Notre Dame Fire Like Losing a Friend

The day dawned cool but clear, tendrils of fog drifting off the Seine. After a quick croissant breakfast, we made our way to Notre Dame Cathedral to be among the first to visit on a Paris morning two years ago.

The pre-opening crowd of about a dozen was split evenly between tourists like ourselves and penitents, including two nuns. Gothic cathedrals are a particular favorite of mine, and visiting Notre Dame was high on the list during our brief, two-day visit to Paris.

Like millions of others around the world, I experienced a profound feeling of loss when learning about the devastating fire at Notre Dame, which will cost billions to repair. According to French President Emmanuel Macron, there is no question that the 800-year-old cathedral will be rebuilt. Cries rang out from the yellow vests and others who believe that money would be better spent assuaging social ills in the republic.

Both sides have merits, but Notre Dame remains one of the most indelible icons of Paris, along with the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and the Champs-Élysées. It’s more than a building and more than a religious relic. Failing to rebuild it would be like failing to rebuild the Lincoln Memorial or the Statue of Liberty. When the twin towers fell, there was no question that the World Trade Center would be rebuilt.

Memories linger

On the day of our visit, a prayer service began at 8 a.m., filling the cathedral with sweet singing, a perfect accompaniment to the early morning light filtering into the worship space.

More than 850 years in the making, the cathedral got its start in the 1160s before receiving its Gothic makeover in the 14th century. For many, Notre Dame represents the quintessential Gothic cathedral—massive rose windows, vaulted ceiling linked by capstones, massive pipe organ, stained glass aplenty and gargoyles that, fortunately for us, weren’t spitting water that morning.

Looking back, I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to see Notre Dame in all of its glory. While I’m certain it will be restored, it will never be the same.

Straightest Path to Happy Clients Is Good Customer Service

I handle all health insurance matters in my family, so it falls to me to contact our insurer whenever there’s a question.

Undoubtedly, the person I talk do is competent, knowledgeable and answers my questions the first time. However, getting to that competent, knowledgeable person requires traversing a Byzantine number of obstacles designed to keep me from talking to a live person. Did you call about things not related to health insurance, the voice interactive response system asks? Here’s another number. Did you try the web? Here’s the URL.

This is the same insurance we’ve had for 18 years, and the maze seemingly gets more complicated each time I call. If I could answer the question on the internet, I’d have taken that route, as nearly everyone would.

Good customer service shouldn’t be encircled by traps designed to discourage engagement. Rather, it should be baked into everything a company does.

Attitude over aptitude

And it starts with hiring the right people, perhaps even hiring for attitude over aptitude. A friend of mine is a turnaround specialist for a franchisee for a national casual dining restaurant chain. Management is constantly amazed at how he can take an underperforming store and transform it in a few months. What’s his secret? Hiring friendly faces who can learn the restaurant’s systems.

How many times have you been in a retail outlet and seen clerks and cashiers on their phones. Unless you just walked into an AT&T or Comcast store, employees should be focused on their tasks and their customers—not their phones.

I’ve seen checkout clerks look at their phones during transactions and alleged security guards who are so engrossed in their phones they wouldn’t notice someone in a balaclava and toting an Uzi entering the store. If it’s a store that I frequent, I’ll ask for a manager and point out these customer service failings.

It’s really that simple

Although this happened 15 years ago, I remember calling a large natural resource extraction company for an article I was working on. I fully expected the ubiquitous phone tree and was delighted when an actual person answered the phone. I asked the person if this was normal procedure at the company. “We think it’s important for everyone to receive personal attention,” she said.

And it’s true. While we are all accustomed to ordering online, using tap-and-go payment methods and moving down the sales funnel ourselves, the personal touch still counts.

Take a step back and look at your company as an outsider. How easy is it to contact a live person by either phone or email? If there is a phone tree, how hard is it to navigate? If you have to leave a voicemail, is the message from the person you’re trying to contact current and relevant? Is the person’s voicemail box full (a personal pet peeve of mine). And does that person actually call/email you back within a reasonable amount of time? How hard are you to contact?

Regardless of where you fit in the corporate pecking order, the way you handle communications with peers, subordinates and superiors gets noticed. So how do you want to be remembered? As the person who gets back quickly with the requested information or the person who has to be contacted repeatedly?

It’s a choice we all make, every day.