Dressember and Starting Where You Are

“The place where God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” -Fredrick Buechner

For much of my life I believed that I must forego my own talents and interests in the interest of altruism. I felt like it was selfish of me to pursue what I liked while there are so many in the world who cannot. I spent most of my undergrad trying to forget the “trivial” interests I had like fine arts, dance, fashion, etc. which were not seen inherently bad, but distractions from what I perceived as the “real work”: advocating for the rights of those who are marginalized.

So when I came across the quote above, it immediately made me uncomfortable. What did gladness have to do with anything? In my mind dance couldn’t change the world; art couldn’t end oppression; fashion doesn’t matter when people are starving to death.

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While the intention is good, and these thoughts are not completely wrong, I’ve realized just how limiting this kind of thinking is. It is the voice of the cynic, creativity’s antithesis.

A better way of looking at it is through the lens of “how?” How can dance change the world? How can art end oppression? How can fashion feed people? How can a beautiful meal end violence? How can running challenge inequality? How can good design make a meaningful impact on people’s lives?

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For many (the cynics), the initial response is: it can’t. For them, life is a zero-sum game, so they hoard, and steal, and blame, and complain -but never do they transcend the binary world they’ve created. They see the world as “us vs. them.” It doesn’t matter which “side” they claim to be on, the projected superiority in their choice is what speaks and contributes to the disconnectedness of the world.

But then there is another group, the creatives, who realize that everything is connected and if one person wins it does not mean everyone else loses. These people and groups are truly open. Love, compassion, and kindness flow out of them. They seek to contribute to the beauty of the world. They do not resent anything or anyone, but recognize the brokenness of the world and, through their own wholeness and joy, seek to change it.

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Currently I am participating in a unique awareness/fundraising event by started by a group of these “creatives.” International Justice Mission (IJM) -a non-profit that rescues victims of human trafficking- has organized a campaign called: Dressember. The premise is that participants wear a dress everyday during the month of December to raise awareness about human trafficking and money for IJM to use for rescuing more victims. (85% of the money IJM receives during the Dressember campaign goes directly helping victims.) The event is the brain-child of Blythe Hill, who started Dressember just for fun/the challenge of wearing a dress everyday for a month because she loved dresses and fashion. It was only recently that she attached it to a greater cause when she and IJM got connected. The event has since taken off, fundraising more than $200K to fight human trafficking.

I believe the order in which this story developed is important. She started where she was, with something she loved, and THEN used it to change the world through her creativity. So often those who want to change the world get too fixated on the problems facing the issue and ignore what brings them joy. They forget that what the world really needs is more joy. That’s what it looks like to “be the change you wish to see in the world.”

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If you’d like to contribute to my Dressember campaign, I would love it! Follow the link! support.dressemberfoundation.org/rlcreations

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Some Customer Service Guidelines

Original photo titled "Feels Like Home" by Quinn Dombrowski (Quinn.anya) on Flickr. Licensed under the creative commons attribution and share alike conditions. http://www.flickr.com/photos/quinnanya/7306741752/

Original photo titled “Feels Like Home” by Quinn Dombrowski (Quinn.anya) on Flickr. Licensed under the creative commons attribution and share alike conditions: http://www.flickr.com/photos/quinnanya/7306741752/

Have you ever gone into a store just to look around only to notice that the attendant working that day was also looking, but this time just at you. Unnerving, right? It almost feels as if that person suspects you are going to steal something at any moment and thus must be on guard while you are in the store. This may not be their intended message, but it quickly becomes the communicated message to the customer who is thinking the whole time: “I’m not going to steal anything; I’m not going to steal anythingI’M NOT GOING TO STEAL ANYTHING!” and eventually gets so uncomfortable that they flee the store. THIS is bad customer service at its finest.

Customer service is a crucial part of any business, but it can also be an art if done well. Art as customer service is not , but there are some dos and don’ts that are. Here are some examples that I have learned through not only my own experience with customer service this past year, but also through observation of good and bad customer service by others, as well as some pointers found in books.

