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I’ve been sick all this week with what appear to be flu-like symptoms and a lung-wrenching cough that is erasing almost all of my usual good humor along with my voice.

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I went to the doctor’s office and he wanted to run some tests. However, Irish labs will not conduct an analysis if the patient’s submittal form doesn’t have a PPS Number. Being an American citizen recently relocated to Ireland, I still don’t have a PPSN (much like a Social Security Number). The only way to get the desired digits is to pay a visit to a government office.

So, today in addition to feeling dreadful, I felt an additional sense of dread about going to the PPS processing office.

Pick any country and any bureaucratic agency, they all seem to be filled with endless lists of indecipherable requirements, endless lines of people and an endless supply of mirthless clerks who are just waiting for the moment they can pounce on you and deny your request – no matter what it is.

In spite of my sub-par well-being, I dress in regular street clothes, not some slouchy track-suit or jammy-pants that I see way too many grown adults wearing these days. I also daub on a bit of make-up to offset my pale pallor. The PPS room is packed with a mix of people speaking a myriad of different languages. Most look, to my overly critical eye, as if they are here to obtain a PPS number for some kind of menial employment. Indeed, I overhear a man speaking with his friend that he is going to be a dishwasher at a local restaurant. I glance down. He holds a passport from a small eastern European country. I take a little morale boost thinking that my American passport will give me some leverage.

I then tried to strategize about which of the clerks seated behind protective Plexiglas exhibited any sign of humaneness.

Wait a minute! The curly haired guy appears to be smiling at his “customers” on the other side. That portly red-haired lady appears to be nodding, not shaking, her head to the couple speaking with her. And then there’s the middle guy. He is leaning back on his chair, nodding toward his clients with what appears to be a friendly laugh. Not stereotypical drones, instead, theses clerks all seem to be taking an interest in their clients and enjoying what they do. In turn, the “customers” all appear to be leaving the office happily.

Our number is called and we get the “middle guy.” His name is Peter and he has kind blue eyes that crinkle up when he smiles, which he does a lot. We’re here in Ireland because my husband is getting his PhD at a local university. Do we have a letter from the university stating that? No, we do not. My husband offers his university ID card and Peter doesn’t shut us down. Instead, he announces he’ll take the card. How surprising! How refreshing! We produce our passports, marriage certificate and Irish residence cards (click here for the tale of that immigration labyrinth) and Peter pronounces us PPS Number worthy. He patiently answered the questions we had about getting our daughter signed up later and gave us his phone number for further assistance.

Hats off to Peter and the other clerks working at today’s PPS office in Cork, Ireland. I don’t know whether there is an incredible customer service environment created by management there or whether I witnessed a rare moment. But today those clerks demonstrated that true customer service is blind to attire, to station, and yes, certainly to the country of one’s passport. It is open to the unique needs of the individual who is seeking a service or a product. It looks to provide solutions, not barriers. And it works to encourage, not discourage the customer.

We look for good customer service in hotels, restaurants and shops, why not too in government bureaucratic offices? It can be done. And done well.

Till next time, when I hope I can speak and have a hack-free night, 

Gina

Copyright Gina London 2015.  All Rights Reserved.

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