Monday, October 22, 2007

How To Deal With Difficult/Challenging Customers/Clients

How to deal with difficult/challenging customers/clients

(Just thought I'd share with you an essay that I've been working on for the past week or so. I started doing it after a few people asked me about the difficult customers we face and how we deal with them. It's also in response to the utterly useless training that we've gotten in the past and I fully expect that said training is across the board. This is what we face, and hopefully you'll find solutions within this on how to deal with some of the more challenging people you'll face on a daily basis. I'll be sure to do follow-ups, so feel free to ask questions or seek clarification. It rambles a bit, but hey, let's face it, it'd sound better in a training enviroment with hand-outs and role plays.)

There’s no easy way to say this, so let’s be upfront from the beginning: this will take time. Dealing with difficult and challenging customers/clients is a day to day proposition and one of the more stressful aspects of any job involving person-to-person service delivery. Each time a customer walks into an office environment the potential for conflict is there. The majority of the customers/clients that are serviced will generally be decent enough people, they will be polite, they will want questions answered and problems solved and will be content to allow the process to run it’s course. These people may get agitated at the system but they manage to control their emotions and suppress any desire to lash out for any number of reasons – they might have done so in the past and not gotten what they wanted, they might just not have it in them to be impolite and aggressive. Conversely a small portion of any service delivery industries clientele will display signs of aggressive behaviour for their own reasons and will lash out at the first point of contact, usually counter staff. These are the people you will meet along the way in this project and hopefully we can both identify the warning signs and offer up solutions to deal with such people successfully. Always keep in mind, despite what anyone might want to say at the time a difficult customer/client is not dealing with you on a personal level, they are dealing with a system that they neither understand nor accept. It is not personal.

So just what constitutes a difficult customer/client? Despite what people might want to believe, or propagate, a difficult customer/client is not a person who has difficult needs, those are common and, at times, fairly easy to deal with. If someone walks into your office with a series of questions, or needs, that go beyond what is offered up as a valid service then the solutions are beyond your control. They’re either serviced by a different person with a higher level of authority/delegation, or they’re referred to an entirely different department. More often than not they’re able to be serviced by using whatever customer service resources or internal scripts that are on hand. If you know your job and have been doing it for say, more than three months full time, then you should have a good idea of where to send such people. The classic example would be if someone walked into the office wanting money because they’ve just been robbed. Our department can offer some assistance for rental, but nothing for food. Thus we’d send them to a department such as Centrelink for immediate assistance and then to any number of areas that offer assistance such as food vouchers, transport tickets and the like. Those customers, while they can appear to be difficult, aren’t any more challenging than the next person, if you know your job.

It’s the challenging people who are the difficult ones. These are the people who, for whatever reason, find it nearly impossible to communicate with the world at large. They might have some form of illness, mental or physical; they could suffer from some form of psychosis due to circumstances either within or beyond their control. Drugs are a good place to start here – a hardcore drug addict at the street level is nearly impossible to deal with. They have a short attention span and the more they hear the word ‘no’ the angrier they can get. Some people’s problems are entirely their own doing and those people find it frustrating to learn that, due to their own ineptness of dealing with life, they now find themselves in a hole that has been dug by their own shovel. They get confronting as they generally shift the blame in order to avoid taking any form of responsibility.
“It’s not my fault, it’s yours (or someone elses),”
is the common phrase you’ll hear. Then there are the manipulators. These are the people who believe that they can make anyone do exactly what they want, as long as it benefits themselves, by sheer force of will. They’ll refuse to take no for an answer, especially if the no signifies failure of their behalf. And then there are those people who take some form of amusement in badgering people, attacking them and using them as their own personal punching bags, mentally, verbally and, at times, physically. Those are the ones to watch for.

A note to remember. If someone starts screaming and yelling about how they’re going to beat the living suitcase out of you then it’s not a time for worry – they generally won’t do it. Be cautious, but watch for the person who gets angrier and angrier and then grows quiet. The cliché that it’s the quiet ones you have watch is a genuine truism. They’ve gone past the screaming stage because they know it’ll do them no good. By this stage they’ve realised that they have two options: walk away or hit someone. More often than not they see sense and choose the former, but, at times, they decide on the latter as there’s nothing left to lose. The loud ones will scream, make a lot of noise, slam things and often throw stuff, but they rarely commit actual physical violence, and there’s a reason for that, which we’ll come to down the track.

The first type I’d like to explore is the ‘right men’, those people who like to believe that they can manipulate any situation and bend people to their own will. You’ll spot these people very easily. They wander in, confidently, refuse to make any serious eye contact and say things such as,
“You can do this, so go ahead and do it.”
“You don’t need to get anyone to authorise this, just go ahead and do it.”
“I know you can do this.” (although you'll be thinking, 'You don't know any such thing', refrain from saying it)
You can attempt to convince them until your face turns black from lack of oxygen but it’ll fall on deaf ears. In their minds they know your job better than you know your job as they’ve read a fact sheet or two and they have no problems telling you how to do your job. I’ve found that a lot of these people exhibit classic examples of passive/aggressive behaviour. They can range from being contrite;
“Please, you have to help me,”
Through to the aforementioned;
“You can do this, so go ahead and do it.”
They feel bad, they’re at the end of their rope and if they can’t make you see their own light then they want you to feel sorry for them. Very simple and easy really. They rarely get angry, but they will tell you, if they don’t get the result that they desire, about how they’ll take the situation further, complain to either your head manager (they’re not interested in your immediate line manager), the minister in question, the media or the ombudsman. They love to tell you how they’ll go to the media to ‘break this thing right open and lift the lid on this garbage’. It’s all bluff. They have nothing in the tank and deep down they know that what they’re asking for can’t be done, but they try it anyway because there’s an outside chance that someone will cave in and give them exactly what they desire.

They’re not that hard to deal with. You can ignore them (hey, works for most) or just say things like;
“I hear what you’re saying and I fully understand what you’re asking for. However even if I wanted to do this I haven’t got the authority to do it, so I’ll have to get someone else.”
However the customer won’t want to hear this because they know that the next person will see right through them and veto their demands. They’re hoping that the first point of contact is a clueless pusher of pencils. If the first point of contact makes a mistake and gives them something they’re not entitled to then the customer has won. Handball this type as soon as it becomes feasible to do so, but make sure you give a very detailed account of any conversation that you’ve had with them because this type of customer will most certainly lie to the next person and say things such as;
“The person I was speaking to said that you’d be able to do this.” This is despite the fact that you’ve said no such thing. The passive/aggressive manipulator lives in their own plane of reality and everyone is lying but themselves. Remember that and you’ll soon be able to spot them and easily deal with anything they have to offer.

There is a variation on the above though and they can be a bit more tricky. Those people are manipulators because they want to deny any responsibility. They’ll rant and rave about how unfair a situation is and they’ll work themselves up into a state and then begin to inform you that whatever has happened isn’t their own fault, it’s your fault and yours alone. According to this customer/client you are the reason why they’ve not paid any bills or rent. You’re the reason why they’re being cut off or evicted because you can’t see the sense in their argument. It’s down to you and you alone. No matter what you say to this type of person it’ll fall on deaf ears unless you tell them that they’re right, it is your fault and as such you’ll re-instate their services. Don’t fall for it. If someone refuses to accept responsibility for their own actions then nothing you can say or do will help them. You can attempt to reason with the person and give possible solutions but ultimately they’ll refuse anything you have to offer if it involves them having to own up to whatever they’ve done. Deflection is the name of this game, shifting blame onto other people. I once had a classic example, which I wrote about, whereby a person spent a fair bit of time arguing with me about being evicted. It was my fault she was being evicted and she proceeded to inform me that she’d bring her young children into our offices so that she could show them the person who was (unfairly) throwing them onto the street. Despite my efforts to have this person see that the reason she was being evicted was due to there being no rent paid for over eight months she insisted that this was all my fault. You can’t win. As soon as someone tells you that what has happened is your fault and not theirs, end the conversation. You’ll never get that person to see reason until they have their own epiphany and accept responsibility for their own actions. This person will also attempt the bluff of complaint. Call the bluff, especially if you’re in the right, but ensure that you notate everything.

