Sunday, April 26, 2015

Our Generous Entitlement Programs

This chapter is about customer service.  I will be using words like Conservative and Liberal.  Please don’t get lost in those words, though.  They just help explain the opening paragraphs. 

I write letters to members of the state and federal congress.  I might be considered ‘that old guy who writes cranky letters’.  There is one in every neighborhood. 

A number of my letters have gone to our small rural district’s state representative.  He is conservative.  So am I.  We discuss spending and not spending.  One exchange, made during a recent liberal legislature, concluded with my proposal that I create my own five acre country.  Our rep asked if I would allow immigrants.  I replied that perhaps we would.  His response was that he was thrilled because he wanted to move in and take advantage of our generous entitlement programs.

No, I have not formed my own country at this time.  I also have not considered generous entitlement programs.  Since that exchange, though, I have become very aware of the difference between Entitlement and Earned Right. 

Many of our customers feel that they are entitled to great service.  I believe that this is an earned right.  We have, for instance, had this discussion with a client who had a few problems with timely payment.  The conversation ultimately ended with a parting of ways. 

When he first came to us, he asked for a very fast turnaround on his work.  He was a clothing manufacturer and since all of his apparel was U.S. custom-made, we were the last to see the garments and they were always associated with a show deadline.  Things had to be done in a hurry.  We understood and complied.  Aside from that, since they were U.S. made, he had to keep his prices in line, meaning that every dime was important and he requested that we charge low set rates.  We supported him, and charged very low prices for the work in order to help him out.  His offer originally was that he would pay us when he picked up the goods.  He also claimed that he was looking for a single decorator (at the time he was using three) and that he had a substantial amount of work to bring us.  The agreement was considered a fair exchange.

This worked well for a few months.  Then one day, he asked that we give him credit for half the cost of one of his jobs.  He would pay us within fifteen days for the balance.  From that day forward, he assumed that he had credit and stopped paying us for each job.  At first, we lived with the arrangement because he never went out more than thirty days.  Then, slowly, the length of time increased.  The work slowed as well even though when he did bring in jobs, he still had a very short turnaround, satisfying his own needs and yet never offering anything back.  The working arrangement deteriorated and even though we always complied with his needs, we were never rewarded for the effort, either in timely payment or in additional work.  Finally, I had the conversation with him, asking him why he felt entitled to receive the service when he wasn’t keeping up his end of the agreement that was in place.  His response was that we should be happy because he was bringing us work, after all. 

Our agreement no longer was based on Earned Rights.  It had become an entitlement program.  We gave, he received and the street that we rode together was going one way.  Finally, when he had paid a significant portion of several past-due invoices, I wrote him a letter requesting that he no longer provide us with work.  The effort to collect, the frustration that we felt and the constant need to scramble to get his jobs done all combined to create an uncomfortable situation.  I wrote off the balance that he owed us. 

Entitlement does not create value.  Any working relationship, whether it is a friendship, a business relationship or a government-to-citizens type requires an equal exchange of value in order to make it work.  The relationship must be earned or it generates resentment, distrust and an eventual breakdown in the services agreed upon. 

Sadly, I will have to deny entitlement programs when the time comes to form my new country.  This will, of course, limit the immigration requests.  It will, though, comprise a much more involved citizenry.  If you’re interested in mucking and gardening, I will happily consider providing meals and wine.  Welcome to Littlestan.