Angus Orford’s Hose

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.


Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on August 26, 2003 - 01:19 Permalink

Postscript: Oliver and I went looking for our friend Gary at Catherine Hennessey’s house tonight (Oliver wanted to give Gary a rock). We found Gary there, but also Angus Orford’s three sisters — the entire set! — and were treated to good Angus stories, but also some of the best carrot cake, baked by sister Heather, that I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating.

Steven Garrity's picture
Steven Garrity on August 26, 2003 - 03:45 Permalink

re: “does neighbourliness scale?”

No, I don’t think it does. You can only be “neighbourly” with a limited number of people, as it involves familiarity and recognition (or at least recognition that you are someone that someone they know might recognize). Politeness scales, but it’s not enough.

That said, even a corporation of 10,000 is really only a large group of smaller groups. Very few people actually work with more than 10 people on a regular basis. If corporations are sensitive to this (cancel that — corporations are imaginary, they can’t be sensitive — so, if the people that manage a corporation can be sensitive) to this, I think in some respect, are large corporation can be neighourly. Even if only by letter the few of their employees who really are your neighbours (in whatever sense), act like it.

Alan's picture
Alan on August 26, 2003 - 12:24 Permalink

If neighbourliness is being particularly considerate which is, as Steve points out, beyond merely polite, you can see aspects of it in larger collectives. In all my travels I cannot imagine bettering the feeling of being home I experienced throughout Holland — not just because the folks are nice but the systems design of communities seemed at that time, 17 years ago, to be so far ahead of Mulroney and Reagan’s North America. Humans were thought of the way the shops (grocery toting Winnibagos coming to your door), transport (separate dedicated bike/moped roads everywhere) and even TV worked — they had more stations than numbers on the dial so time was allotted by annual sales of each station’s TV guide. I felt that the system worked because citizen were treated like neighbours who happened to live on other street. Perhaps a stretch but analogous.

I also agree that distance is irrelevant. I buy soccer jerseys from a guy who is in Oldham England. He is polite and considerate but also takes the time to be interested in your interest.

Ken's picture
Ken on August 26, 2003 - 16:24 Permalink

Try being friendly as one of ten people at one of ten call centres dealing with issues from no dial-tone to pings, fraud, and being yelled at at least once daily; dealing from grandmas to supergeeks just adds to the frontline fatigue.

If you can understand the technical features of every Aliant service then you know how complex telecommunications has become. But most customers just want a phone, and Aliant has always been good at that simple promise. When was the last time you called 9-1-1 and couldn’t get through? The market foces in PEI are not geared toward the cutting edge because most Aliant customers are not geared toward the cutting edge, they just want reliable telephone service, and they get it.

So you, Peter, must live with the curse of being a hyper-user in this kingdom of plain-old-telephones.

The Emporer Has no Pings

It is fun watching you try to move the boulder, but you risk becoming seen as a madman in the end.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on August 26, 2003 - 16:27 Permalink

Ken, you are correct in most all respects, and I’m wary of madman status as much as anyone.

Ken's picture
Ken on August 26, 2003 - 17:09 Permalink

That’s it? I was hoping to make you mad.

Create an organization which is a volunteer watchdog over Aliant, Eastlink, and ISN with a membership of local business people, and get your PR together and make a case for improving service at all three providers. Try cheaper residential lines as your first cause, and focus on winning popular support and exposure on CBC.

I’ll throw my 14 years of Telecom experience behind it because I would like to see improvements as well.

The watchdog group could spur the CRTC into action, just by bringing issues to light.

How about province-wide local calling as a business advantage? The revenue impact doesn’t even fall completely on Aliant, as Primus, AT&T and all long distance providers would trade provincial tarrifs for the prospect of increased growth from the advantage of local provincial calling to business’s.

The Chamber of Commerce might even support that issue?

Create the lens that will focus discontent into heat.

Alan's picture
Alan on August 26, 2003 - 17:16 Permalink

Isn’t, though, the facade of Aliant so obviously thinned now that its service has nothing to do with PEI market forces in that these services are offered through Ontario servers and Moncton (shivers) support? Is Bell’s sympatico system actually saying that pinging is no longer allowed in eastern Canada where people do want more than a land line wired rotary dialed phone?

Ken's picture
Ken on August 26, 2003 - 19:04 Permalink

Email service, the one universally good thing about the net, is decaying, forcing desperate measures by engineers such as ping blocking, and becoming unusable. The spam to real-email ratio is approaching 100 to 1.

Everyone knows that nothing serious can be trusted to email now, how long before it becomes completely irrelevant?

Anne MacKinnon's picture
Anne MacKinnon on December 1, 2009 - 05:12 Permalink

Wondering if Angus is a brother of Heather, Nancy & Karen .I am Donald MacKinnon (Baldie) daughter.