Another type that’ll come in and take a shot is the one who’ll deny everything. They’re closely related to the person who refuses to accept responsibility; however this person will outright deny anything that’s put in front of them. You can ask them if they’ve had a previous service and they’ll say no. If you show them a previous debt then they’ll deny that it’s them. In a way they’re more dangerous than the person who refuses to accept responsibility as the denier will go as far as to deny that they are who they are (if that makes sense, and to anyone who’s dealt with a denier will know exactly what I said). Where they can get tricky is that they can, and often do, go under a different name or subtle variations on their own name. However they’ll deny even being on the planet, let alone being in your office. When shown the evidence though the denier will accept responsibility, to a point. If it means entering into an arrangement in order to gain further assistance then they’ll do so, but not without a series of complaints about the unfairness of the system as a whole. Bear in mind that once they have what they want they’ll happily break any arrangement and deny that they did so. Another service provider did it. They’ll enter into as many arrangements as you can set but remember, they’ll deny that the previous arrangement was broken and insist that any debt has been long repaid.

Have a quick read of these excuses.
“My bond was claimed because of my cat.”
“I got thrown out because of my ex-wife, who split from me about a year ago.”
“I got thrown out because the landlord fried my computer and I refused to pay rent until he fixed it.”
“I got thrown out because my ex-wife hooked up with another guy.”
“My bond was claimed because my ex-landlord still won’t pay for my computer to be fixed and he contacted my current landlord and they got together to throw me out.”
“I got thrown out because I told the landlord that the rent was too high, so I adjusted it and for some reason he got angry at me.”
“My bond was claimed because I couldn’t pay rent because I was saving up to enter a custody battle with my ex-wife over our cat. I also needed the money so I can take the cat to California and get him cloned.”
No responsibility, just excuses. If you haven’t already guessed these excuses all came from the one person, over a period of approximately eighteen months. There was more, lots more, but these were the cream of the pack. Our friend in this example was even evicted from one of the more notorious boarding houses the state has seen, for being a disruptive influence. As the said boarding house used to cater exclusively for ex-prisoners (just released) and like minded people, it seemed amazing how these people found him to be disruptive. How was he disruptive? Easy – he used to spin yarns all the time and big note himself. Standing five foot one and weighing in at about 75 pounds (soaking wet) he’d tell the other occupants that he was a rich man with connections in high places and was just marking time with the scum he was forced to live with until he was ready to leave. After a while he grated on them so much that they gathered forces, held truces and had him removed, just to shut him up. Considering that some people who lived there at the time had done serious gaol time for shutting people up permanently, I think he got off light.

The point is that everything was somebody else’s fault, not his. No matter what happened someone else was to blame, from his ex-wife to his cat, to ex-employers to both current and ex-landlords. He’d present at the counter and insist that he be given the full service and that he didn’t have to repay any claimed bonds, or enter into any agreement because he was going to dispute the charges. As he was constantly off and on Centrelink entering into an arrangement was futile as the arrangement would only be broken within a fortnight. Then it’d be Centrelink’s fault.

When people such as our friend present the best thing to do is to keep focus. You know they’re not telling the truth, but what you need to realise is that they can’t come out and simply say;
“The bond was claimed because I stuffed up.”
That’d be an admission of culpability. That can’t happen. There’s an easy excuse as to why; our friend is the fantasist. He lives in his own fantasy world and displays classic examples of delusion and paranoia. There are enemies everywhere, from outside the door to under the bed. No-one will listen to him, let alone help him. Despite the repeated assistance he was given we were still the enemy. With this in mind serving the customer is easy – you’re not his friend, you never will be his friend. You are against him, like the rest of the world. The only way to service this customer is to be utterly business like. Don’t engage in any casual conversation, keep the focus and keep your mind on what you need to do. Unless you can wipe away all his previous troubles (all of which he’ll deny, and he will complain about you to anyone who will listen, from the minister to the media) you are of no use whatsoever to him. He won’t get angry, or abusive, but he will attempt to force his will upon you in a classic display of passive-aggressiveness. Don’t buy into it. Merely book the guy for an appointment and say;
“I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do, so I’m going to book you in so someone with a higher level of authority can assist you.” That may sound cold, but it will do the trick, for in this type of customers mind you are cattle and finally you’ve acknowledged that you are of no help whatsoever.

This is as good a time as any to pause and bring up some important points. Always notate. Generally if someone walks into your office and asks where the toilet is then don’t bother. If it’s a routine enquiry then the choice is yours, especially if you get busy. However if it’s a problematic situation/customer then make sure you notate what happened and what was said, especially what you said to them, in minute detail. It helps the next person, and if they are going to complain then ultimately it’ll help you in the long run. If you’re busy then jot the details down on a piece of paper and return to it as soon as you’re able. Notations are the key, because if someone brings it up further and complains, and there are no notations of the encounter, then the complainant’s view of events will more than likely be the one accepted. Get into the practice of notating events as they happen. I can’t stress that strongly enough.

One thing you’ll hear during any initial training in service delivery is the word ‘ownership’.
“Take ownership of the call/conversation,” you’ll be told. What you won’t be told is exactly how to take ownership, or what it means. Allow me to fill you in. Taking ownership means taking control. If someone is screaming then taking ownership can range from attempting to diffuse the situation to walking away to pressing duress alarms and calling either a manager or security/police. Standing there like a mute, stunned mullet means that the customer/client has ownership, and that’s something you don’t want. They’ll call the shots. Take control of the situation the best way you can. When it comes to phone conversations taking ownership is easy. You warn the person as such;
“If you continue to speak/act like that then I’ll terminate this call.” Say that twice, the third time say;
“I have warned you about your behaviour, now I have no choice but to terminate this call. Goodbye and have a nice day.” Then simply hang up. There’s no need to argue. When it comes to the phone you have complete control from start to finish (that is unless the person calls and blows a shrill whistle from the start, then all you have is burst eardrums). On a counter you can simply walk away. Let them scream, a person can’t argue with themselves for too long.

The next person we’ll deal with is the outright aggressive screamer. This is a dangerous person to deal with as they’re often very unpredictable. Normal people can turn feral at the drop of a hat. I remember one person who’d come in and be as happy as can be, joking and laughing and generally an all round nice guy. One day he didn’t get the answer he clearly wanted and went right off. He began to shout, bash the counter and began to issue all kinds of threats, all the time using some of vilest language you’re likely to hear. Even the presence of more staff didn’t deter him, at one stage he invited four of us to come outside for a good old fashioned bashing. Invite declined. Simply put they want to scare and intimidate you. They believe that, as everything else has failed, fear is the only answer; if you are scared enough then you will cave into their demands and deliver the service they desire immediately. They don’t want you to be happy, they are angry and generally miserable, and they want you to be angry and miserable. The bulk of the time they will present as males and will attack females. They exhibit the classic signs of being Right or Alpha Males and as such the need to dominate both the situation and the other person over-rides any commonsense. They cannot differentiate between right and wrong as they see themselves being totally in the right (they have been wronged) and you are wrong, no matter what you do (you are the machine and the machine has wronged them). Again, you cannot win this debate; the Alpha Male will always tell you where you are wrong and will again insist that they know how to do your job better than you do.

