Ratting Out the Death of Service

Posted on October 1, 2010

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Our rat Nash died.

OK, let’s mourn a moment, though I will admit she was not my favorite rat. Named for the Blue Jackets’ Rick Nash, she was white and red-eyed, and she bit to draw blood more than was nice. Her sister, Stinger, was of the same coloring and personality, and I didn’t miss her too much either when she died on Christmas Eve last year.

But I am quite fond of my other rat Ralphie, who replaced Stinger–we were watching “A Christmas Story” on Christmas Eve right after we got her, so don’t make fun. And Ralphie did like Nash, and she was pretty funked out with the death of her friend.

Easy fix–my kid and I would head to the pet store and buy a new rat.

It turned out to be easier said than done.

We went to our traditional rat adoption site–Jack’s Aquarium in Graceland–and found they had a dearth of rats. The ones they had didn’t look super healthy, or had red eyes (we’ve had it with red-eyed biting rats) or were male (a bad idea since Ralphie, contrary to expectations, is female, and we wanted only two rats).

“Our supply comes in on Thursday,” we were told.

We were pretty surprised–first time there had ever been a rat shortage–but fair enough. We’d come back.

Smarter on Thursday and wishing not to make another wasted trip, I called and asked if the rats had come in, and if there were dark-eyed females.

“I don’t know,” said the guy who answered.

Pause. “Can you check?” I asked.

He put the phone down and came back 2 minutes later. “We have rats.”

“Are they dark-eyed females?” I asked.

“How am I supposed to know?” he responded.

“I guess by looking them in the face and lifting up the tails,” I thought, but I just answered, “Could someone check?”

“Some are female,” he said when he came back.

Deep breath: “Do they have red eyes?”

“I think so,” was the response.

“Will you get in other rats soon?” I asked biting the inside of my cheek.

“I don’t know,” he said.

Now lucky for us someone nearby my conversation revealed that Petsmart on Sawmill had rats. And they ONLY have females–and never mix them to control the rat population. A novel idea, since our adopted rats from Jack’s always co-ed cohabitated in the store and came with the potential to become a dozen rats! We called Petsmart and spoke with Jamie, who described each rat to us in great detail, right down to personality–and eye color! We were soon in the car, on our way. And within the hour, adorable black and white Chase–with her dark eyes–was on her way home with us (she’s as fast as the Phillies’ Chase Utley, my son reasoned).

Service is a skill. It is a commitment. You have to want to help people–to care whether or they leave your encounter, however brief, with a feeling that you heard them and their needs meant something to you. It’s a lot like working on a story and conducting interviews. Did you hear your subject’s answers, or only think about what you wanted to ask next? Did you let them talk or cut them off mid answer? Did you care enough about them to be friendly and cordial, and not short and seemingly pressed for time.

In some places, service is indeed dead. But the rest of can keep it alive.

And the more of us who do, the better served we will all be.

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