Volume 45, Issue 8 - August 2010


Customer Disservice
This Time … It Was Almost Fatal
By Lyle R. Hill

It was a quiet morning. Too quiet, I thought, as I stood looking out through the opened overhead dock doors of the warehouse. Large, puffy cumulus clouds floated across the bright morning sky heading northward. It was a peaceful moment in a place that typically has very few. Perhaps it was providential … that I was there at this particular moment … that the normal noise and hubbub of this particular place had briefly abated … that I would be there for this particular old friend in his moment of need.

The serenity was first interrupted by the sound of tumbling boxes, then the unmistakable sound of a man choking. I turned to look in the direction of the commotion and watched in startled disbelief as the choking man grabbed at his chest as he stumbled backwards. I bolted in his direction knowing he would most likely hit the hard concrete floor before I could reach him. A large roll of soft, spongy ethafoam rod stock was just to the left of me so I grabbed it and threw it in his direction hoping it might cushion the fall.

Steve Saltzman is a tough guy … both physically and emotionally. We have been teammates and, on an occasion or two, we’ve been opponents. If given my choice, I’d rather be on his side than against him no matter the setting. On a basketball court or baseball diamond, Saltzman always added to whatever talent he may have lacked by sheer force of will and character. In many sports, at many levels, he was a winner and highly respected by those who knew him. And at the bargaining table … as the shop union steward … his reputation for tenacity and perseverance were likewise highly regarded and, in many cases, unequaled. But there he was, this rock solid man among men, clutching at his chest, now coughing violently, and falling toward the hard and unforgiving concrete floor.

I thought I had correctly anticipated the direction of his fall, but just as the roll of soft spongy material arrived at where I had assumed he was going to land, Saltzman spun himself around hoping to soften his landing by falling into a pile of semi-neatly stacked tarps and drop clothes that had arrived earlier that morning. Both of us miscalculated. His head hit the floor with a dull thud.

Like many a young man, Saltzman once dreamed of playing professional baseball. But as the dream faded, he instead became an avid professional baseball fan. As time passed, his fascination, his passion, his purpose and reason to live became the Chicago Cubs. He moved to within walking distance of Wrigley Field and became a season ticket holder. As a bleacher seat regular his picture had appeared a number of times in the newspaper and even late night TV sports highlight tapes—often in the middle of a struggle to capture a home run ball or, on some occasions, in the middle of a bleacher bums brawl. Saltzman is … and unless you live in Chicago you can’t fully appreciate the meaning of it … a diehard Cubs fan. Such a thing is not for the faint of heart or weak of knee.

To my amazement, the fall didn’t seem to faze him. He stopped choking and while rubbing his head with his left hand, pointed with the other toward the partially opened pallet of cardboard boxes upon which he had been working. The look in his eyes frightened me and I couldn’t help but wonder what it was that had so shocked him. I turned and slowly made my way toward the boxes.

While there are a number of reasons, or perhaps excuses is a better word, as to why the Chicago Cubs have failed to win a World Series title in more than 100 years, the fact of the matter is that Cubs fans are probably the most loyal and committed fans in all of sports. Now my parents came from downstate Illinois. Alto Pass … Cobden … West Frankfort … these are the little downstate hamlets of my forefathers and I spent many a summer in those environs as a kid. Growing up, that part of the country was always referred to as down home. And down home is St. Louis Cardinals territory. In fact, on the mantle over the fireplace of my childhood home, a plastic statue of Stan “The Man” Musial in full uniform stood proudly next to pictures of ancestors from the old country. My dad talked regularly of Dizzy Dean and the old Gas House Gang. Neither I nor my younger brother were allowed to wear any baseball hat with a major league team emblem on it except for the one with those silly little red birds. Our faces and foreheads spent most of their summers sunburned.

I slowly made my way to the boxes and peered inside and there it was … a greeting card that included a picture of St. Louis all-star outfielder Matt Holliday and a simple little note with a smiley face that read GO CARDS. Underneath the picture was a business card from Vicki Crump (Customer Service) of Reed Rubber, St. Louis, Missouri.

The St. Louis Cardinals are the Cubs arch enemies … or at least the team’s fans are. The Cubs have the third highest payroll in all of baseball, once again proving that it’s not how much you pay a person … it’s what you get for your money that matters. And, as usual, neither the Cubs nor their fans are getting their money’s worth. The Cardinals, on the other hand, continue to be perennial contenders and continue to strike fear and trepidation into the hearts of all of Cubdom.

Now Vicki Crump is a fine lady working for a fine company. I’ve been doing business with Reed for three decades and they are truly a trusted, dependable and high-quality supplier and Vicki is one of the reasons they enjoy such a fine reputation. But Vicki, in the name of all things decent and dear … please don’t ever do anything like that again. Not to a die-hard Cub fan. Not in the middle of the season. Certainly not in the name of customer service. You could have killed the poor man!!!

Lyle R. Hill is president of MTH Industries of Chicago. Mr. Hill’s opinions are solely his own and not necessarily those of this magazine.

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