There’s several ways to deal with these people, again it comes down to taking ownership. You can attempt to calm them down. The following I’ve all used and have all helped at different times;
“I'm not speaking to you like that so please don’t speak to me like that.”
“If you continue to shout then I’ll have to leave the area and then you’ll get no assistance at all.”
“If you continue to behave like that then I’ll have to ask you to leave.”
“If you continue to behave like that then I’ll have no choice but to call the police.” All of those responses have worked, with varying degrees of success. One thing I have learnt, and I learnt this well before I came to work where I do, is that a lot of people at the street level that act like this have very good reasons to want to avoid any contact with the police, so once you mention the police they’ll either calm down or leave, generally slamming doors and/or screaming as they go. I had one person verify this to me as such;
ME: “Look, if you keep going on like this then I’m going to call the police.”
CUST: “Shit man, don’t do that. I got active warrants!”
ME: “Then calm down and let’s see what we can do for you.” It worked. Mind you I heard that he got arrested later that week, so it’s only a matter of time. (As an aside, if you wander into our offices and use our phones to sell drugs, guns or line up other deals, then don’t cry to us when the police visit. I won’t tell you how it happens, but here’s a clue, if you’re doing something illegal, so out in the open, again it’s only a matter of time before you get caught.) Whatever actions you take do not engage the aggressive customer/client on their level as you will lose. Verbal abuse is the lowest form of fisticuffs and the person who screams and swears the first has lost the argument/discussion/debate. It’s as simple as that really. If you have a customer/client going insane in front of you then the odds are excellent that nothing you say or so will pacify them to the point of being able to execute your duties. Forget AQUA* or Pumpkin**, just do your best to diffuse the situation and end the conflict. This can mean physically stepping away from the counter (and, as such, the customer/client) to ending the encounter by leaving the area you’re in. You can’t argue with yourself and once the area is empty then the rager will generally leave, especially if you’ve informed them that you’ve called the police.

Calling the police can be a good bluff. At times all you have to say is that you’ve called them. The customer/client will say;
“Bulls*it, I’ve been watching you and you’ve not used the phone.”
If that bluff is called then respond as such;
“I used my duress buttons. Rest assured they’re on their way right now.” That’ll do the trick.

Avoid entering into any argument. I can’t re-enforce that enough. A lot of people who like to scream and threaten others, especially in this day and age, have limited social and educational skills. There’s a great cliché, ‘never argue with an idiot. They’ll drag you down to their level and beat you with their years of experience’. It’s also impossible to argue with someone screaming, “You f*&king c*&t!!” on your own terms. Avoid using terminology or detailed words/explanations. By saying to someone;
“Under our terms and conditions, your actions are utterly unacceptable and anti-social. As such this conversation will be terminated and any further encounters with yourself and our organisation will be monitored to the fullest extent of our own personal surveillance.” When people are angry all cognisance generally goes out the window. Hearing words that they don’t instantly understand just inflames the situation. Pick your words carefully. Conversely saying;
“Oh, get f*&ked you f*&king idiot,” won’t help you either, although it will be more easily understood. As such walking away is the only real way to remove yourself from the conflict and bring about a suitable resolution. Again, notate.

The worst example of a customer that you’re likely to get is the outright violent one. They’ll come into the office already in a bad mood and you’re only going to make things worse. The things to remember here may at first appear to be contradictory, but they will make sense: it’s nothing personal and they customer hates you and everything you stand for. How that works is simple, to the violent customer everything has been taken away from them. They have been reduced to almost nothing and it’s the fault of the machine, society at large. They can’t find the one person who has done this, again paranoia comes into play (it’s also not a great surprise to learn that the majority of the violent customers suffer from some form of drug addiction), thus they attack the machine. To them you are a Borg drone to their own personal Picard. You are faceless; you are not a person in any way, shape or form. You are a voice behind a counter, a desk or on the phone. You cannot help the violent customer unless you have a magic wand and can wave all their troubles away and place them down on some tropical paradise with everything they’ve ever desired. There’s only way sure fire way to deal with the violent customer: get out. Remove yourself from the situation totally. Find safety and either press the duress buttons or have a fellow staff member contact the police. Do not engage them beyond asking them to leave, and even then be wary, as asking a violent customer to leave is admitting that you’re only going to add to their problems and make their life even more miserable (the violent customer can exhibit traits of all the difficult customer/clients: anxiety, fantasist, denial – the lot). The violent customer doesn’t want to attack you personally, they want to attack the system and you are the physical manifestation of that system. Don’t be fooled though, if they are raging to the point of violence then you are in trouble unless you can handle yourself, and even then you have to be willing to lose your job and be liable for a lot of money if you dare defend yourself and injure the violent customer.

Violent customers are almost always male, but females can, and do, become violent when they need to do be. The signs that a customer is about to become violent are easy to spot; they’ll stride into the office, not walk, but stride. They’ll stand and mutter to themselves and move from side to side, foot to foot. They’ll sigh loudly and if you’re taking too long loudly say things such as;
“Oh, for f&^k’s sake, hurry up.”
“F*&king government departments.”
“How f*&king useless is this c*&t?” All the good stuff. When you serve them they’ll generally open the conversation with the words;
Now look…” or;
I’m gonna tell you something and you’re gonna shut up and listen.” Those are danger signs as the customer is taking control immediately and setting the agenda.

The violent customer will often sweat. Sweat can be due to a number of factors, from rising agitation to a drug situation. The violent drug addict is always a problem as often they will feel no pain nor will they fear any consequence of their actions. They will attack to cause maximum hurt. If you spot the violent customer sweating and become agitated then seek assistance and/or remove yourself. This can be done by admitting that you are of no use whatsoever and then going to find someone who can help. The easy was is to say the following;
“I’m not sure I’m going to be able to do a lot with this problem, it certainly is a pickle (avoid words such as ‘prickly’, because the violent customer will hear that as you calling them a ‘prick’) so what I want to do is get my manager out here and have them sort it out. I’ll be right back.” The key here is to get all of that out without allowing the violent customer to interrupt. You have taken control; this way you can safely leave the area and escalate the issues as is appropriate.

Do not attempt to engage the violent customer in a shouting match. When the violent customer begins to rage say nothing. Simply look at them and watch for signs of a physical attack. Allow them to rage out and hope that by doing this the attack will be all verbal and not physical. If you attempt to engage them in any form of an argument you will lose as the violent customer (who is always right) will lash out in a physical attack. To that end ensure that you remain standing and are at all times out of reach of the violent customer. Do not lean into their space, stand well away. Make sure you are near both your duress alarms and a suitable exit. Make sure all surfaces are free of objects that can be picked up and thrown. Get ready to duck. I have seen violent customers raging out while another staffer has placed objects such as staplers and/or pens within range. A pen to the eye can cause a lot of damage, but that should go without saying. Gently, and quietly, remove all such objects, pick them up, idly play with them and move them away when you put them down. Do not antagonise the violent customer by making a fuss of the removal of these objects as this will make a bad situation far worse than it needs to be.

Some of the violent people are fairly easy to spot in their own right. During one memorable encounter a particularly violent customer decided to announce his intentions as soon as he walked through the door. He entered the office with a baseball bat and slammed it down onto the counter with the words;
“Does that get your f*&king attention?” There was no need to state the obvious answer;
“Yes,” instead I remained calm and said;
“It’s gotten my attention but it won’t help you get any issues resolved. If you leave your bat at the door then we sort out whatever problem you might have, otherwise I’m going to have to call the police.” Amazingly enough the violent customer saw the logic in this and walked back to the door and threw his bat outside. Once we’d engaged in conversation he confided in me that he felt he’d been ignored in the past and was attempting to head off any potential problems by getting straight to the fight.

Which is also as good a time as any to bring up another valid point. When you’re dealing with a difficult customer/client you have to be aware that while you’re dealing with that person on a one-on-one basis, often for the first time, they, and to a degree you are also dealing with everyone that the customer/client has seen since they first walked through the door. Hence you’re seeing a person who might have only had good experiences; conversely you could be dealing with a person who has only had bad experiences. On the other side of the coin you’re also dealing with their perceptions on the quality of service of your organisation. A customer might come into the offices and not get the services that they believe they’re entitled to, as such you’re dealing with a refusal with reasons that either never existed, or do not correlate with the realities of the situation at the time or the present service. The history of the person that you’re dealing with will always be a factor to the service that you’re currently offering. A series of bad experiences can easily taint a person and as such make them more prone to increased anxiety and violence. Again, it’s nothing personal; you are a representative of the machine that has ground the customer down (in their own view).

