Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Not My Job

My work involves chemicals. I've spent nearly two decades in the industry in various positions. Even though I've never worked in sales or marketing, and my job description has never involved a cash register or name tag, one thing I've learned is that every job is a customer service job.

My current position involves an occasional phone call from a tech rep, distributor, or sometimes a customer, requesting documents related to the caller's compliance, usually with some government agency. What they actually purchase isn't supplied by my department, not even close, but they need the information we provide in order to stay in business (legally, anyway).

Sometimes, the customer calls don't make any sense. Because our company is pretty huge, it has dozens or hundreds of brand names just in my business area alone, not to mention thousands of products. The company's main way of growing is by acquiring other businesses and their brands/products, and therefore also their customers. There's just no way I could become familiar with all the relevant products I might be called about. That is why, like most companies, we rely so heavily on our IT and data systems. But that is another post entirely.

Today, the call didn't make any sense. This guy rattles off several strings of numbers and text that may or may not indicate a product code, industry specification, batch number, product name, or anything else that might help me figure out what he's got on his shelf. He doesn't know, either, where that information is or what it might even look like. This is not a surprise to me: his job is not to actually use the products anyway, but to ensure his employer isn't sued or fined. He needs a document to do that.

Since none of the tidbits of info he gave me made sense, and also since my job title isn't Human Product Database, I forwarded this information to another department, at a location that used to manufacture the brand name on the product the customer was inquiring about, to get help, or at least get closer to the information I needed. What I got in response was essentially an eloquent (but bordering on rude) version of this: Not My Job (NMJ).

I loathe this phrase, and while I can appreciate its usefulness in keeping healthy professional boundaries and doing my own best work first, it is not something I'll declare with ease or pride. I think it is too often used (at worst) as an excuse to ignore the needs of others or avoid taking responsibility, or (at best) to refuse to learn something new.

Now, I realize that the person from whom I asked the help also doesn't have the title Human Product Database (but she does have the title Customer Service Manager). And just to be clear, I didn't necessarily ask her to identify the product based on the scraps of information I provided: I only asked that, if she couldn't help me, she pass on the information to someone who might. I guess I may as well have asked that she cut off her own arms while doing a handstand.

When I replied to her email, I was (again) cheerful and cordial and thankful "for whatever assistance you can offer," I also CC'd both my managers. I was shut down again; her response was "As I mentioned... I cannot provide you any information." To make matters worse, my own manager also replied, making a much more polite version (she used the word "unfortunately") of the same response. So again, I got two more "NMJ"s.

So let's recount the facts:

  •  We have (had; the product is almost 20 years old) a customer who paid money for one of our very specialized, industry-specific, and often overpriced products. 
  •  The product was made by our company (or a predecessor, albeit not at the facility where the person whose help I requested works. This was the one piece of useful information she was able to provide.)
  •  This customer now wishes to responsibly dispose of the product, but can't do it legally without the documentation it's my company's responsibility to provide.
  •  Because of other areas of my business, and my own management, I am now forced to give the following response to the customer: NMJ.

Which leaves this poor guy in the dust, with a potentially dangerous chemical in his facility. If it falls down and spills, or someone opens it by mistake and gets hurt, or injects it into their veins, or sprinkles it on their toast, no one will know the hazards or exposure risks, and it's his ass on the line. Is that how Salt Mine, Inc. takes care of its customers? That's not what they keep on telling me.

Of course, it could also mean he throws the product into a garbage can, it ends up in a landfill and/or busts open somewhere, and (because it has my company name on it), the next call for information on this product won't come from the customer himself, but the US EPA. And they'll fine us up the wazoo. And do you know who'll have to take that call? Possibly the Customer Service Manager. Eventually my supervisor.

All I know is this: it won't be me, because those calls are... NMJ.

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