When our company was new, we rather flew by the seats of our pants, but we've formalized a number of policies and procedures over time. Weekly staff meetings were the stuff I cut my teeth on professionally, but none of the home dudes had ever been exposed to such a thing. It took a very long time - much more than a year - for the pained expressions on their faces to ease. It took longer than that, and a few changes in the cast of characters, for them to begin to speak up, participate, make suggestions, bring up tough topics . . . but now they do. Our staff meetings have become interactive, productive, efficient and eye-opening. From the most senior veteran to the newest technician, everyone has something to say. David encourages the notion of our office being our sanctuary - the place where we all gather among those who are on our team, our side. Since we are a small group, most of our stories, tales and legends spread pretty quickly, but it's often good to chew on them one more time in staff meeting so we can hear what David has to say about it.
The staff meeting agenda is presented on a white board in David's office. Most often it is I who writes down subjects to be discussed. Once, a technician asked if he/they were also invited to put up something to be talked about. "Yes, of course!" said I. David shoots from the hip each week. He needs no written reminders of what to talk about. At some point in each and every meeting, he asks, "Does anyone have any questions, complaints, comments, quibbles, gripes, bitches or gritches?" While that invitation met with dead silence and averted gazes for at least two years, that's no longer the case. Nearly everyone has something to say nearly every week. We like that!
As a union representative for almost two decades, I've advocated for people who encountered trouble at work more times than I can count. Sometimes people mess up. Sometimes the planets are misaligned. Sometimes people are falsely accused. I'd submit that few people have more adverse working conditions than my carpet cleaning technicians. Their work is tremendously physically hard. They have no set hours. They may begin their day at 2:00 a.m. and go until 11:00 p.m. They may have a void of six hours between two jobs and nothing to fill that time with. They jump from convenience store to fast food joint to eat all meals of the day sometimes. They suffer working with hot water in both scorching heat and snow. When the phones ring off the hook, they make very good money, because when the phones ring, I book jobs. When the phones are quiet, they make bupkus. When it's rainy, cloudy or snowing, business is down. When it's bright and sunny, business goes up. At holiday times, all bets are off - we run nearly 24 hours a day surrounding the holidays.
Customers treat my guys in all manner of ways, partly driven by the customer's personality, and partly by the technician's I am sure. Some of them cultivate fan clubs of repeat customers. Each of them is treated condescendingly sometimes. They hear comments such as, "I wouldn't have believed it could come out so well!" They see facial expressions that suggest, "Hurry up, moron." Although each of them takes care to say "The floor is very wet. Be careful when stepping from the carpet onto the tile," they see a tremendous number of people crash to the floor. Some customers follow them from room to room, not making any effort to hide their concern about burglary. Once in awhile, a meal is offered, or a sandwich or a cold drink. Sometimes they are told they can use the garden hose for a drink of water.
Those are all the known quantities - the "givens". That's what we deal with daily. Now enter the wild cards: "What will happen when we knock on the doors today?" Our first clue is how the customer interacted with me on the phone. You see, I have a stunning memory and a remarkable ability to connect with others. If a customer gives me a phone number with a 619 area code, I say, "I'm from San Diego, too!" When a hear a squalling newborn in the background, it's "Mine is 19 years old now - enjoy it while you can." If the caller sounds quite elderly, I let them know I'm an AARP member. Pet damage call? "I understand, I keep cats." I make the connection any way I can and I'm good at recalling what struck me as I booked the job. We begin every morning with sales huddle, and the guys have truly come to enjoy Limes' rendering of "Today's Tales in the Big City." I either tell them there's nothing remarkable about a customer or I'll say, "Here's what I think you're up against . . . " Often, many times a day, I'll get a radio transmission to say, "Limes, it's just what you figured. I'm glad we talked in advance." Or, "Come on, Limes, how do you do that with just one phone conversation?" It's just what I do. It's my contribution. It's my way of preparing home dudes to ponder "what the hell is the matter with people?" before they arrive at the door.
Home dudes' personalities are all over the map. So are their life experiences and the way they react to things. There ages are widespread, as are their tastes and interests. I know each of them very, very well. I can tell on the radio when Matt is about to require a little anger management moment. When Cesar sounds a certain way, I can picture the look of disgust on his face. When Justin calls in, I can tell by his tone of voice on "Misssss Limes, come on in . . . " if he's about to deliver good news or difficult.
Some of what they encounter:
Cesar is a good, knowledgeable carpet technican, non-threatening, quiet, respectful, good looking with a radiant smile. I've predicted that when the company is 5 years old, 20% of our business will be Cesar's repeat customers. Last week he went to a customer's home for the fourth time in two years. He remembered her during huddle, "Oh, yeah. She's nice. Couple of nice little kids." He radioed to tell me he had arrived, how long he'd be, and the amount of the job. He sounded a little off. Soon he radioed again and he sounded way off. "Uh, Limes, I'm just calling in to talk to you . . ." Huh? Calling me in the middle of a job on a busy day to chat? "Cesar, what's up?" "Limes, this family is moving out and it's pretty crazy. The mom is busy packing and there are people helping. The little girls are running around the house naked." "Cesar, what?" "In the house, out in the cul-de-sac, up and down the sidewalk."
What had concerned this decent man, the father of three young children himself, was that all the adults in the home were packing boxes downstairs while the 4- and 5-year-old naked girls were dogging his footsteps upstairs as he cleaned the carpet. He tried to shoo them downstairs, which they thought was a grand game, especially the part where they sneaked back up to holler "boo!" He asked the mother to keep them downstairs for their safety. "Oh, sure, thanks for reminding me." That lasted about 5 minutes.
"Cesar, get back in there and get the job done. Then get out of there. Tell the mother again, as you pass her, that you're working with water at 240-degrees and she needs to keep the children downstairs." He finished that job in record time and I didn't hear from him again until he was rolling in the van. He didn't have to say much. I could hear it in his voice. "It's 2009, and you have a house full of people not watching the naked children and there's a strange man upstairs, and you live in a big city full of questionable characters . . . ."
Naked lady sightings, women in the shower with the door open next to the room where the carpet is being cleaned, and offers to barter favors for extra services are too common to individually enumerate here. Offers of beer or the harder stuff ~ a daily occurrence. Customers curled up on the couch smoking whatever and offering to share - at least once a week. Percentage of customers who leave underage children home to let us in - high. We don't go in under those circumstances, whether the youth is a young man or a young lady. None of the current technicians seem to be renegades. They value their jobs. They know David's standards for anyone who drives that van and wears that shirt identifying him as one of ours.Yesterday I told Cesar I was writing this post about his customer. He shook his head from side to side and that dark, angry look crossed his face. He added details I hadn't heard before. It seems that one of the little naked girls was pretty notorious. She'd been found as far as three blocks away from home, naked in the streets. The mother kind of thought she had a pretty spunky little firebrand of a daughter . . . . and I repeat: what the hell is the matter with people?
In my ears right now: Today it's a Marvin Gaye collection - and i like it!
Something that charmed me: Sunday I was shopping in Target and there was a young mother of two pushing her children in a cart. She was busy shopping from a list, but every time someone came into proximity, including me - a small, middle aged woman - she checked them out like a hawk. She made herself aware of what was going on around her children. I like that.