The more extreme of the violent customer is the customer that explodes. This can cause more stress than a customer walking into the office screaming and slamming as the explosive customer causes surprise. The violence is sudden, intensive and powerful, the positive to all of this is that the violence usually does not last for long and the customer will more often than not show a genuine remorse for their actions and will often apologise.

Spotting the explosive, violent customer/client isn’t easy, but the warning signs are there. For a start the customer will be told answers that they don’t want to hear; they may have already stated how much they’re in debt and you have just told them that they’re incurred further debt. The explosive, violent customer will grow silent as their brain processes all of the facts being told to them. They may exhibit signs such as a whitening of the knuckles or a tight mouth. They’ll often shift from foot to foot and become more physically agitated, and will often then stand upright and move away from the counter area as if removing themselves from the area. Do not be fooled by this, they are moving away to allow themselves more room to lash out. They may look away and feign boredom; again, this is a warning sign as this is the brain processing the information given. They may ask such direct questions as;
“So, you’re saying that I’m f*&ked then?”
“Let me get this straight. You can’t do anything about this?”
“So because someone else f*&ked up, I’m going to have to pay for it?” (I expect that you're getting the hint - like others they'll shift the blame and not take responsibility) Avoid answering such questions with definite articles. Do not say either yes, or no, unless the negative (in this case the word ‘no’) is the actual case. If there has been a mistake and someone asks;
“Let me get this straight. You can’t do anything about this?” and the answer is;
“No, I can do something about it.” Then that’d be the only time to answer the direct question with a definite answer. Otherwise answer those kinds of questions with open ended answers such as;
“That’s not what I’m saying, I might not be able to assist you, but I can find someone who can.”
“Well I’d not go that far. Let’s see what we can do.” Keep calm and keep in control and you might be able to deflect the explosion from happening. Focus on what can be done, not what can't be done.

Isolate the customer from other people. Explosive customers need very small triggers when they reach the explosion stage. As such another person in a queue who might interject can see the explosive customer erupt if only because they cannot focus on two things at once. Believe it or not but they are trying to keep all their focus on what you are telling them. With another person needling away it breaks their concentration. Do not isolate the explosive customer into a room alone – if you need to take this kind of a customer into a private room always have back-up.

In short, if the customer does explode into violence then you will not be able to move for the sheer shock factor. Do not allow co-workers or anyone else bluff you with comments such as;
“Oh yeah, when they go off I just tell them to bugger off,” that doesn’t happen. The violence is sudden and brutal and will stun you into immobility. Allow the shock to rise, the sooner it is out of your body the better, keep control and again remove yourself from the situation.

We’re almost done, only a few more types to cover. The penultimate type is what I lovingly call the Badger. The Badger will come into your office, and/or phone, at least three times out of every five calendar days. It’ll be something simple that they want, they may be in line for a transfer, or for a service that has a waiting time, but they can’t go through the day without thinking that something might have happened, hence they’ll come and check anyway. They’ll phone on the days they don’t bring a physical presence into the office environment, and will often do both within a matter of hours. I have dealt with people via the phone, given them an answer, only to again see the person three hours later and give them the exactly same answer as before. The Badger likes to wear people down through attrition. Check their case notes, they’ll often be filled with complaints as they’ll complain about the standard of their service as much as other people complain about them. They want to break you down, again by sheer force of will, and force you to give into their desires. They may want a service that isn’t available, don’t be fooled, they’ll insist that you can do this and that you should.

As the Badger gets frustrated they will exhibit signs of behaviour that is consistent with other types. They will become verbally abusive. They will be explosive. They will attack. They will also become very remorseful though at the end of it all and will apologise because the last thing they want is to be banned from the office environment – after all the office is a large part of their lives. When the Badger isn’t in the office, they are phoning. They will be planning their next moves, poring over policies and agonising about the people within the office. They know people by their first names, they know them by sight. They know everyone’s direct phone number and will come into the office to phone people. It’s no use telling the Badger that a person they want isn’t available, they have two options open; they will wait it out and/or phone that person at random to see who answers the phone. You cannot ignore the Badger as they will not allow you to. They will walk past and insist that you drop everything and serve them, no matter how many people are in any given queue and no matter whom else you might be serving. The Badger demands your fullest attention because the Badger knows who you are, and the Badger knows you know exactly who they are in return. The Badger knows you are not their friend, but they know that you’re familiar with them. The Badger isn’t rude to other people intentionally; to the Badger those people do not exist hence the Badger cannot be rude. Their problems are minor and trivial next to the Badger. The Badger’s problems are major.

If the Badger is on a waiting list of any kind then the theory is that if they show up enough times then the waiting list will be eliminated because of two factors:
1. They are in the right time at the right place. They have turned up at that magical moment when the stars have aligned and they will get their service.
2. You will give them exactly what they want because you’ve become sick of seeing their face day in and day out and just want to be rid of them.
Don’t be fooled. By giving into the Badger you have given them carte blanch to go further. Say you give in and allocate the Badger with the first property you can unload. The Badger will accept it but then turn up day in and day out to complain about the neighbours, location, anything really in order to effect a transfer and begin the process all over again. Put simple the Badger has no real life outside of the complaint that they are dealing with. The Badger is content to play the waiting game for as long as you want to, because the Badger is in need of attention and by attending the office each and every day, having people say;
“Oh, hello Badger, I’ll just go and see if I can find ____,” the Badger can feel that people do know who they are and that they are considered to be important. Much the same as the Stockholm theory the Badger and yourself will eventually grow used to each other and will address each by first name only. To the Badger you are as close to a friend as they have, you give them the attention that they desperately seek and desire. Do not be fooled, the Badger doesn’t like you anymore than you like them; the Badger tolerates you as you tolerate them. It is a symbiotic relationship in the Badger’s eyes; you are assisting the Badger as much as the Badger is assisting you, no matter what the reality of the situation is.

The Sook can also pose problems. The Sook will present to you in a highly distressed state (not to be confused with someone who actually is highly distressed) and will cry, wail and throw a tantrum in order to garner some form of sympathy;
“Oh, poor dear, let’s give them what they want to cheer them up,”
Don’t be fooled, it’s all a cunning ruse. If given what they want the Sook will walk out of your office and instantly cheer up knowing that by crying they have achieved their goals. The Sook is a pain. They will hang around the office, preferable at the most visible part (read: counter/service delivery area) and will do anything and everything to ensure that they are noticed. They will use an entire box of tissues if need be. The most extreme example of the Sook is a person who will start off sniffing, move on to full blown tears and end the encounter by passing out on the floor. Again, don’t be fooled. They want you to break your organisations rules. You may assist the Sook but it might be at the cost of your own position.

And here’s the rub. If you do cave into any of these people and go against your policies then none of the people you assist will care. Better to be helping the masses than the vocal minority. The bulk of your customers will be genuine people, in need of assistance and they will appreciate it. There is an expression that surrounds any form of service delivery, ‘we reward bad behaviour’. You don’t need to believe this, nor subscribe to it. Reward good behaviour and allow the bad behaving people to go elsewhere. At the end of the day you’re offering a service. It isn’t a given that any one person will be eligible for any service you offer, so if you’re being abused for trying to help someone then make a choice; do you continue to help them and be abused for your efforts, or do you escalate the issue and move onto the next person, who will appreciate the time, effort and expertise that you’re putting in? For a lot of people the choice is a simple one. By rewarding bad behaviour you’re setting a very bad example and you enable the person to believe that their bad behaviour is the only way to obtain satisfaction and good service. A lot of the examples I’ve cited here are easily defined; they are bullies. They like to make other people’s lives miserable, generally because their own lives are miserable. The best way to beat a bully is by not sinking to their level, to rise above it all and become a better person than they are. If they choose the life of a bully then so be it; that’s their choice. It all comes down to making choices, you can choose not to serve them, you can choose not be part of their misery. Alternately, and this is an important fact to remember, the person on the other side of the counter can choose to behave and not be a bully. Service is a two way street, you offer the service, they accept. If they want to be a bully about it and abuse you then you can elect to remove that service and tell them to go elsewhere and find satisfaction. This will frustrate them. While you don’t want to become petty and humiliate the person, if you do this well then they may just see the errors of their ways and learn from it. An apology is fine, but the ultimate goal is to turn the bully into a decent person for the next time they walk through the door and ask for assistance because the next time they walk through a door you might be on the other side of the counter.

