well. (I remember sending a letter once to the head of food services at the Denver airport because I was so impressed with the way a high school girl working behind the counter in an eatery managed to deal with a glut of impatient customers stranded in a snow storm, working efficiently and with a smile and a cheerful word for everyone).

By the same token, I will stand up for my own rights, taking it up the ranks until I find someone to whom it matters that I am a happy customer. My biggest successes included a $100 gift certificate given by the head chef at a Sacramento restaurant after reading my letter detailing an evening we had where everything that could possibly go wrong, did. He said it was the best complaint letter he had ever read.

More recently, I sent a letter of complaint to the manager of a hotel in London for the shabby condition of our rather expensive room, consistently throughout our several day stay. This letter resulted in two free nights in the hotel on our next trip (a $300 value), with the staff practically licking our feet in their eagerness to make certain that our second stay went without incident.

This month I've been dealing with the company which deals with Dr. G's payroll. "Payroll" is a silly term, because I'm the only person on the payroll (until he starts paying his wife that $1,000 a month to dust!), but they also do his employee taxes, a job I certainly have no desire to add to my job duties.

My first check for this month didn't arrive. Several days after I expected it, I called the company and made the mistake of dealing with the first person I spoke with. She said that it would be considered a new run and we would be charged the regular fee for processing the replacement check, since, she said, it wasn't their fault if the post office lost the check.

I wasn't too happy about this, but decided I could wait and just have them issue a double check for the next pay period. When that period came up, I again spoke with the woman who answered the phone and again was told that my repacement check would be charged at the usual rate. I asked to speak with her supervisor.

Not only was the supervisor extremely apologetic but she promised that they would issue a replacement check and not charge us anything for check processing this month. "I'm giving you a freebee," she said.

Two days later when the original check, delayed two weeks somewhere in the labyrinth that is the U.S. postal system, was delivered, along with the replacement check, I didn't have the heart to let her know it had arrived after all!


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Created 1/30/02