Incenting Good Behavior? Or Insulting Customers?

I got my hair cut today by Diane.  Who is great, by the way.

We talked about how good hair stylists are often great trusted advisors.  Their patients confide in them in ways that lawyers, accountants and consultants can only envy. 

And they do it through executing trusted advisor basics.  Listening.  Being concerned about the client—soliciting preferences, and only then offering suggestions.  Letting the client do most of the talking.  Practicing discretion.  And yes, doing a great job on the hair.

But this isn’t about Diane; it’s about what happened to Diane.

She went to an orthodontist.  A new one, a dentist with whom she’d had no prior experience, and therefore about whom she had a mild wait-and-see attitude.

She got a late start, traffic was busy, weather was bad, and she took a wrong turn.  She called to say she’d be a little late.  In the end, she got there about 8 minutes after her scheduled appointment.

The dentist was young, and had a modern-looking office, including a computerized check-in station, toward which the receptionist motioned her.  She input her information and hit enter.

The computer screen confirmed her information, and then—in large letters, having matched her scheduled appointment time against the computer’s internal clock—said:

           You’re Late!

Diane’s reaction was one of quiet shock.  “I really couldn’t believe they did that,” she said.  “I mean, I guess I don’t mind myself; I know they need to run a business, and I was late and that’s my responsibility. But I’m an adult.  Suppose a kid came in and their mom let them log in, and they got that in their face.  It wouldn’t be their fault they were late.  To put that embarrassment and shame on a kid, that’s just not right.”

Diane is a generous person.  I’d have been a bit more peeved.

Is there a case for the dentist?  Sure. Perhaps it was meant as a mild reminder to patients that they share some responsibility for keeping the scheduled patient flow going during the day.  It wouldn’t surprise me if there’s a trend of patients being late, and this guy is doing his best in a humorous way to help shift behavior.

But I’m not buying it.  To me, it comes off as a heavy-handed move by some customer-phobic techno-dweeb in love with what he imagines to be others’ view of him. 

I doubt Diane’s going back.  I wouldn’t.  Would you?

2 replies
  1. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    Hi Charlie,

    Two thoughts:

    1. This is a prime example of a culture that is obsessed with efficiency, where people, "human" beings, become the collateral damage as a result of the need to be more and more and more efficient. "People" are left out of the equation in the way we see them, regard them, speak to them, treat them, etc. Where, for example,  (as a metaphor) my client/patient/customer John becomes "my 3:00", instead of "John", the human being…all in the mighty, obsessive  quest for efficiency.

    2. I admire Diane. Kudos to her! For me, she is a wonderful example of one who seemingly walks in a place of equanimity. I, for one, don’t see her response as "quiet shock" (but, being in her presence, you know better than me) – "I guess I don’t mind, myself", she said.  She experienced an event, was surprised, stepped back to grasp the big picture, the context, had some general responses and thoughts, not "judgments", and didn’t react; the beauty of it, as she said, is "I’m an adult."! In other words, for me, it is what it is – no need to emotionally engage, just notice, witness and observe.

    That’s the key. Being an adult, not chronologically, but emotionally and spiritually. Many if not most would respond emotionally as the little child from a place of feeling they were being told they were "bad" or "wrong" and from that place lash out, become defensive, play the victim, etc.

    What came to  mind when I first read this was your (Charlie’s) post a while back about the tiny receipt you got in the coffee shop for a small purchase and your reaction to that event.

    Yes, one can say, "But , "wait this is different!" and look for all the ways to justify my (ego need for) feeling offended. But this is life. They’re all different…the people, places, events and circumstances that push our buttons. The deal is that there is one common denominator in all these events and circumstances (the receipt, the dentist office, etc., etc.) And that one common denominator is not them, but in fact,  is……me….and how I choose to react (or respond).

    So, the dentist might be a control freak, maybe needs for some reason to show his colleagues (parents, relatives…) that he is on the cutting edge of technology, maybe even needs to embarrass others for his own narcissistic reasons…..but that’s not the point.

    The point is how I choose to react/respond. For me this is the process of the quest for (Maslow’s) self-actualization…moving above and beyond the seemingly important, egregious and outrageous albeit, for me, petty (only my ego mind wants them to be so big that I can justify lashing out…) circumstances of life and  becoming that "adult" that Diane represents.

    You, Charlie, once wrote  that resentment is like taking a poison and waiting for the other person to die. When we become stressed, angry and reactive in such a situation like this, who’s really doing the "dying?"

  2. Chalrie (Green)
    Chalrie (Green) says:


    You’re on the money as usual.  There is a small lesson in customer relations to be learned by the dentists, and by all of us when we are the dentist’s shoes.

    But there is a bigger lesson for all of us about when we find ourselves in Diane’s shoes, and that is to take things with equanimity, as adults–as you put it, to notice, witness and observe. 

    The "dentists" in our life cannot insult us.  Only we can be insulted, and that is our choice.  Thanks for reminding me of that lesson.

    And yes, your intuition is correct–Diane is indeed the kind to notice, witness and observe.  Well seen and well said.



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