Quote of the day/week/however long

"Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does."
~William James

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Great. Now Everybody Will Want One.

Once in a medium-sized, busy consular section a visa applicant went crazy.  Now, Madam knows this is not an extraordinary event; but wait.

The woman had made an 8:30 appointment.  She got to the embassy at 8:20.  She was admitted at 9:15.  She turned in her passport at 9:45.  She was still waiting for her interview at 10:20 when she lost it.

She flew out of her (hard, uncomfortable plastic) chair, ran to the intake window, hurled her coat and handbag to the floor, and started to yell.  The intake FSN, startled and a little wary despite ballistic glass, backed away.  Everyone in the waiting room sat up, suddenly alert and glittery-eyed, like hungry predators recognizing weakness.  The woman yelled something like, "I made an appointment for this and it's been two hours!  I have an important meeting!  My secretary doesn't know where I am!  I have a lunch appointment!  I - I - I "

What might have happened then happens far, far too often:  the section chief might have gone to the window, defended the (slow, ill-planned, disrespectful) visa application process, engaged in a criticizing contest, and finally might have called the local guards to send the woman away.

Instead, a new, first-tour consular officer, at post only a few weeks, went to the window, eased the FSN aside, leaned forward, made eye contact, and said, "May I help you?"

Panting and glaring, the woman shouted a shorter version of her rant.

The officer said - get this now - "I am so sorry.  Would it help if you could call someone?"

"Call?  Call!  They took my phone away at the gate.  I can't call!"

The officer reached into his pocket, took out his own embassy-assigned cell phone, slid it through the teller window, and said, "Use this one."

The world did not end, but it caught its breath.  The woman stared, then grabbed the phone, turned and began punching buttons.  The officer waited a moment to be sure the phone was working for her, then returned to his desk.  The world lurched back into its normal rotation.

A few minutes later, the intake FSN returned the officer's phone.  The woman got her interview, during which she was brisk, polite and good humored.  She left the embassy a little flustered but also satisfied with her experience there.  A crisis was - and perhaps lifelong dislike and resentment for the US in general were - averted by the most basically courteous gesture one person can make to another:  recognizing and acknowledging the other's distress, then acting decisively to relieve that distress in the simplest, most direct, most practical manner possible.

May we all view our customers as people first, visa applicants only a distant second.  And may that smart, quick, humane and sensible officer enjoy a long and entertaining career.

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