I normally have to tell the kids to do something three times before they even acknowledge I've spoken. The next time they'll argue. The time after that they'll do something very similar to what I asked but different in some vital respect.
For instance, the other day, I was endlessly telling Marie to pay attention as she scooted along the pavement ahead of me. She just wouldn't, though. She kept veering all over the place as one thing after another went by and distracted her. "Look where you're going!" I shouted finally.
"I am!" she shouted back. She even looked right round over her shoulder to make sure I heard.
Strangely, she seemed surprised when, a moment later, she found herself sprawled on her back in a tree planter. A giant, bright blue tree planter that was visible from the other end of the street. She lay there, forlornly waggling her arms and legs, and said, "Daddy! I fell off my scooter!"
"Really?" I said, pulling her out. "Were you looking where you were going?"
"Even when you were looking at me?"
She put on her sad face, where her top lip disappears behind her lower one, and she mournfully shook her head.
"That was silly," I said.
She nodded. "I'll look where I'm going tomorrow."
"How about right now?" I asked.
She just grinned and scooted off again. Grr...
Ho, well, it's not like the first occasion one of the kids hasn't paid attention to me. They're used to it; I'm used it; we get by. Until I'm ill, of course, or tired or fed up. Then I want them to listen to me first time and they're just not used to that. Unfortunately, rather than acknowledging how patient I am with them normally and giving me a little understanding, they burst into tears or go off on a huge strop. This is maddening but children are like that and there's no real hope they'll grow out of it - adults are like that, too:
Back in the day, when I worked for LBO, everyone in the company was sent on a Customer Focus course. Most of it was totally obvious - things like smile, sound happy, do what you'll say you'll do, and don't have too much to drink on a Friday lunchtime and then go back to the office and delete accounts at random.
There were a few interesting points, though. One of them was that giving a customer better service than they might normally expect is liable to ultimately backfire. This sounds crazy but it's true. Imagine you take your car in for its regular service. It's a slow day at the garage so they decide to give it valet treatment, at no extra charge, to say thank you for your custom. Chances are, you'd be pretty pleased to have all the crushed breadsticks, raisins and footprints removed from the backseat. All well and good... until next time. You take your car in for a service, get it back and the fingerfood debris it still welded to the upholstery. You're secretly disappointed. You haven't been promised any cleaning and you haven't paid for it but, you know, it would have been nice. This sticks in your mind. The following year, you hunt around and discover that a garage on the other side of town will clean your car as part of its service and it's only a little more expensive than your normal garage. You go there. Essentially, the first place has lost your custom thanks to going the extra mile.
All this was brought to mind recently because I seem to be dogged currently by companies desperate to annoy me by doing me a 'favour'. (Stand back, I'm about to rant...)
First off, as always, is Nintendo Europe. Their PR has been a bit shonky for a long time but has improved dramatically of late, no doubt thanks to the marketing department getting a share of the huge mountain of cash from DS and Wii sales. Their loyalty scheme has been infuriating me for years, though. With every Nintendo game I buy, I get a scratchcard which reveals a code which I can enter online to receive 250 star points. I can then trade these star points for gifts. Unfortunately, these gifts consist mainly of PC screensavers and mobile phone ringtones. Occasionally, an actual physical game is offered for something in the region of FIVE THOUSAND STARS. These games are usually rubbish and always run out of stock immediately. What's the point? As a family, we've collected 12,000 stars over the course of five years and haven't traded a single one in yet. Every so often, I go to Nintendo's website in the hope that there'll be something good but there never is.
What makes it particularly galling, however, is that about three years ago, they ran an entirely separate promotion where purchasing a single game from an approved list was rewarded with a special Legend of Zelda collector's disc with no end of decent stuff on it. I bought something for thirty quid and got an extra freebie worth about twenty. With the whole stars thing, I've spent... hang on, let me get a calculator... er, divide by 250, multiply by... yeah, er... Right, I've spent... !!!!!!!!!!!
