In The Trenches: Chapstick Charlie

During the seven or eight hours of labor my wife went through with our first child, she insisted that I stand by her side and not let go of her hand. I was a source of strength and encouragement to her. The second time around, she wanted me to be close by, but she understood that there was little I could do, and she didn’t need me to hold her hand at all. By the third child, I was pretty inconsequential to her, but I stayed near and tried to look helpful.

Once, while she was gripping the bed rails, doing her breathing and focusing straight ahead, she asked, “did you bring the Chapstick?”

Since they don’t give mothers in labor anything to drink, keeping the lips moist is important. I quickly grabbed for the lip balm in my pocket, glad that I hadn’t blown my assignment.

Sharon kept staring straight ahead and breathing those slow, steady breaths. Not knowing whether she was just checking inventory, or actually needed the Chapstick, I asked her if she would like me to put some on her lips.

“Well, where else would you put it!” she snarled, in a voice that left no doubt to anyone in the room that at that moment she thought I was not only the most useless creature the good Lord ever created, but probably the dumbest one as well. You could have safely said that, at least for a while, I had completely worn out my welcome.

After our beautiful daughter, Lacey, was born, when we were expecting a third son, our relationship was soon on the mend. Though still unquestionably dumb, I believe Sharon decided I wasn’t totally useless. And after all, in life and in marriage, you have to take the good with the bad.

In business, especially when it comes to customers, you have to take the good with the bad as well. Dealing with some clients sure can test one’s patience, and a few just about wear out their welcome at times.
I’ll bet you have some of the same types of customers that we’ve been dealing with for years. See if you recognize any of these characters:

First, there’s Nine-One-One-Ned. This client is a regular customer, and should be a good one, but every job he needs is a crisis. Whether it’s just because he puts things off to the last minute, or merely convinces himself that whatever he needs just can’t wait, no one knows. But this type of customer is part of the reason that the stress levels in a sign shop are unjustifiably high.

And then there’s Hanging-out Harry. He’s not is such a big hurry, in fact he’s got all the time in the world, it’s just that he’d just as soon spend his time at your shop as anywhere else. He’s the guy who drives his truck or van to the shop, and will just stay while the job is done. All of our staff really love having a client looking over their shoulder, and just hang out until his project is finished... NOT! In reality, customers like this can come pretty close to wearing out their welcome.

And what about Draw-it-Again-Sam? He challenges one’s patience and good manners as well. This client want’s to see just one more layout, color combination, letterstyle, or whatever. And this can go on and on. Yes, I know there are ways to minimize this time wasting process, but sometimes I still get caught in the trap. The last “Draw-it-Again-Sam” I dealt with was the nicest guy you’d ever meet, a pastor of a local church. But his having to get each sign variation reviewed by his committee of church deacons, meant that we were doomed to waste a lot of time together.

Lastly, there’s Cecil Cell Phone. You know, the client who comes in the shop to discuss a good deal of signwork he’s needing, but the discussion takes about five times longer than necessary because he keeps having to answer his phone. In the old days you could spot one of these people coming through the door since cell phones were big, and they couldn’t disguise themselves. Now, they keep them in their pocket, just like the rest of us. Actually, it’s the fact that they don’t keep them in their pocket that soon becomes a problem.

It’s these client types, and others equally demanding, that sometimes make me wince when the shop phone rings, though I well realize that we couldn’t survive very long if that phone quit ringing. Though I don’t remember any of them truly wearing out their welcome, I do remember many times thinking that I’d be glad it they’d spread out their visits a little bit.
A whole month of these Neds, Sams, Harrys and Cecils can make me a bit testy if I’m not careful. Which is really quite rediculous. After all, they’re the one’s having to deal with someone too dumb to know where to put the Chapstick. With a reputation like that, who am I to judge?

Have a great month,
—Rick