--------------------------

*AQUA: acronym standing for;
Acknowledge
Question
Understand
Answer

See previous post.

**Pumpkin: the practice of mentally altering any swear word used to the word 'pumpkin'.

See above.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Take Your Ant Out Of Your Ear

Just a quick one for now.

This guy reminded me of a cross between Bobcat Goldthwait and the character in South Park who drinks all the coffee. He came into the office all twitches and nervous tics and stood there waiting. Well, as much as a person can stand in one place bouncing up and down on each foot. When he finally got to me he asked about bond assistance. No problems there. I started to explain. No good.
"Slow down!! Slow down!!" You're going too fast." I slowed down and spoke each and every word clearly. Nope, not good enough. He cocked his head and then spoke again.
"Arrgghhhh!! I'm not a f*cking idiot man!! Go faster! I got places to go!!" I went faster. "Slow down!! You're going too fast again!!" I couldn't win. I just gave up and spoke at my normal pace. I might have practiced my Russian for what it was worth.

He needed a place to stay. After everything I explained, "You have to find a place by yourself."
"Arrrggghhhh f&ck!! Ok. Where? How??"
"Real estate agents are a good place to start."
"What's a f&cking real estate agent do?"
"They...ummm...well, they manage real estate?" It took a while but finally I got him to understand what I was saying. I gave him a list of agents and off he went.

The next morning he came back in.
"Arrrgggghhhh!!! Wjhat the f&ck are you doin' to me man??"
"I'm sorry?"
"Those places were offices!!!"
"Well, yes."
"I can't go into an office man!!!" During this exchange he kept his finger firmly in his ear, scratching as he spoke. After five minutes I asked,
"Are you alright?"
"It's me f&cking ant, man!"
"Ant?"
"I slept in a bush last night and an ant got into me ear, man. It's still there! Arrrggghhhhh!" For a second I believed him, but then thought, ant my arse, it'd be the drugs in your head pally. Still we spoke and he scratched. Then it happened.

Bugger me Ralph! He dug deep and gave a flick with a triumphant look on his face. He won the battle. He laughed and then left the office. But he left a gift - on the counter ran a shiny little black ant. Who'd have thunk it, man? I've not seen him since. Arrrgggghhhhh.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

"It Ain't Mine So I Ain't Paying It!"

I knew she'd be back in, eventually. I'd come across here previously in another office. We'd housed her for the briefest of times, months really. At no stage had she been a model tenant, quite the opposite really. In those few short months she'd not paid rent once and, even better, when she moved she amassed a huge debt because she'd trashed the place. I've seen the photos and they're amazing really. Back doors where you don't expect to find back doors, an inside door smeared with so much excreta that you'd be forgiven for thinking that it'd been repainted, standard car bodies in the yards, holes in the walls, bathroom trashed and wildlife living in the stove. She'd only left that day you can only imagine what kind of a parent allows a young child to live in such filth, filth to the point where there was a neat little pile of excreta in the corner of the child's room. "Don't use the toilet," she must have said, "I've already broken it. Crap in your room and open the window the smell gets too bad." No amount of Toilet Duck or White King was going to fix this one.

It was such a toxic waste dump that people had to go in to clean it up wearing bio hazard outfits, I kid you not. But all the time while she lived there, smearing her paste around the place, with the little girl, she had no such protection. One day someone out there will explain how people do it, but for now I'm stumped. My mother used to tan my hide for leaving a dirty plate on the floor, I think she'd have a stroke if I'd crapped in the corner and opened the window to allow for a waft or two to leak out.

She'd also been the kind of person that, if he lived next door, The Devil would have complained about the noise and behaviour. Gandhi and Buddha would have gone over and smacked her out to shut her up. The amount of complaints we got about her was staggering. Each day a new one from a new person, of course she was being persecuted, she should be allowed to have the occasional (read every day) party and be allowed to have some friends (read half of the northern suburbs Holden V8 burn out rev heads) over. Nope, it was that stupid old mole down the road and she'd spoken to her about it (read thrown several bricks at the house, a few through the window, keyed the car and threatened to kill said old lady - who had never once uttered a word about her). It went on. So, after the intervention of the Sheriff's department she left. Like I said, huge bill, high five figures. You could nearly buy a house with what she owes. But that wasn't the last we'd see of her.

We'd done the wrong thing, you see. When I first saw her she came into the office where I was located at the time and asked for assistance because, "Youse c*nts have made me and me little girl homeless." When I hear this I generally focus on the issues at hand, not what's gone on as it just ends up in a pointless argument as to who the real c*nt is (here's a hint, it generally ain't us). I gave her some forms and advised her that if she was prepared to do something about her mounting debt then we'd be able to help her. That's when the screaming really kicked in.
"I don't owe youse f*ckin' c%nts anyf^ckinthing!!" was the first salvo shot across the water.
"Well, I'm sorry to say this, but you do."
"What f*ckin' for?"
"It says here that you owe money for unpaid rent and maintenance to the house." That's me trying to be polite. Idiot, ain't I?
"What f&kin' maintenance?? Those c&nts never came to the house!!"
"Ok, let me look...(I look, but I already know the answer)...it's for damages that happened when you left."
"It ain't mine so I ain't payin' it! My boyfriend did all of that after we left." Now wasn't the time to point out that said boyfriend was sitting in another corner of the room, glaring at me, or that the damage was clearly done before she left on the day, or that we took possession (and as such the photos) not ten minutes after she'd fled the scene. Time to handball it on. I got the next person out, same deal, the next one came out and that was it for her. Upon being told that after she'd been evicted for being disruptive she wasn't going to get any assistance from us, and especially until she did something about the debt, she went nuts. Things flew, and not just the words. However the magic words, "Please leave. We have just called the police," got her and her boyfriend out of the office so fast little wisps of dust circled in their wake.

It's now become a running joke. She goes to an agency or some unsuspecting doctor, pleads poverty, abuse and homelessness, and says that we refuse to assist her. Said person then contacts us and attempts to advocate on her behalf. We then tell them what she's done and what she needs to do in order to gain assistance. The response is usually, "Oh, well she hasn't told us that," and off they go. Three days later she'll storm into an office and blast whoever she finds with her righteous rage. She gets told the same thing, she says the same swear words, tells us what heartless bastards we are for putting her and her daughter on the streets and storms out, generally throwing whatever bottle she has. She's virtually run out of agencies and doctors, so now she's going back around in the circle and approaching those that she started with. Some days she's lucky and she manages to feed some crap to some poor idiot who then calls us, or, worse yet, brings her in. Again she's told the same stuff, mainly, address the debt. Enter into an arrangement. Pay us $10 per fortnight. And again we hear the same mantra, "It ain't mine so I ain't payin' it!" The circle, while vicious, is complete with those words.

She came in again recently. I recognised her at once. Sadly for me she recognised me as well. She approached, I'd already gotten her details up on the screen (I know her off by heart now) and greeted her to be told, "What the f&ck are you smiling at?" I felt like responding, "Nothing. What's your excuse?" but bit my tongue and said, "How may I help you?" I knew the answer. The usual. The last landlord she'd had threw her out, made her homeless. She wasn't going to pay the rent on that dump because it was a dump and needed work. Now no landlord will accept her application so she had a new angle of attack. We have to speak to them (not, can we speak to them, nope it was' Youse have to speak to them') and give her a reference! I explained, "Sorry, we don't do that," to hear, "F*ckin' why f&ckin' not??"