That includes lots of Christmas and birthday presents (both the boys' and mine) but... !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
For that level of expenditure and all the faffing with scratchcards and codes, I expect more from a reward scheme than ringtones. Nintendo could argue that they're under no obligation to give me anything and I should be pleased with whatever free stuff I get but, well, that would just annoy me even further which, you have to imagine, isn't the purpose of their PR department.
A year ago, they promised to make the reward scheme good. They promised that it would be possible to trade star points for Wii points which can be used to buy downloads of old games on the Wii. (Normally you have to buy Wii points with good, old-fashioned cash).
That was a year ago.
There's a possibility that it might actually become reality this week but, even after all this wait, there's still no hint of conversion rates or anything. Who knows what I might be entitled to? Their previous generosity has made me hopeful. It has made me think that Nintendo loves me.
Unfortunately, they probably don't really.
My 12,000 stars will, in all likelihood, only get me half way to a copy of Frogger. Even if I get quite a lot more, however, I'm still liable to feel disappointed.
Moving on... In the past, LOVEFiLM have offered a free extra rental to say sorry for all kinds of things, from system hiccups, to seasonal delays, to postal strikes. This was very pleasant, particularly as many of the problems have been totally outside their control. I didn't get anything after the last strike, though. Also, they included a free sample of Nivea handcream with one of my discs recently, which meant it didn't fit through the letterbox and I had to go to the sorting office to collect it. I only got a fairly minimal apology when I emailed them. Again, I'm disappointed.
Meanwhile, GameStation has introduced a loyalty card. There are instant prizes available when I buy something, but each transaction also gives me an entry in the monthly lottery. The first month, the grand prize was an Xbox 360 Elite. That would be worth winning. Last month, the grand prize was a lifesize promotional mannequin of Mark Ecko. What on Earth would I do with that? How would I get it home on the bus? Where would I put it? Would anyone be prepared to pay the postage if I eBayed it?
I'd have to turn it into a coat stand or stick it outside and hang birdfeeders from it.
And, forever more, I would look at it and be annoyed that it wasn't an Xbox 360 Elite.
I had to actively avoid GameStation in November just to make sure I didn't win. Not the greatest loyalty scheme ever. I wonder what tat they'll be trying to clear out of the stock room this month?
OK, rant over. I had a point about children I was trying to make. Or was it adults? Maybe it was both. Er...
Anyway, it was about consistency. Nintendo, LOVEFiLM and GameStation are generally pretty excellent but they've just got a slagging, while the hopeless, bumbling company that handles my house insurance has escaped unscathed. This is because my insurance company have long since stopped disappointing me. Frankly, I'm delighted when they get anything right. The other three, however, normally manage a level of customer service that I can only dream of providing in my daily interaction with the kids. Do I remember that? Do I heck. I'm irritated the moment their standards slip.
Don't get me wrong, I don't want to encourage mediocrity here. Good service is important - I would happily point people towards LOVEFiLM but I wouldn't recommend my insurers to anyone. It's just worth bearing in mind that consistently decent service is often better than OK service that is occasionally excellent. People like consistency.
Kids like consistency. How many tantrums do I cause by poorly managing the kids' expectations? Some days I have plenty of energy and feel generous, other days I'm tired and feel... somewhat less than generous. Often, I think of these as good and bad days. I hate flying off the handle when I'd normally give them another couple of chances. Really, however, I store up just as much trouble for myself by letting them off the hook when I've laid down an ultimatum. A few 'good' days in a row and the kids start to think I'll put up with anything.
There are times when I need the kids to listen to me urgently, however - such as when they're crossing the road or, for example, when one of them's about to scoot into a giant, blue tree planter. They have no way of knowing which those times are and which times it doesn't matter so much if it takes six attempts for them to engage their ears.
I need to be more consistent with both my firmness and my patience.
Getting them to respond appropriately first time, every time, is a bit much to hope for, though. I should probably aim for third time. It's not excellent but it's decent. It's also sustainable. Hopefully, it'll lead to less arguing and fewer tantrums (both from the children and from me).
Might even keep Marie out of the compost in future. You never know...
Yours in a woman's world,