In my job, I deal with the public and customers. With the public I hear all sorts of weird stuff I wouldn’t dare repeat as most of it is just weird and not funny. Mostly people either trying to get something for free (and then get angry when they don’t) or people trying to sell you on ideas. Now with customers I hear a lot of indifference or hostility which is fine. Sometimes I talk to people who are really excited about our products and that’s awesome. I love those days. Rarely can a customer bring me to tears.
I got a voicemail from a customer who said that he was selling his business and wanted to get out of his contract. Occasionally we get these calls. They are usually from people who might not realize that my company is small and we rely on our customers to make good on their word aka contracts. This is where my salary comes from. There is usually a good ‘story’ involved with why they should be let out of their contract such as they forgot or they have no money, etc. I am also professional with them and gently remind them of their contractual obligation. But this customer had something in his voice.
I called him back and asked him to explain the situation. Here’s what he told me: the CEO of the company got sick rather unexpectedly. It was decided that due to that unforeseen situation the company would be sold. The gentleman that I spoke with sounded like he was in his mid 50’s or so. I knew he was a senior member of the company so I asked him a personal question: what happens to you? He sighed deeply and began to explain. His voice broke and then he began again. It turns out that the CEO is his wife and their company is family owned. Her family started the company and their fathers were good friends. Many of their family members work for this company. Unfortunately there is no family member that can take over the company. The company that is buying them out has asked that all family members step aside.
He paused for a moment and then said, “I’ve been in this business for over 35 years. This is all I know.” I had to blink back tears and swallow the large lump that had accumulated in my throat. He continued with “I don’t know what’s next for us but I want to make sure that the employees get taken care of.” I assured him that I would do my best to help him in this particular situation. He thanked me several times and then quietly hung up the phone.
Rarely can a customer bring me to tears, but this gentle and kind man did. So I wish all of the people that are struggling with issues whether it is a layoff or illness or something else that seem insurmountable-peace.