What kind of a reference would she like? She was a tenant that never paid rent, upset two entire streets and trashed the place upon being evicted. There's your reference. It's like giving a job reference to Brendon Abbott if he wants to work for WestPac. There's no way to put a positive slant on it. I hand balled. The person I spoke to said, "You've got to be bloody joking aren't you? Are you taking the piss?" I explained that I wasn't joking and the laughter was near endless. The answer wasn't what our lovely lady wanted to hear. Same story, same abuse (most people eventually lift to a higher, more inventive level of abuse. This one is stuck on the standard 'youse f*ckin' c*nts'). She stormed out, throwing a newspaper at my head - it missed (I'm quite proud of the fact that, to date, no-one has managed to tag, or lay hands on me. Many have tried, all have missed).

I feel sorry for the little kid, but as she took a dump in our toilet (guess where it landed?) I can see that she's not house trained. No schooling, no social skills, nothing. Mind you when I mentioned all of this to a girl I know at social services she informed me that they'd not take out an intervention order to claim the child as they're loathe to remove children from their mothers (something about paperwork and the media), and anyway, they've got nowhere to put them. They speak to the mother, she promises to change her ways, cries a bit and that's all they need to hear. This is generational, more than one person has seen the steely glint in the kids eyes and knows that in another 12 years she'll be coming into the offices screaming in her own right.

So you tell me, what do we do, because I'm at a loss for an answer.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Who Listens To The Radio

Two ministers, same day, same radio station - you probably heard it at the time, or not. Make of this what you will.

Question: Mal Brough joins us now. Minister, the question of housing, you want to know where all the money has gone, how much money does the Federal Government put into public housing and why have you got concerns about it?
Answer: Well, I do. There’s been another report out this week which is called The National Shelter and it’s pointing to the fact that we do need more public housing and low cost housing options and there’s no disagreement from me about that. But having been in this portfolio for over 12 months, been to a couple of Housing Ministers’ meetings, I started to scratch the surface and discovered that over the last 10 years the Commonwealth has provided to the state governments just under $10,000,000,000 and the total public housing stock in that time around Australia has in fact reduced by 13 in total but in South Australia the situation is much more parlous. Back in 96/97 you had about 60,698 public houses, today you have 51,628, almost exactly a drop of 9,000 homes. And the only conclusion that I can come to is the State is selling those properties and not reinvesting the money in more public housing but putting it into consolidated revenue and for other purposes.

Question: The State Government explains that it’s selling the houses to pay off Housing Trust debt, a long term debt.
Answer: Extraordinary comment given that there’s something in the order of I think $60,000,000,000 worth of housing stock out there around the country and the debt to the Commonwealth for that is a little over $1,000,000,000 or thereabouts, it’s nothing. Look, I think that if you’re going to whinge and say that there’s a problem about public housing, then I don’t think there’s one South Australian outside the South Australian Labor Government that could not invest the money that’s been provided plus the rent that’s been collected and come up with more houses 10 years later, not less. I mean it’s a phenomenal outcome of economics to spend so much money and end up with fewer homes. I think that it is just economic vandalism for the people who can afford it the least who are so desperately dependent upon governments to provide low cost housing options.

Question: But Minister we’re regularly told from our State Government that the Federal Government has been starving public housing of funds and they’ve been left to try and keep the system ticking over.
Answer: Well $10,000,000,000 is hardly starving anyone and of course what they really want is they’d like to get their hands on the Commonwealth’s rental assistance money, the money that we pay directly into families’ hands to help them offset the cost of normal mainstream rental properties rather than public housing. And we will not do that under any circumstances, families depend upon that direct assistance, and of course to assist people to get off the rental market we also have the first homeowner’s grant. So when you put the three together we are making a real contribution to additional first homeowner’s real homes, people getting into their house in the form of rental assistance. But I’ve got to say the investment that we’re making with the states does not stack up when you look at the amount of money and the results that the public are getting for it.

Question: Minister how does South Australia compare in your opinion with the other states in terms of its treatment of public housing, in its retention of public housing and its sale of public housing?
Answer: It’s the worst. The only one that comes close is the Northern Territory in terms of percentages but in raw figures South Australia stands out like a sore thumb. It’s, as I said, about 16% of its total stock has gone in the last 10 years after this massive investment. Tasmania’s lost about 2,000 houses, a little under that, the ACT about 600 houses and the Northern Territory has managed to lose about 2,300 houses but South Australia are certainly the standout performer in spending money and ending up with less. It’s quite an extraordinary achievement.

Question: Jay Weatherill is the Minister for Families and Community Services and public housing is in his area. Where’s the money gone?
Answer: Well, I just can’t believe that a Federal Minister could be that spectacularly ill informed. I mean we’ve had the largest public housing stock in the nation, almost double the national average, and we’ve been starved of Commonwealth funds and punished for the fact that we’ve had such a large public housing stock, and a 31% in Commonwealth monies and a reduction in rent revenue because we’re now having to house the most neediest people in our community. So our subsidy of each individual tenant just climbs and climbs and climbs and so the housing that’s been sold has gone to basically balance the books, it’s gone straight back into the housing system and he should know that. It’s ill informed for him to suggest otherwise.

Question: Why haven’t we seen such a spectacular sell off in other states?
Answer: Because they haven’t had the same size stock.

Question: But just because we’ve got more houses doesn’t mean we need to sell them does it?
Answer: Well it does when you get starved of Commonwealth dollars. See we get punished for the fact that we have a very large public housing stock because we would otherwise be having those people in private rental attracting Commonwealth rent allowance.

Question: Well the figures that he’s released say that in 1996/97 New South Wales had public and community rental housing stocks of 133,675. We had 60,698. So in fact there’s much more public and community rental housing stock in New South Wales, as you’d expect because it’s a bigger population, but they had in real terms more buildings and they’ve managed to keep them, in fact they’ve got more, they’ve got $138,000 now whereas we are down to 51,000.
Answer: And the proportion of their total housing stock, it’s much less than ours. I mean as a proportion of our total housing stock South Australia has always been a very large proportion of that stock and we’ve been consistently punished by the Commonwealth for having that large stock and a 31% reduction. I mean, this is one of the most ill informed remarks I’ve ever heard a federal minister make. The reason why stock is being sold, and every cent of it has been reinvested into the housing system, the reason it’s been sold is simply because we don’t get enough revenue in from either the Commonwealth or our tenants because most of our tenants now, almost 90% now, are on some form of Centrelink pension. So we’re bearing a greater burden and that was a Commonwealth policy to require us to target our housing to the people in highest need. Now what we need is a Commonwealth Government that is serious about affordable housing. We’ve gone to National Housing Ministers’ Meeting time after time asking them to sit down and negotiate a national affordable housing agreement.

Question: Why do we need so many houses? Do we have more people on welfare per capita than other states?
Answer: No, but historically we have provided for low income and moderate income housing. One of the great success stories of South Australia is that we’ve actually seen public housing as more than welfare housing and we’ve gone into the areas of low income and moderate income housing and we’ve been punished for that policy. Every other state has tended to have a welfare housing authority and we’re being forced by the Commonwealth into that model and now they turn around in an act of complete cheek to say that because they’ve been punishing us and because they haven’t been funding us enough to maintain that stock and we’ve had to sell it to pay our bills that somehow they’re criticising us. I mean it is the height of effrontery for them to be levering this criticism at us. They’ve had 10 years in Government, we’ve now got an affordable housing crisis in this nation that everybody now recognises and it’s because of an abject failure by the Commonwealth Government to take an interest in affordable housing.
---------------------------------

So who is to blame? What this tells us is that we're selling off stock because we have no choice, that the Federal Government, by their own admission, is starving the state of funds designed to assist and protect people into private rental so they won't be dependant upon the state in order to survive, but then the same Federal Govt also won't free up any funds to maintain or build new stock. Where's the beef? The Commonwealth’s rental assistance money that the Federal minister talks about is the rent assistance that people are paid via Centrelink. I'm sure what people would like to see is greater assistance in that department, not that it'll happen, and eventually that'll be cut. Still the minister is the expert, he's been in the job for nearly 12 months and has gone to a couple of meetings, so by know he'd be a right Noah. As for debt, watch tonight's news. Let me tell you right here, right now, that's far from being the worst damaged house that we've had to deal with. At least that one is still standing. It'll cost us to fix that and remove the garbage, but we won't recover a cent in the long run, and that happens each and every day.

