- Chapter 27 -
LOCATING THE AUTHORITY
WHO CAN HELP YOU
f you are having trouble getting an order filled, making an appointment, or achieving some other goal with the many business and professional organizations which can face us every day, here is a proposed solution. Either call on, or talk on the telephone to, the individual in authority. Do not fuss or complain. Do not criticize anybody. Just ask for help.
Complaints cause defensiveness, as do criticisms of personnel. Defensiveness interferes with effective results. A good opening line is, "I have a problem, and I would appreciate your help. I think this is something you would like to know about." Remarkable results can frequently be achieved with this relatively simple formula.
You will not find me putting down service employees in general. It is possible to deal with many people who have this function and who will take a personal interest in you or your situation, and follow through to the end. However, having said this, I have found that some employees, with what might be called the "clerical-mind syndrome", are negative forces in achieving goals.
An expression which is a cause of frustration is, "It's back-ordered, and ought to be in any day now." Often this translates into, "We don't have it; probably it has been ordered, but I am not sure; I don't know when it will arrive, but I hope it will be soon; and if I can spring an authoritative-sounding expression like 'back-ordered,' this guy will leave me alone."
Another factor about many clerks and sales people may not be realized. One of the most ridiculous remarks a person can make to an employee on this level is, "I will never deal with this store again." The salesperson might even be happy, because it will mean less work. Anyway, by the time this particular remark has worked its way into the conversation, the employee probably has developed a compelling dislike for the customer. The owner, or anyone who has been conscientious enough to work his way into top management, most certainly would be concerned about the loss of business, but what does the clerk care?
One time I ordered some wallpaper for my office. A company in my city was procuring it from a distributor in New York. As time passed, each inquiry I made caused a clerk here to telephone a clerk in New York -- it turned out later that each time it was a different clerk in New York -- only to be told that it was "back-ordered" and should be in any time now.
Finally, I asked the local firm for the name of the supplier, so I could telephone. Naturally, I was told that it was against their policy to give out such information. I insisted, after explaining my plight, and added the statement that I was willing to go over his head directly to the president of the company to get the supplier's name if I had to. He gave it to me.
It turned out that my new telephone friend in New York, Mr. Bitter, was very responsive when I approached him as follows: "I have a problem and I would be most appreciative of your help. Several weeks ago I ordered some wallpaper from your firm, and, in the meantime, I have been sitting here in my office looking at a wall stricken with leprosy. Furthermore, it is very embarrassing to me for us to have to look at the wall when I have guests. I have the stock number and the number of rolls ordered and I certainly hope you can help."
The end of the story is obvious. Mr. Bitter took action immediately as he was pleased to help a customer. The order was flown in, and the wallpaper is beautiful.
The Great Depression in America was terrible, but it had one advantage. If you ordered something, people fell all over themselves to get it for you. As time progressed there appeared to be more and more difficulty in getting orders delivered, repairs made, and billings straightened out. However, there has been a change in attitude which we hope will be accelerated as we move forward in a new century, and that is there appears to be a renewed interest in both service and quality.
Sometimes, you may not be able to reach the top banana, but you can find someone just as effective. When I was having difficulty getting some very important forms from the government, and especially when I found out that there were over 100 other customers in my same plight, I asked for the name of the head of the Government Printing Office. I was able to get his name and telephone number from the operator. When I asked for him, his secretary, trained in fending off people like me, asked if it were about an order. To this I responded, "Yes, but it is an unusual circumstance, and I believe he would like to know about it."
With this, she suggested that I talk to one of the chief's deputies, Mr. Baumgartner. Mr. Baumgartner was terrific, especially after my little spiel, "Mr. Baumgartner, the way I pay tuitions for my kids involves using federal oil and gas filing forms printed by the Government Printing Office. I have had an order in for six weeks, and we are supposed to start turning them in next Tuesday, I am absolutely frantic. Can you help me?"
Indeed he could help me. The forms were sent by Express Mail, and we were very much back in business.
Sometimes it is not necessarily the owner or the top administrator who can be the most helpful. It might be the person in charge of a division, or of a function. Our office was having difficulty with a printing company, not only because of late deliveries but because of the amount of our own stock which we turned over to them and which was being spoiled, Our savvy Dotty Palmintier invaded the back end of the printing shop, and found the foreman in charge of the work. She did not complain or criticize, but she did explain in an appealing way the extent of our plight. He became very interested in our case. The future results were outstanding.
Then there is the person who is available to you and who can be a source of real information and power - the personal secretary of the president. "Mrs. Rhodes, I know how busy Mr. Kendall is and I do not want to disturb him, but I have a real problem, and I would appreciate your help. I am sure you can tell me who in your organization can help me solve it. Here is the situation...."
So, when you get Mr. Sarnoff's name, you call him up and say, "Mr. Sarnoff, Mrs. Rhodes in Mr. Kendall's office says you are just the person who can help me. Here's my problem....."
One may question how to find out who is at the top and who is the president's secretary. It is very simple. Just ask the telephone operator. Sometimes, too, it can be very effective, if there seems to be no progress with some particularly difficult person, to stop the conversation and ask, "Will you please tell me the name of the head of your department?" People are usually so surprised at the question that they rarely have the gall, or the presence of mind, to say, "No, I won't." They might respond, "Why do you want to know?" and there is an easy answer to that one. "I am sure you can guess why I want to know, because if you can't help me now, I certainly can find someone who can."
Some people may respond that what I have been describing is an improper manipulative technique, or that it is unfair to take the time of a person at the top for what could be considered a minor problem. Other people say, "I wouldn't have the nerve to do that." Most top officials do want to know what is going wrong, and are pleased to make corrections for the benefit of customers and clients. They are frequently aware that their organization is being hurt by the back-ordering, clerical-mind syndrome, but they do not know about specific cases, and would like to.
After all, Mr. Bitter, the wallpaper man, and Mr. Baumgartner of the Government Printing Office, were pleased to help me and felt good about their ability to do so. In addition to verbal expressions of appreciation, subsequent thank-you letters are always appropriate when people have gone out of their way to help, as these two men did.
It is particularly effective if you learn the name of the supervisor and congratulate him on having such an efficient and courteous employee, with, or course, a copy of the letter to the person who has helped you.