The Principal Was Not Amused

I don’t know if I was driving by the school or if someone tipped me off, but I took a picture of the American Flag flying upside down over the Nell Holcomb School on Sept. 7, 1967. The flag in that position is an international signal for distress.

International Distress Signal

The Southeast Missourian ran the picture with some kind of cute cutline.

The ink on the paper must have still been wet when the principal called to ream me out for embarrassing him and his school. You can’t really SEE purple veins sticking out on someone’s forehead over the telephone, but I had a clear sense that they were.

After letting him vent for awhile, I gave him the only answer I could come up with: “I’M not the one who raised the flag.”

That reminds me of an important lesson that proved more valuable than anything I was ever taught in school.

How to deal with irate callers

I was dealing with an irate caller at The Jackson Pioneer one afternoon, being as nice and polite as only a well-brought-up high school kid can be.

When I got off the phone, the editor, with a bemused look on his face, said, “Kid (they always called me Kid), let me show you how to deal with that kind of call.”

He picked up the telephone receiver and said into it, “Yes, mam, that was clearly the most egregious act of nincompoopery that has been committed since the cooling of the earth’s crust. If it was within my power, I would have that incompetent jerk flogged, if not shot, as an example to the rest of the profession.”

Hang up

‘Now,” he continued, “here’s the trick. Right in the middle of your diatribe, hang up. Right in the middle of the sentence. Nobody would ever think you’d hang up on yourself; they’re going to assume it was a telephone glitch. If you’re lucky, you’ve managed to work them out of their mad and you’ll never hear from them again. To be on the safe side, though, NOW would be a good time to walk across the street for a cup of coffee. Let one of your coworkers be the one to catch the call if she’s still got bile to spill.”

The only thing they remembered

After I moved out of the newsroom and into telecommunications, I’d tell that story when I was training call center personnel. I never actually heard a customer service agent do that, but I know that it was usually the only thing they’d mention from their training when I’d run into them in the hallway years later.

One Reply to “The Principal Was Not Amused”

  1. Wow! I love that lesson in customer management! I plan to use it the next chance I get–that is, if I can just get past the customer’s diatribe!
    I once hung up on such a lecture–but, of course, that did no good whatsoever, as she managed to track down my publisher, and he sent back word that I was to call and apologize. I’ve been that route before, and I know that if the customer uses that opportunity to continue the diatribe, I’ll just hang up again.
    I bought a card, wrote a maudlin note of apology, and mailed it!

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