Don’t: Be a “Hawk-er”

From someone selling high-end diamond jewelry to a local garage sale operator, a “hawk-er” (one part traditional definition, one part gawker, and one part the phrase: “to watch like a hawk”) is that person I mentioned before. Their eyes are on you the whole time, and they tend to make people think that they suspect them of stealing. It’s important to note that this offense can be intentional and unintentional.

Sometimes the worker may not be concerned about the customer stealing or not, but is watching them for a number of other reasons. One may be boredom, another may be due to a company policy, and another yet may be a genuine interest in the person and wanting to address their needs. Unfortunately, on the receiving end the message is the same: “I don’t trust you.”

To avoid this, make yourself useful (clean lightly, work on small projects that others can interrupt, etc.) The objective is to not freak people out, but also not abandon them either (more on that later.)

Do: Make sure you have some anti-theft methods in place

So while customer service workers want to their customers to feel trusted, it is a fact of the industry that too much trust can go awry. Therefore, there must be a balance between accusatory behavior, but making sure that theft is (as much as possible) not going to happen.

Don’t ignore people:

On the flip-side of the don’t be a hawk-er rule, is the don’t ignore people either, rule. My roommate has come home on at least two occasions being really frustrated by workers who seem to ignore her or another customer in the store. One was bad enough that she has told nearly everyone with whom she was discussing the product (frozen yogurt) about her experience there. Word of mouth is really important when it comes to retail/customer service -this cannot be stressed enough.

Do: Be generous

Seth Godin’s book Linchpin focuses on this idea a lot. Give lots of gifts. This doesn’t necessarily mean give everything you in the store away -it would very quickly cease to be a business if you did that. Generosity can be shown in many different ways. Be generous with your time, your patience, and occasionally your product.

An anecdote to help elaborate: My roommate and I went to a Galleria in our area that has a lot of various things like pottery, some clothes, funny cards, etc. The store doesn’t necessarily cater to our demographic, but my roommate did buy some lotion there. The woman who rang her up was the owner and chatted with us for a bit. Near the end of the conversation she told us that she knew how tough it is to be our age –fresh out of college with little to no substantial income- and that if there is anything in her store that we really wanted but couldn’t afford we should let her know and she could help us out. We walked out of the store completely astounded. Neither one of us had ever had a customer service experience like that. She will definitely continue to have our business because of that one generous gesture.

Don’t: Have an attitude

This seems like it is pretty obvious, but it does happen pretty frequently, and can be pretty tempting. Here are a few anecdotes to help elaborate further:

My roommate and I went into a retail store the other day just on a whim. I had gone in the store a few times before, and the owner (who seems to be the only worker) had left a good impression on me the first time. When I had visited then (my roommate was there that time too), we talked to her before leaving and she told us that her customer service style was more laissez faire (my words, not hers) in that she preferred not to bug her customers. This time when we visited her store, her style seemed too extreme. She didn’t greet us at all when we entered and when we left, my roommate told her as tactfully as she could that a word on a hand-written sign was spelled wrong. The lady gave her a disgusted look, to which my roommate replied: “Well, I thought I’d let you know just incase someone else notices.” The lady then retorted with “Yeah, or if anyone cares.” We are never going back there, and have begun to spread this story amongst our friends.

The second anecdote is about a former co-worker of mine. Working with her was really difficult because of her attitude and eventually she let it spill over into her treatment of customers. Every night when she would work, the more people that came in the closer to closing time, the more her irritation grew and grew apparent to everyone around her. Eventually she pushed the envelope so far with one group of customers that they complained pretty strongly and she no longer works there.

Do: Make eye contact

My roommate swears by this. A fellow server at a restaurant she worked at told her this and she says he is one of the best servers she has seen. I tried doing this at my job for a while and when I remembered, it seemed to make a difference. (I also got a lot of people going gaga over my eyes though –another story for another time- so that may be why I didn’t do it as much by the end.)

Do: Connect with people

This is essentially what results from the previous dos and don’ts. It is the ultimate goal. Connecting with people is what customer service is all about. It takes an ordinary task and turns it into art.