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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Second thoughts

I have been dealing with a particular company in the service industry for a couple of years.  I started using them on the recommendation of a friend and have been particularly satisfied with Pretty much all aspects of this Israeli company.

They have polite, professional employees who seem to take pride in being very good at what they do.  They have regular business hours and one can speak with anyone available.  But once you are a customer you have an agent who is assigned to you and he/she can be reached by email or phone for more personalized service.  Additionally, they also have a 24 hour number for emergencies and have computerized record-keeping so that any of their employees can access your file and provide immediate answers / support if someone is out or unavailable.

As I said before, all of my dealings with this company have been pleasant and professional... until this week.

I had been dealing with my regular agent on a transaction and was waiting for an email reply from her.  When it arrived I was in a meeting and didn't see her response until almost 4:00PM... about the time I know she normally leaves the office.

Her email had mentioned pricing that was 'good for today', so not wanting to risk losing out on the quoted price, I called right away rather than waiting until the morning.

When I asked the receptionist for my regular agent, she said, "She's leaving now and doesn't want to talk to anyone."  I was momentarily non-plussed.  She hadn't said "she can't talk to anyone"... she had specifically said "she doesn't want to talk to anyone", (note: we were speaking in Hebrew but there was no chance of my misunderstanding).

I suspected this might be the case but was still a bit put-off by her choice of words. So I gently asked "OK, but she just sent me an email saying the price she quoted is for today.  I need to know if I need to complete the transaction today or risk losing the price".

Rather than relating to what I'd said, the receptionist immediately responded, "I'm sorry, I told you she was leaving... you'll have to call back tomorrow.", and promptly hung up the phone.

Rather than call her back and yell at her (which I'll admit was my first impulse), I simply sent an email to my regular agent telling her I had called, and related word-for-word what had transpired with the receptionist.

The next morning my agent emailed me right away to apologize for not having been able to take my call the previous day.  She also apologized for any confusion she had caused by including the words 'prices for today' in her email as she could still give me the same price.  Lastly, she wrote that she was not happy with the way the receptionist had handled things and had forwarded my email to the owner of the company.

Within an hour I got an email from the owner of the company saying that he had read what had happened and apologized for the unprofessional treatment I had received.  He closed by saying "That is not how we normally do business here".   

I probably should have accepted his apology and left it at that... but I wanted to make sure he understood what was bothering me.  I really didn't care so much that the receptionist had been rude (I did, but I have come to accept a certain cultural abruptness with Israeli receptionists and clerks), but rather that I had been upset because she hadn't seemed to grasp that I was only asking her to verify whether I needed to speak with another agent to complete the transaction or if it could wait until the following day.

He responded almost immediately:

"Thanks for your email. I completely concur with both your assessment and analysis of what the receptionist should have done.  Thursday is her last day of employment."

I sat in complete shock reading the email.  That was not the outcome I had anticipated or wanted. 

After a few moments I responded:

"Not to pry into what is entirely an internal matter, but I sincerely hope that she has not been fired because of this incident.  That was not my intention. I had only wanted to point out that the situation could have been handled better."

He responded:

"Shalom David.  It was a combination of factors; your complaint, though, tipped the scales."

I'm feeling terrible over this on so many different levels that I can't even enunciate them.  I'd love to know if any of you think I (or they) should have handled things differently... and/or what you think of the outcome.

Posted by David Bogner on June 5, 2008 | Permalink


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David, let it go. You needed to listen closely to what the owner said. "It was a combination of factors..." As a former personnel manager, I hear in this that there had been other complaints, internal or external. It feels lousy to be the straw that breaks the (dancing) camel's back. (Sorry. Still sipping a nicely chilled brew.) The only thing I would have done differently, had I been the owner, would have been to answer you, "Shalom, David. Thanks for bringing this to our attention. Your patronage matters to us. We'll take care of it. See you next time!" What happened internally was none of your business.

