Quite a few years ago, when I first started working at the Bulletin, an obituary came in. And there was a mistake in it, which the funeral home director caught – you know the routine – right after she sent it.
Well, the details are quite hazy now, but as I remember it, I made the correction as soon as she called back, and in the process of making the change something important got dropped. Now one of the top 10 rules of old school journalism is (or was) don’t screw up the obits. It’s the last chance for the correct and properly/publicly recorded life accounting for the departed.
If I can say this with proper humility, I would like to say in my career that included writing/editing/proofing literally hundreds of obituaries, I caught many more mistakes than I made. Still, the outstanding truth is, the ones I made were problems, all-but unforgiveable omissions, for the families and friends who, seeking whatever comfort they could in the accounting of their loved one’s life, had to read the glaring error.
But I remember the one, those years ago, where every time we tried to make something right, something else went wrong, the director telling me, “When one wheel falls off the bus, they all fall off the bus.”
What a true statement that was. I’ve passed it on as an acknowledgement for similar situations so many times since. And it came to mind again the other day.
In this case, it wasn’t a life and death matter by any means. Rather a little teeth-grinding, tap-on-my-last-nerve incident that sent me into a bit of a tizzy. It’s all going to work out. I could bore you with the details very quickly, but I will try not to.
In a nutshell, I ordered several sale items from my favorite catalog – a sort of treat for myself. And, the next morning, I got two email confirmations for orders, both charging my debit card $51.93, but one with completely different items than what I’d ordered with directions the order be shipped to a lady (very nice, I’m sure) in California.
I called customer service, where a very pleasant woman responded with the appropriate amount of concern and horror at the obvious mistake. And she set about to do everything she could to make it right. We decided the best solution would be to cancel both orders. Then she offered some generous coupon savings and free shipping on another, which I gladly made.
All good. One of the $51.93 charges was reversed almost immediately. The other remained. Two more phone calls. Each time the operator at the other end of the line assured me the order had been cancelled, and the charges would be reversed within three to five days. Unfortunately neither of those things turned out to be true. On the sixth day my original order arrived, along with what should have been the replacement order. And I got an email confirmation for an order for the same (nice I’m sure) lady in California, though I had not been charged for it.
Remember the old Parkay margarine commercial with the “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature,” theme. Think of me as Mother Nature. There was no more Ms. Nice Person who called customer service. I could have been nicer. I should have been nicer. I didn’t curse, however, nor did I shout, scream or – beyond stating the obvious – become unreasonable.
The customer service rep, who ended up going to get her supervisor, told me no less than three times, “We all make mistakes.” That did not calm me in the least.
The supervisor – get this – blamed me for causing the delay of the $51.93 refund because I had (at the postman’s advice) refused delivery of the order and returned it unopened. My irritation raised to another level again when the supervisor told me she had done all she could do until the merchandise was received back.
So I went there. I said, “Then why do you call yourself ‘customer service,’ if you’re not serving the customers.’” “Ma’am,” she replied, “I am sorry. I don’t know what else to say.”
It was a bit before I calmed down. It will be days before my $51.93 is refunded. But you know what? It will work out. Eventually. And in the grand scheme of things, and all the problems in the world, it’s not so bad that all the wheels fell off the bus. We can surely put them on again.
Editor’s note: Candace Cooksey Fulton, formerly of Brownwood, is a freelance writer now living in San Angelo. She writes weekly columns for the Brownwood Bulletin and the San Angelo Standard-Times, each unique to the particular paper. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.