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The End of Time

The End of Time

By Greg Harris

My Emotional Roller Coaster

It was a warm sunny Tuesday in July. I stepped out for a bite to eat. When I returned I was stunned to see that 300 new emails came in while I was at lunch and that number would grow to over 700 before the day ended. While others routinely ignore customer emails or delegate the responsibility, I've bragged for more than a decade that I answer every customer personally the same day. But how could I possibly meet that commitment?

Ding. Ding. Ding. My email chimed with every new email sounding a little like a popcorn maker. With every email that I answered, five more came in. I was losing ground quickly. I cleared my afternoon calendar and dedicated myself to answering emails. I've never typed so fast (and probably never made so many typos).

My marketing team was thrilled that our email program generated such an amazingly high response. We send out a few emails a month to lots of people, but the customer responses have always been manageable. The team was celebrating while I was getting crankier by the minute.

This particular mailing was targeted toward customers who hadn't purchased in a while and it simply asked them to write and tell me why. The problems ranged from "arthritis" and "eye sight problems" to a "new baby" and "no money." There were also plenty of emails that offered constructive criticism about what we could do better.

While I answered at a rapid rate, I was still far behind. I considered automating my responses and sending a form letter response, but ultimately decided to stick to my commitment of a personal response. Answering every question was what I would have to do. And do. And do. And do.

I hit my stride at about 3 pm. I was picking up speed and even felt that my quality was improving. But by 6:30 I read an email that changed everything. "I'm sorry to report that due to death this email is no longer active," How do you send an email once you die? Was this how my next email might read if I didnĂ­t take a break?

By late evening, I was a mess. I had made a serious dent but I wasn't close to being finished. I gave up and drove home. I hated myself. I ate dinner and collapsed on the couch. I started thinking about all the interesting email I had read over the course of the day and I got a second wind. Minutes later I was at the kitchen table on my laptop plowing through more emails. At 10:45 my mailbox was empty, if only just briefly.

I had no problem sleeping that night, but my head buzzed with voices of our customers. I felt like I had spent the day drinking from a fire hose. The more I thought about the feedback, the better I was able to digest it and the more excited I got about what we could improve. That miserable day in July was painful but it was also the day that I was reborn. I recommitted myself to listening to customers and making these interactions an important part of my day. Yes, I really respond to every customer and generally that happens within four business hours. I find that the value of the information I get is worth much more than the time that it takes. Write me some time and tell me how I can do my job better.