Posted by: rutimizrachi | Jun 5, 2008 1:23:20 PM

There's no reason for you to be upset over her termination. By his own words, the owner was already unhappy with the receptionist's performance. Your complaint may have "tipped the scales," but if your complaint wasn't the final straw that got her fired, it would have been something else. And you have a right to complain about poor service. After all, they're taking your money so they should treat you right.

Don't sweat it. And you have a big heart for being concerned.

Posted by: Karl Newman | Jun 5, 2008 1:24:15 PM


I'm a sometime lurker on your blog, I don't usually get the urge to leave comments but this time I wanted to... I think it sounds totally okay that they fired her. Everyone who gets fired in this way does so because of various negative incidents they have played a part in and her boss did say that your complaint wasn't the only factor. Its good that this company is willing to fire people rather than just carrying on excusing incompetence, which seems to be what companies who can't easily fire people when they want to typically do.

Posted by: Rachel | Jun 5, 2008 1:29:58 PM

The impression I am given, from the owner of the company’s correspondence with you, your agent’s interaction with you the following day, and her lack of reluctance to share with the owner what transpired between you and this secretary (where I work, we try to deal with our own problems internally and not go to the boss unless absolutely necessary), I would say that this secretary probably accrued herself a long list of offenses and the day of her firing could not have come too soon.

If she treated you in this unabashedly frosty and useless manner, do you expect that her professional misconduct was an isolated incident or that it extended to others in the past? Sure, everyone has a bad day, and we are taught not to judge a person solely on one instance of outrageous behavior, but this sounded like much more than that. Being snotty to customers, and then hanging up on them? From what you've conveyed, she sounded quite comfortable with her curt response to you, which leads me to assume that this is not the first time it’s happened.

My very humble $0.02.

Posted by: Erica | Jun 5, 2008 1:30:52 PM

Now I am being Avi's secretary. He says that you should remember the business maxim that "if one customer complains, there are probably five dissatisfied customers who didn't."

Posted by: rutimizrachi | Jun 5, 2008 1:35:40 PM

In what country did you say this happened?

Posted by: Robin | Jun 5, 2008 1:45:00 PM

It's maybe time you got your dealer's cell phone number, since obviously you're generating them quite some valuable business. But besides this, the boss made the right decision. There is no way on earth that a simple receptionist should mess up a company's business like that.

Posted by: a | Jun 5, 2008 2:59:47 PM

Hi David,

While your actions contributed in some way, there was clearly a back story that didn't involve you. I wouldn't fret about it.


Posted by: Maksim-Smelchak | Jun 5, 2008 3:35:50 PM

It sounds like you were not the first to complain about the receptionist. If she was rude to customers, chances are good she was also rude to her co-workers and bosses. She seems like she would be the type of worker who would not handle herself professionally in any situation.

Posted by: shira0607 | Jun 5, 2008 3:35:57 PM

I don't think this person's problem is specifically tied to her work. This sounds like a bitter and brusque person who needs to re-examine her behavior and the dynamics of her relationships. Some of these people can be 'adjusted' by a swift kick, some are hopeless. Maybe this person will learn to be a functional, contributing member of civil society. Letting it pass would doesn't help anyone, not the company, not the customers, and not Ms. Motek.

Posted by: Barzilai | Jun 5, 2008 4:32:44 PM

Sounds like a great company. The receptionist is the company's face to the outside world. The whole rest of the company may be great, but it could all fail because of some lousy receptionist. It's especially a pity, when the receptionist is so easily replaced.

Posted by: Mark Patterson | Jun 5, 2008 4:48:01 PM

I read your blog all the time and i absolutely love it. I'm sorry that I have not written in before to compliment you. However, in this case, I really disagree with you---not that you should feel guilty that the secretary was fired---all the other commentators are correct in their analysis----but the first email from the owner of the company seemed to adequately recognize your complaint. I'm sure he understood your frustration--the whole package----why you felt the need to write back a second time just to clarify that he understood was like beating a dead horse. he got it. Trust me. It wasn't necessary.

Although I highly doubt that what you wrote caused her to be fired---when I worked in a job in which i regularly dealt with the public----that second email---though we would have responded politely as the owner did and once again offered our apologies, reassurances etc..---we would have been privately annoyed.