I wonder what the Federal Government would say if Adelaide were a real marginal seat. I'm expecting an announcement any day now, especially now that we're in an election period. It'll make no difference though.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Hysteria!! The Eve Of Destruction!!!

There is truth in this posting, you just have to find it. You see wading through this to discover the truth should give you an indication of what I have to do, daily, in order to find out information to pass onto people. Not easy is it? Oh, how can you answer that without having read it yet? If you did answer without reading then you're ready for membership in the Hordes Of Local Idiots...do you believe, don't you trust me?

"OH LORD!! QUICK!! HIDE THE CAT MARTHA, THE WORLD IS ENDING!!!" That's the catch cry of a few manic idiots running about the place spreading misinformation and actively inviting people to wander into our offices and demand, not ask, or speak to, but DEMAND to know the truth. The world, you see, is ending. "I see a red door and I want it painted black, no colours anymore, I want them to turn black...I see a line of cars and they're all painted black..." they scream, "THE WORLD!!! IT'S ENDING!!! THEY'RE SELLING OUR HOUSES AND WILL BE THROWING US ALL OUT ONTO THE STREETS WHERE WE'LL BE DEVOURED BY RABID SEAGULLS AND HAVE TO LIVE IN DISCARDED DOMINO PIZZA BOXES!!!"

Yeah, sure, right, whatever you say pally. I've had the misfortune of being one of the ones listening to a well known radio announcer for the past couple of weeks. A few of his listeners have been 'revealing the truth'. You see we're lying. "I WANNA SEE THE SUN BLOTTING OUT MY SKY!!" they scream, "I KNOW WHAT YOU'RE THINKING, WHAT YOU'RE THINKING IS EASY TO SEE!!!"

And it all comes down to a simple letter.

A think tank gathered and they had to make a hard choice. They decided that we have twice as many houses with half the population, so in order to make things more even we have to have half as many houses as any other state, which means we have to dump 3/4 of our stock. Personally I can't see the logic behind it, but there you go (did you know that in NSW they're reduced to buying bus tickets for people and sending them to us because they have no public housing? Or so we're led to believe - I've heard of six people who've made that claim) and who are we to argue? We're the foot-soldiers. So a letter was sent, an innocent letter, to all tenants. "MURDER FOR FREEDOM, A STAB IN THE BACK....RUN TO THE HILLS, RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!!"they shout from the rooftops, "HUNTING AND KILLING IS THE GAME...RAPING THE WOMEN AND WASTING THE MEN, THE ONLY GOOD TENANT IS TAME!!!" (seriously, I once had a guy who sang songs to me at full volume to illustrate his point, his point being...he was nuts. It worked). So what did the letter say?

It said...(in summary) "We're going to be selling some houses. We've hooked up with a well known home loan mob and a few reputable real estate agents and as such you'll get a damn good deal if you buy. If you want to buy the house you're in then call us and we'll see if it's for sale. Otherwise don't worry - we won't be selling any houses that are tenanted. Once they become empty then we're likely to sell them. However we're not selling every house we have, man, if we did that then we'd be out of business. So if you're living in one of our houses then don't worry - you can stay for as long as you want (as long as you behave and pay the rent, two things that are clearly beyond some people), we won't be throwing you out". Simple?

"NO!!!!" They're now shouting, "YOU'RE LYING!!! AND I KNOW YOU ARE!!!" Well of course you know. You know what we're thinking. You know where we live, in mansions up in the hills eating lobster and using Moet Chandon to wash our dirty socks. This is the catch cry of the Local Idiots. You see they know the truth. Well, they think they do. We've not evicted anyone to sell a house yet that didn't deserve to be evicted for either disruptive tenancy or non payment of rent. No-one has been evicted to merely free up a house for sale. Hasn't happened. Won't happen. The liars are those who keep saying it's happening. But then they know. And don't I love it. They'll come in and tell us our jobs, our policies and what we're doing, because they heard it on the radio, saw it on TV or some drunken mate of theirs told them down the pub in exchange for another pint. Then they ring someone up who has a radio show and keep the lies going. And in doing so they invite people to come to the offices and abuse the shit out of us because we're clearly in on the game. So in they come. Even when people tell them, "No, you see, you've been mislead," they still come in, screaming at the top of their lungs, "MY BLOOD’S SO MAD FEELS LIKE COAGULATIN’, I’M SITTING HERE JUST CONTEMPLATIN’, I CAN’T TWIST THE TRUTH, IT KNOWS NO REGULATION. HANDFUL OF SENATORS DON’T PASS LEGISLATION AND MARCHES ALONE CAN’T BRING INTEGRATION WHEN HUMAN RESPECT IS DISINTEGRATIN’!!!" God love 'em, because I don't. I feel looking right into their eyes and saying, "On an endless night, silver star spangled, the bells from the chapel went jingle-jangle..."

One day I will. But hey, MAINTAIN THE RAGE!!! (I like that, can I use it? Probably not) "It's a little bit funny," I tell them, but they won't listen. They keep screaming, the masses, the official Hordes Of The Local Idiots (registered trademark applied for, patent pending, copyright) and scream they do. It's all they know and it's what gives them purpose. It gives their little lives meaning. It allows them to feel important, possibly again, for at least once in their lives. We plead with them, we beg for forgiveness, "While the sun hangs in the sky and the desert has sand, while the waves crash in the sea and meet the land, while there's a wind and the stars and the rainbow, till the mountains crumble into the plain. Oh yes we'll keep on trying. Tread that fine line...just passing our time," but they refuse to hear us, so we whisper, "All we see turns to brown, as the sun burns the ground and our eyes fill with sand, as we scan this wasted land. All through the sorrow, all through our splendour, don't take offence at our innuendo," and offer our necks up to the guillotine. Strike swiftly and cleanly. It's just a kiss away. Please be gentle and make it quick.

"Are you kidding?" they ask, "You're selling our houses and forcing us to rent from real landlords." "No," we answer, "it's not true." "I CAN SEE THAT IT'S A LIE," they sing, "CHILDREN WAKE UP, HOLD YOUR MISTAKE UP!!!" they sing on the radio. And like the rain for Noah, they flood into the offices, holding crumbled pieces of paper which they slam down in front of us DEMANDING TO SEE AND SPEAK TO THE MINISTER PERSONALLY, like he works in our offices (here's a hint, he doesn't. He has his own offices). No is not an answer, it's not an option. Mercy is for the weak and they over-run us like Ebola infected monkeys with watery red eyes weeping blood. "I guess we’ll just have to adjust," we come back. "NO!!!" they roar, "WHEN THE HAMMERS BATTER DOWN THE DOOR YOU BETTER RUN LIKE HELL. YOU BETTER RUN ALL DAY AND RUN ALL NIGHT!!!" So we run. "There may well be freedom within, there may well be freedom without. There may well be a battle ahead, many battles may well be lost, but you may never see the end of the road." Damage control. Works a treat.

Damage control in this case is the pure truth. Scream all you want, you change things. Protest all you like, it's going to keep going forward. We have to sell our houses, not all of them but the majority. However, right here, right now, no house with a valid tenant in it will be sold, unless that tenant expresses interest in buying. And believe me, if you've ever wanted to buy one of our houses now is the time. The deals are so good I'm even thinking of raising some ready cash and investing. So next time some peanut says on the radio that THEY KNOW FOR A FACT what we're doing, feel free to ring in and say that you KNOW FOR A FACT THAT THEY'RE AN IDIOT and ask if they can actually read and comprehend the words that are written. There are no agendas, hidden or otherwise, there's nothing to be gained from screaming at us. Just accept what's happening, it's the new world now, meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Don't turn around, Der Kommissar's in town. "IF YOU COULD SEE, SEE THROUGH MY EYES," the bellow, "THEN YOU'D BELIEVE!!!" I think the same thing.

