Angus Orford and his wife Karen Rose have, as reported here earlier, purchased the house next door to us. Yesterday, Angus was out front fixing the steps while his dutiful sisters pruned the front hedge. He asked me if we had an outside garden hose, and when I replied that we did not (despite many years of trying to convince our plumber of the value thereof), he readily offered up his whenever we felt the need.
This is neighbourliness in action, and it is, I think, a useful platform on which to rebuild the broken world of customer service (see Aliant et al).
When I deal with ISN, or Action Press, or Shaddy’s Shwarma Palace, or Eddie’s Lunch, or my plumber Cecil, I’m dealing the real people. People who are, at least in a virtual sense, my neighbours. They treat me with respect, treat my problems as their own, and try to be helpful whenever we can.
We are lucky, here on Prince Edward Island, that this notion of selfless neighbourliness is programmed into the Island DNA; it is truly ubiquitous.
It is only when we move up to more complex organisms — Sobeys, Aliant, the TD Bank — that neighbourliness gets left behind, replaced with faceless ignorance. Somehow when someone is our neighbour we feel obligated (and happy) to offer assistance when called, but when we’re dealing with anonymous strangers, some sort of latent animalistic defence mechanism manifests, and those we’re dealing with try to protect the hive at any cost, with not even a hint of neighbourly obligation.
To bring the story back to Angus: Maritime Electic, where Angus handles public relations, is the Island’s most customer-friendly utility. They aren’t perfect, but compared to their utility kin, they’re awfully good. And why? Because their attitude appears to be “we are your electricity providing neighbours” not “we own the electricity and will eke it out to you if you are compliant.”
Bobby Clow’s store in Hampshire was our “neighbourhood store” when we lived in Kingston, and when we shopped there we were very obviously dealing with Bobby and his family as neigbours. As such, I was always under the impression that were I to suggest to Bobby that he start to carry, say, Belgian endives, he would endeavour his darndest to do so. Not because he expected to corner the endive market or make lots of money from me (at least not entirely), but rather because he understands that being a good neighbour is good business over the long term.
My frustrating dealings with Aliant tonight stuck in my craw mostly because I was talking to someone who, on the surface, appeared helpful and intelligent but who obviously felt a greater duty to the Aliant System than to me as an individual. I wasn’t their neighbour. At all.
Conversely, my dealings with Griffin Technology, even though they are in Nashville, thousands of miles away, were not unlike my dealings with my neighbour Angus over the hose. So it’s not, at least entirely, about geography.
The question I have now is “does neighbourliness scale?” Is it even possible for pan-regional company like Aliant to be neighbourly? Perhaps they should hire away Angus as a start, although I fear he might get reprogrammed and become the sort of generic enemy that Aliant is so good at creating.