Anyways, keep up the great writing on the blog.

Posted by: LG | Jun 5, 2008 5:25:38 PM

I read your blog all the time and i absolutely love it. I'm sorry that I have not written in before to compliment you. However, in this case, I really disagree with you---not that you should feel guilty that the secretary was fired---all the other commentators are correct in their analysis----but the first email from the owner of the company seemed to adequately recognize your complaint. I'm sure he understood your frustration--the whole package----why you felt the need to write back a second time just to clarify that he understood was like beating a dead horse. he got it. Trust me. It wasn't necessary.

Although I highly doubt that what you wrote caused her to be fired---when I worked in a job in which i regularly dealt with the public----that second email---though we would have responded politely as the owner did and once again offered our apologies, reassurances etc..---we would have been privately annoyed.

Anyways, keep up the great writing on the blog.

Posted by: LG | Jun 5, 2008 5:26:11 PM

David -
Just to add my voice to the chorus here: It sounds like this particular company is making a special effort to overcome the (I love your choice of words) "cultural brusqueness" that is often associated with Israeli ventures. If that's the case, not only was the secretary rude to a customer, and not only was she losing her company potential business, but she was going against a very important company policy, and had obviously been doing so for some time. My guess is that she was halfway out the door already. You didn't cause her to be fired - she did that all by herself. Your distress is understandable, but you shouldn't beat yourself up over it. IMHO.

Posted by: psachya | Jun 5, 2008 5:34:05 PM

Remember that old Seinfeld line? "It's not you. It's me."

Sounds to me as though the receptionist did herself in over time with only the barest bit of assistance from you. Did you have a personal beef with her? No. Was your complaint unprofessional? No. Did you have some other hidden agenda that backfired? No. Did the boss explosively over-react to your isolated complaint? It sure doesn't sound like it. Would it have been better if you kept your mouth shut and the receptionist actually LOST customers / clients for the great agents (including yours) and the company had to lay off some of them? Well, that was a rhetorical question.

You shouldn't even need our reassurances. Sleep well and don't give it a second thought.


Posted by: Drew | Jun 5, 2008 5:38:59 PM

Hi David. Not to lay a guilt trip on you, but I disagree with the consensus of the group. As I was reading your story (before getting to the ending) I thought to myself that a)it was a bit of an overreaction and b)there's no need to contact the owner with a play by play. I felt it was likely the person would get in trouble. Strictly speaking, you were in the right of things...but I don't like to complain to someone's boss unless the situation it's really important. Just my two cents.

Posted by: mata hari | Jun 5, 2008 5:44:12 PM

i meant to type - is really important

Posted by: mata hari | Jun 5, 2008 5:45:30 PM

I think you overdid it by sending the second email, but she probably would have been fired anyway- she was probably fired after the first email. Not that you should blame yourself- it must have been a long time coming. I don't think most companies would fire an employee for a mistake here and there. She must have had a longtime habit of being rude to customers and fellow employees, and I'll betcha she had been warned more than once to shape up. She obviously didn't, and was therefore shipped out.

Posted by: Sharon | Jun 5, 2008 6:42:07 PM

When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudice, and motivated by pride and vanity

Posted by: Rami | Jun 5, 2008 7:52:57 PM

Rami - is that a quotation or your own profoundness?

Posted by: Dave, UK | Jun 5, 2008 9:38:30 PM

Ask Dale Breckenridge Carnegie

Posted by: Rami | Jun 5, 2008 9:57:38 PM

Aha, interesting man, it transpires.

You learn something new...

Posted by: Dave, UK | Jun 5, 2008 10:14:10 PM

"Prices that are good only for the moment" are pitched to suckers.

You, too, had a choice. You could have completed the transaction at the price quoted for "the day." And, then added, "this order is cancelled if the price has changed; and the new price was not available."

Of course, if the NEW PRICE is lower; please apply it.

