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Luckily, Customers Don’t Have Firing Power

, , , , | Right | September 2, 2021

I worked for a naval architectural firm in the 1980s. The Washington, DC office I worked in had several US Navy contracts. The office had three departments: one admin and two departments that supported our customers. I worked in one of the latter departments.

The other department had one customer in particular who was very demanding. He was also known for his quick temper. I didn’t know about him at this time, though I soon would.

One evening, I happened to be working late. I assumed I was the only one in the office suite. When our office phone line gets a call after business hours, a night bell rings, and the call can be picked up from any extension. At around 7:00 pm, the bell rang and I picked up.

Me: “[Company].”

Customer: “Get me Mr. [Other Department Chief]!”

Me: “I’m not sure if he’s in, but I’ll go check.”

I happened to sit next to the department chiefs’ offices. I peeked in the office of [Other Department Chief] and he wasn’t there.

Me: “I’m sorry, Mr. [Other Department Chief] isn’t here this evening. I can take a message and see that he gets it first thing in the morning.”

Customer: “God d*** it! I need to speak to him now! Get me his home phone number.”

I knew that even if I had access to that information, I shouldn’t give that out to anyone.

Me: “I’m sorry, sir, I cannot give out that information, but—”

Customer: “D*** it, I need that number. This is [Customer] and there’s a major f***-up on these plans! Get me his godd*** phone number, or I’ll have you fired so quick your head’ll spin!” *Pause* “What’s your name?”

Me: “I’m [My Name], and I don’t work for Mr. [Other Department Chief]. But I’ll see if there’s anyone here in his department that can help you.”

I placed him on hold before he could get another word out. I walked over to the other side of the suite, and there happened to be a secretary whose husband worked with [Customer].

Me: “Hey, [Secretary]. There’s some loudmouth on hold that wants to talk to Mr. [Other Department Chief]. Says his name is [Customer] something…”

[Secretary]’s eyes got wide, and she asked that I transfer him to her extension. I went back to my office and transferred the call and then got back to my work.

About an hour later, Mr. [Other Department Chief], [Secretary]’s husband, and a couple of the other department’s engineers came into the office. They used the conference room to spread out a whole bunch of engineering drawings. They began intently studying them while on a speakerphone call with [Customer]. Though I couldn’t make out what was being said, I heard [Customer]’s voice yelling for nearly another hour.

After their call, Mr. [Other Department Chief] was walking past my office. I called out to him.

Me: “Hey, Mr. [Other Department Chief]. Do I still have a job?”

Other Department Chief: “Huh?”

Me: “Oh, that [Customer] guy said he was going to have me fired.”

Mr. [Other Department Chief] laughed and then waved his hand at me, signaling me not to worry about [Customer]. And sure enough, I still had my job for eight more years — thankfully without ever having to deal with [Customer] again.