The elbow drain trap was cracked and had a small leak under the bathroom sink at my river house. It was Friday night and I had just arrived for the weekend. While an easy Saturday morning repair, it required having the right PVC part. I knew the hardware store in the small town four miles away was closed but I thought their after hours answering machine would tell me what time they would open on Saturday morning! I was in for a surprise.
“This is Darrack,” said the super friendly voice on the other end of the phone. “How can I help you tonight?” I was stunned.
“Are you still open?” I asked in disbelief.
“Oh, no,” he said, “We closed at 5pm. But I call forward the store phone to my cell just in case someone has an emergency hardware need.” I explained my situation and Darrack offered to meet me at the store. It was 10pm! I declined his gracious offer and opted to meet him at 8am Saturday morning when the store opened. But, his gesture made me think about our 24/7 world. I thought about how my clients view my hours through the lens of Amazon’s store hours.
Time has always had many meanings in our lives. At Disney World it means wait, a fast pass, and when to gather on the curb for a good seat to see the Mickey parade. At the hospital it can mean sheer mystery and the angst of why it takes so long to get back that test result. Time occupies such a vital part in our lives we give it life-like properties. Time flies, time stands still, time waits for no one, time runs out. We make time, kill time, and if we are bad, serve time. It orders our lives just as it frustrates our lives. But is it really about the clock?
I was among a group of bank customers standing in the rain at 8:55 am in front of branch. All the bank personnel were in position inside waiting for the doors to be unlocked at 9am. Once inside, I asked the reception why not open a few minutes early? I got the “bank hours” rule. So, I asked the branch manager if there was a legal or security reason for waiting. He said, “No, but we open at 9am.” His rules trumped our ease. And, it underscored the fact that time has a new meaning in our time’s up world.
Time is the gatekeeper to the important portals of our lives. It governs access to what we want or need when want or need it. And, the cyber world has taught us to abhor the arbitrariness of that gatekeeper. “Why can’t they be open when I need them?” “Who has time (there’s that word again) to be shoehorned into a world of commerce with such inane rules?” Yet, as a metaphor for access it opens the opportunity to reshape the customer’s perception of time. Darrack was accessible, not open.
Now, I am going out on a limb here. And, I suspect I will get some push back and a lot of “yes, but’s.” If you ever send me an email, you will never get the all too familiar, “Automatic Reply: I am out of the office.” I am never “out of the office.” Now, like Darrack, I am obviously not physically “in the office.” If you call me on my phone, you will learn (should you get my voice message because I am in flight or in a meeting) that my hours are just like Amazon’s. You can expect a call back very quickly—any day of the week.
I appreciate that people need their down time. While the “get a life” criticism might sometimes fit my work style, I am no workaholic! I value quiet time with my family as much as anybody. And, I admit it is a bit frustrating when I get an occasional call on my cell phone just as I get a big bite fishing or right at the good part of the ballgame I’m enjoying. But, I keep thinking about Darrack: “Someone might have an emergency need.” What can you do to be accessible when your customers need you most.
Chip R. Bell is a renowned keynote speaker and the author of several national best-selling books. His newest book is Kaleidoscope: Delivering Innovative Service That Sparkles. He can be reached at www.chipbell.com.