THERE. You're not complaining about the receptionist. You didn't cause her to be fired. And, she's actually lucky. Here's how. On the craven company's employee's list, she's the one who receives the least pay. AND, she is also the one who was MOST HONEST. Giving you exactly what you needed to know about the creep that takes a commission from the profits derived for the "bill of goods" you sell.

Sure, it feels funny when you shoe lands in squishy stuff. And, then? It's up to you to deal with it. Especially when the crap didn't come out of your dog.

The only other thing? This receptionist, ahead, may turn out to be grateful to you. Because the boss who landed on her ass ... has sent her out into the world ... Where statistically speaking she can find a much better job.

And, at the same time she can "stick this experience under her belt."

Heck, if she's got skills like Gregory Levey, she could even write a book! He did. Check this out: "SHUT UP, I'M TALKING." True story. This Canadian fella, to escape the bordom of his second year at law school, on a fluke ... goes to the UN ... and is hired as a "diplomat" by the Israeli delegation.

Oh, yeah. He ends up working for Arik Sharon.

Do you know the future? No. You do not. Do you know that unpleasant work experiences usually rule? And, when you're honest ... And, you're fired because you told a customer the truth ... YOU SHOULD PUT THIS IN CAPS ON A RESUME! A much better boss will recognize the quality. And, everybody else is just a waste of time.

Not all bad news is as bad as you think.

Oh. And, since you're on "talking terms" with the idiot who runs this company; do take the pleasure and send him a copy of this email. What can he do? Use it as toilet paper? The Internet, full of amateurs, are way better than the experts! And, you can do this all for free.

Oh, as my mother used to say. Most happy people are willing to sit in shit. But when you're kicked in the pants you fly forward. KADIMA ... It's a good thing.

Posted by: Carol Herman | Jun 5, 2008 11:23:50 PM

Good Lord, what company is this??? I would love to get that kind of service here.

Posted by: Benji Lovitt | Jun 6, 2008 1:15:07 AM

It looks like they were wanting to fire her and your email gave them the last straw they needed. Not your fault--she could have been polite. It sounds like this company prides itself on having good service, this woman didn't provide it, and that was that.

Posted by: uberimma | Jun 6, 2008 3:13:22 AM

A service company doesn't need rude people alienating its customers and you shouldn't have to contend with their employees' impeding your business with them. Her firing was a good outcome for everyone -- even for the receptionist herself. Hopefully she has learned a lesson on how to treat customers.

Posted by: Bob | Jun 6, 2008 3:30:14 AM

end italics

Don't thank me, I'm a giver.

Posted by: Kiwi the Geek | Jun 6, 2008 6:59:16 AM

Nuts, that should have worked! Don't these comments use regular HTML?

Posted by: Kiwi the Geek | Jun 6, 2008 7:00:35 AM

One more try, then I'll go away.

Posted by: Kiwi the Geek | Jun 6, 2008 7:02:46 AM

david and some commenters have alluded to the traditional israeli rudeness. i just wanted to point out that this is not just an israeli problem. in my line of work i spend a lot of time on the phone with russian receptionists. they are much worse than israelis.

Posted by: Lion of Zion | Jun 6, 2008 8:17:40 AM

You're cool. Not your fault. If she did her job properly you could send a 1000 emails and she'd be alright.

BTW, the owner might not have fired her. He might have said that just to try and pacify you. Either way it doesn't matter, the bottom line is that you are entitled to voice your opinion in a reasonable manner.

Posted by: Jack | Jun 6, 2008 10:45:32 AM

"Lastly, she wrote that she was not happy with the way the receptionist had handled things and had forwarded my email to the owner of the company."

I think you are all overlooking something fundamentally important here! It was our regular agent who forwarded David's email to the owner of the company, and twas the owner who contacted David. If David had contacted the owner for the rudeness, it might have been a bit of an over-reaction.

However, the receptionist's colleague forwarded the email to the owner of the company. This suggests, to me any ways, that this was not the first time the receptionist had upset one of our agent's clients. My guess is that as a professional in the service industry, our agent had grown tired of making excuses for rude behavior and may have even begun to worry if this other employee was interfering with her own ability to close deals. Not a small matter considering that a good portion of our agent's income is likely commission....

