I don’t like getting angry. I don’t like losing my temper. In the first place, it makes me feel like I failed, and in the second place, I’m a little too good at being angry. I’m really scary. So I let it happen very little.
On Wednesday of last week, I almost completely lost my temper at work (bad enough), and in front of a guest (even worse, in my opinion), Bee, and in front of two of my students (setting a bad example). I apologized to them all, several times, later. Luckily (maybe because I was not wearing any purple pants?), I did not lose it entirely but my internal temperature was really very high indeed by the end of the incident.
What was the matter? You’re possibly going to think that this is an insignificant matter, but I don’t agree. We all went for coffee to one the (usually excellent, with usually very good staff) cafes on campus, and as usual I brought along my own coffee cup. I do that a lot, primarily since it means that I do not use any paper cups as a result, and secondarily because it keeps the coffee warmer for longer, is close to spill-proof, and is much nicer to drink from. I’ve been doing this for years. The routine is usually this: I ask for a small coffee, they hand me a small coffee cup, I smile and say I already have a cup and hand it back, I pay for the coffee, and I pour myself a small coffee and leave. It’s not always in that order, but it is close enough.
This time, I asked for a small coffee, and indicated that I’d have it in my cup, as usual. The staff member said it was a “medium”, and so I’d have to pay for a medium. I explained to her that I don’t want that much coffee, I’d like a small, please. I told her that I will not fill up the cup. I never do. She ignored me and turned to her manager and asked him what size he thought my cup was. He said it was a medium. I tried to explain to him. He did not listen, and left. She insisted that I must get a medium.
I took a deep breath and stepped out of the line, deciding to just not have a cup of coffee rather than argue the principle, risking getting more than a little ticked off. It is not the extra 10 cents that bothered me. What bothered me was (1) that I’ve been doing this for years, (2) that they would not even listen to a simple explanation, (3) that -worst of all- I could simply have bought a small coffee with the cup they would give to me and then pour the coffee into my own cup and then throw away the cup (or hand it back them them to make the point).
After a minute or two I decided to reengage. The principle was just too important to let go – and how come they were decided that customers -the faculty, students, and staff that (as a university service department) they exist to serve – are so untrustworthy that they cannot trust them to pour a small into a medium-sized cup? How come I am being denied the choice to have a small cup of coffee? I asked to see a manager, and the server said he’d left. But some other manager-type came along and we argued for a while, and he still was not listening. He eventually let her sell me a small – presumably because it was looking pretty bad and there were several people waiting, and not because he could see the point I was trying to make. By now, I was simply explaining to him that a basic rule of customer service ought not to be that you tell the customers to their face that you are assuming that they will steal ten cents worth of coffee from you in front of your face. (He’d used that they don’t want to trust customers as the reason for the whole thing starting.) I’d given up on the environmental point entirely. So the argument ended with me seeing red and simply pointing and repeating “basic customer service, sir!” “basic customer service!, sir!” at him… There’s no way on earth that ever makes one look anything other than a jerk. Especially with an English accent, in such a setting. Sigh. I hate it when that happens.
Anyway, I forced myself to become cheerful as rapidly as I could -since I was in company- apologized as much as I could and we moved on. On Thursday I got to thinking about this again. Was it an anomaly or not? If this is now campus policy, this really is not a good thing. Do the people who are making policy on campus really think this is the way to go, both from a customer service point of view and from the point of view of our environmental footprint as the largest private organisation in the city of Los Angeles? Perhaps it was just an anomaly. I decided to test this, so I asked a student of mine -who has a similar coffee cup- to ask for a small coffee the next time he visited and let me know what happens. The same thing happened. They required him to have a medium coffee.
Of course, you realize, this means War.*
(This story will continue in a later post…)
*In the words of Bugs Bunny (channeling Groucho Marx).