Posted by: zahava | Jun 6, 2008 2:08:27 PM

Hey, maybe the "fired receptionist" could become a taxi driver? Other than being rude, what other requirements are required? Don't tell me she'd have to know the streets. Because that's not true.

In a very funny book, by Gregory Levey, "SHUT UP, I'M TALKING" ... you get a fantastic picture of what Arik Sharon's "Aquarium" looks like. Oh, yes. What it was like for a Canadian fella to get hired by the Israeli UN Mission. Oh. And, since he met, first-hand, Silvan Shalom, what a putz, in fact, Silvan Shalom is. (Plus, he has no English speaking skills.)

Some things never matter.

Other things? Israel deals with the "rudeness" all the time. It's not just for visitors, ya know?

And, right now, similar to what went on in 1860; when Lincoln had to cope with the insanities and the insatiable appetites of the south ... You've got similar things, now, breaking out within Israeli politics.

How Arik SHaron was convinced to take the medical path he did? No one can know for sure. But his doctors had a death wish. And, he's still strong enough to survive their incompetence.

Sometimes? I think we're re-living the story of Moses. Who got to see a "Promised Land" in his future; but the dysfunctional bunch he was carting out of Eygpt? They didn't get it, then. And, we only know the possibilities ahead, for now.

Meanwhile, if this is a horse race, I'm betting on Olmert.

Posted by: Carol Herman | Jun 6, 2008 10:53:24 PM

The second e-mail was definately uncalled for, and was asking the boss to cross over a Rubicon.

Special price - today only sounds like the marketing ploys in the Carmel market (Mahane Yehuda for the Jerusalemites) on a Friday afternoon. If you're a valued customer they'll always have a price for you.

Where does your agent get off with going home at 1600 hours? Assuming she's a homemaker, but even so, she was the one who was leaving work and didn't want to speak to anyone. Blaming the messenger.

Posted by: asher | Jun 7, 2008 1:28:42 PM

A few months ago, I accompanied Bish to a conference on work relations (he was a representative of the employees). Bish went in to the lectures and forums and things and I read and rested and had a good time.

I did go into just one lecture though (big mistake). It was a very long and drawn-out lecture by a lady judge, who I am sure is a very nice person but is apparently a very boring public speaker. Her lecture was all about the employee's legal right to a hearing, in the event of his/her being fired.

The lecturer specified, in great detail, a large number of cases in which the employer had failed to give a fired employee a hearing, and gave details of the punishments they had received for the labor courts, when sued by the former employee - such as having to pay quite high compensation, etc - even in cases in which the employee had behaved in a criminal fashion towards the said employer!

So, fear not, David. Rest assure that the lady in question had her chance to come before her employers and try to change their minds about firing her. And if not, she is fully entitled to kick their asses and get money out of them via the labor courts (whether she deserves it or not)!

Posted by: Imshin | Jun 7, 2008 7:25:54 PM

Could we please know what company it is - I would love to patronize them if it's relevant.

Posted by: Ben-David | Jun 8, 2008 1:39:55 AM

"Prices that are only good for the moment"? Gee, next she'll be telling us that the price is high because it's a Sunday in June. And a twilight, at that! :-)

Posted by: Guess who | Jun 8, 2008 5:17:37 AM

rutimizrachi... You are probably right. But knowing the outcome it is hard not to feel responsible.

Karl Newman... Ok, but let me ask you a question: I know we sometimes fantasize about having a rude person fired... but if you KNEW that someone would lose their livelihood due to a complaint you lodged... would you still lodge it?

Rachel...I hadn't thought of it that way. Thanks.

Erica... Your 2 cents is never humble... and even with the devaluation of the dollar it is worth far more than the face value to me. Thanks.

rutimizrachi... So mine could have been the first complaint but the boos took it as though five complaints had been lodged. Or since I emailed twice, did he take it like ten complaints???

Robin... Yeah, I know... hard to believe it happened here, huh?

a ... I agree, except that a receptionist and hi/her job are rarely simple. After all, they have to deal with people like me! :-)

Maksim-Smelchak... You should know by now that I'm a fretter. :-)

shira0607... I'll never know whether or not there was a history of bad behavior... but I like to think that everyone has the ability to change (or be changed).

Barzilai... Yet what about the people that depend on Ms. Motek for her salary? That is one of the things that has me so wound up.

Mark Patterson... I have heard this from several friends and it is one of the few things that has put my mind at ease. This company is one of many who offer the same service and can only stand out from the competition based on how well they deliver that service to the customer.

Mark Patterson... I agree. The second email was a mistake and I regret it.

psachya... You are correct. This company has gone to great lengths to try to offer American level customer service (think LL Bean).

Drew... I appreciate the thought, but sleeping well is not in the cards. It's like being totally in the right in a car accident but still feeling terrible that someone was injured.

mata hari... I didn't complain to the boss. I complained to the agent (who lives on commission, BTW). She needed to know if the receptionist was potentially endangering her livelihood.

Sharon... Agreed. The second email was a mistake on my part. It is what is called in sales circles 'selling through the close'. In other words, the boss had agreed with me an I was still trying to convince him.

Rami... OK, but what would you have done? :-)

Carol Herman... No Carol, there are many industries where prices are limited by time. Stocks, bonds, commodities all come to mind. In my case it was airline tickets which certainly do not last forever at the quoted price. Once again you have refused to abide by the rules I have given so you are hereby banned for leaving not one but three rambling pointless comments (I deleted the first). buh-bye.

Benji Lovitt... It is a travel agency in Jerusalem. If you are in the market you can email me and I will gladly give you their name and contact number. They are excellent.

uberimma... I agree... but the ickiness lingers.

Bob... An expensive lesson.

Kiwi the Geek... Thanks for giving it the old college try. I fixed it. Nice to know you have my back, though. :-)

Lion of Zion ... Without going into which cultures are better or worse at customer service, I think that Israel has made great strides towards creating a service culture. It has come about largely as a result of competition... which is always a strong incentive to be nice to the folks with the money.

Jack... That crossed my mind... but it would bother me almost as much. HE could have said "I'll have a word with her since this isn't the first time it's happened", and I would have been impressed. By telling me she was fired (if she wasn't) it seems like he might have been trying to rattle me.

asher... I agree that the second email was a mistake on my part. But you are wrong about the price issue. These were airline tickets we were talking about and pricing is not open ended.

Imshin... I'm glad you brought up this point. I had wondered what rules existed for firing people here. It is good to know that employers can't act impetuously after one incident and that employees have rights that protect them.

Ben-David... Hopefully you got my email.

guess who. You should know better since you worked in the travel industry. The ticket prices change on specific dates and can be held for specific periods of time without booking them. She was perfectly within her rights to remind me that I needed to act.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jun 8, 2008 2:10:59 PM

It's both a curse and a blessing that I can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan and don't blame me because I am beautiful.

God bless America, whose colors are red, white and blue and the cotton is high. Oh summertime, when the living is easy, except if you are the poor woman that got fired, but children are free to be you and me and play on the trampoline, go to the pool with other children of all races, eat apple pie, or baklava or canolis or italian ices.

Oh yes that poor, poor woman who got fired where will she live - maybe in her shoe with all her children. She doesn't know what to do now except swallow flies. I don't know why she swallowed that fly, that poor, fired woman just might die.

Posted by: achwannabe | Jun 8, 2008 3:16:14 PM

Ah, you didn't say it was a travel agent. I agree. Once you shut off the computer the price can vaporize. Except for a certain JP in Philly who will hold a seat on El-Al for me until the very last minute!!

Posted by: Guess Who Returns! | Jun 9, 2008 1:32:46 AM

I am with the majority:

1) Second email was overkill.
2) If the woman were generally a good employee, and this type of behavior was out of character, she would not have been fired. We all have bad days and we all screw up.
3) Decision was probably made the moment the agent forwarded your email on to her boss.


Posted by: Gila | Jun 9, 2008 7:14:18 PM

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