Look up Hannah! Look up! We all want to live by each other's happiness, not by each other's misery. We don't want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone and the earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful. But we have lost the way. Greed has poisoned men's souls - has barricaded the world with hate; has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed but we have shut ourselves in: machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical, our cleverness hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little: More than machinery we need humanity; More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost.

Can you hear me Hannah? Can you hear me? We're caught in a trap and we can't go on!!! Oh the horror!! Get them under the bed, now!! Oh, the gnu!!! The gnu that cries buckets of tears, enough tears to irrigate the western world!!! Can you hear me?? See the great white star over Coke Park. The budgies fly burning from napalm attacks!! Hey now, hey now, don't let them win!! Oh Lord!!! This must be just like living in paradise and I don't wanna go home...the second coming of Ian Dury is upon us!!! He'll save us, he'll protect us from the evil Anti-Elvis!! The planes fly low and attack with a speed and violence that makes resistance futile. Who are you and where are we? Boys keep swinging, boys can work it out!!! And I can see those fighter planes, I can see those fighter planes. Across the tin roof where the children sleep. I never said I'm better, better than you. Elvis Costello is joining the Armed Forces!! I'm a red hot pistol and I'm ready to fight. I'm a 38 special on a Saturday night. Alan Moore knows the score!!! Ask him about your house. Ready! Set! Go! Look up Hannah! Look up! The clouds are lifting - the sun is breaking through. We are coming out of the darkness into the light. We are coming into a new world.

Take your baby by the hair and pull her close and there there there. Take your baby by the ears and play upon her darkest fears, tell her that her house is for sale...but don't worry baby, everything will turn out alright...love me, love me, love me, say you do, let me fly away with you....we fade to grey...

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Shifting Goalposts

The past few weeks have been damn hard and it's becoming a serious effort to deal with the new rules and the resulting shift in the goalposts. It's very, very complicated, but here's one of the issues that now face us - as if we needed anymore grief. I swear at times that people who sit making these new policies have no regard at all for the front line people. The policy makers haven't done our job for years (if at all) and as such they've forgotten how difficult it can be. They remember another, easier and simpler time than it is now, a time without screaming, knives, death threats, general hate and confusion as what you were told two weeks ago might not apply this week.

Yesterday I was told that more people hate us now than the dole office. That's low because they're right bastards.

So the goalposts. Answer me this - how do you define a homeless person? A person without a fixed abode perhaps? A squatter? Someone who sleeps in their car? On the streets? In a box? How about one out of that group. You see the new Government policy is that to be truly homeless you have to be without a home and sleeping on a bench. The following are no longer to be considered homeless:
Sleeping in a car - you have a safe, secure place to sleep and a roof.
Sleeping in a tent - see above.
Squatting - illegal, but see above.
Sleeping in an abandoned building (site or otherwise). See above.
Sleeping in a sturdy cardboard box. See above.
Going from home to home (family and/or friends, abusers) sleeping on couches, floors or bathtubs. See above.
Sleeping in shelters such as homeless shelter and/or medical shelters. See above.

And you get the drift. You're only homeless now if you sleep on a bench out in the open. People come to us who are genuinely homeless and we can't assist them. We take an application and register it and even though they're homeless they fall into the general category. Perversely refugees and drug addicts (the bulk of whom are housed, have money and resources) all fall into the urgent need categories - and if you can work that out then I'd love to hear the explanation (I once assessed a family of four who were getting over $1,200 a week in government payments who were automatically deemed by the system to be in dire need of housing as they can't afford it. They make more than most people make in a fortnight who work 75 hours of back breaking labour). It's only recently that we stopped re-housing people we evicted for harassing their neighbours or simply not paying their rent - however that might change on a whim. Luckily domestic violence is untouched, for now. If you're a victim of DV then we'll bend over backwards to help. The flip side? Getting thrown out of house and home by an abusive husband doesn't cut any mustard - unless he bashed you and is stalking you. Just getting kicked to the streets, especially if a chum takes pity, means you're not homeless. I had a guy in this week who told me he'd be better off back in prison because at least there he gets 'four hot and a cot'. I couldn't agree with him out loud, but inside of me a voice was saying, "Mate, you're probably right".

This is designed to save money in the long run, because clearly we were giving too much away to those in need, both property and financial assistance. Never mind that nearly $4,000,000 was wasted in five months on a new computer system that was scrapped without any benefit, that's fine. But we can't keep wasting nearly half that amount each year on those who might need it.

At the end of the day it boils down to this: we have twice as many public houses as any other state in Australia with half the population. Instead of seeing this as a good thing some minister somewhere has decided that it's not right and as such we eventually have to have half as many houses as any other state - which means eventually losing 3/4 of the stock we have. That means that people who might need a house might never get near one, unless they walk past one. As houses now become empty they're being offered for sale - get in as the bargains are good and the deals/offers you'll get are brilliant. That's the only bonus. However in about five to ten years from now public housing as we now know it in this state will cease to exist.

The goalposts shift almost daily now. If what I'm expecting to happen, happens, then expect a lot more abuse and problems as people come in and discover that they're not defined as what they clearly are. Me? I do wonder where our duty of care went. I guess it went out the windows a while back, along with compassion.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Communication Breakdown

At times I do wonder about budget cuts and what they spell for society as a whole, especially in the field of mental health. It seems that each and every major hospital and facility for mental health care has been either closed outright or funding has been cut to the point where services just can't be offered. We see the results each and every day as people come into the offices wanting housing. Frankly they often can't find anything suitable because they're unable to look after themselves in the general community. Often they're nice people who just need someone around to prompt them to take their medication - when those people aren't there the results can, at times, be fatal.

Makes me weep. Seriously.

As we're the front line and an essential service we see and deal with them daily. Those dealings are not always the nicest and there are triggers that you begin to see more clearly. There's people that'll say they used to be housed in a certain ward of a hospital - once they say a name you know where it's going to lead. This week contained a classic example.

The customer walked in, slightly unsteady on his feet and looking rough. He had half a 1.25lt bottle that might have contained Coke that he kept swigging from. Who knows what was in there? Eyes like crushed Jaffas and the smell was fairly intense. I was on shift with a female colleague and I drew him as a short straw. Truth be known there's times I'll manipulate the line so I can get the difficult ones as they're less likely to yell at a big guy than a petite girl. Doesn't always work that way though. So up he walked.
CUST: "I'm gonna tell you something and I want you to shut up and just listen."
ME: "Ok then."
CUST: "I said shut up and listen!!" (pause) "Well?" By now I was fearing a discussion on the level of Monty Python's famous argument but I bit anyway.
ME: "Sure."
CUST: "Good! You f&cking, I was in John Knot House* for five years. Five f&cking years you guys had me there and I had to pay $200 a week for a room with a sink and a bed in it and no window and then they threw me out and I ended up in a f&cking place, the f&cking Aragorn House** and they kicked me out last week and I had to spend $100 a week for those and there was no sink and I've had my name down for housing (that's right - he didn't draw much in the way of breath) for eighty f&cking years and I want that five and a half years of rent back paid to me now, by you, right now."
ME: "I'm sorry to hear that but I can tell you right now we won't be paying that back rent. That's not what we do. I'd like to help you though..."
CUST: "You f&cking white c%nt!! Look, my people were here before yours were and I'm going to be running this place within five years and I'm going to kill all the politicians and all you white c%nts will be crushed beneath my feet into the ground. I'm going to live for a thousand f&cking years!!"
ME: "Look, I don't have to listen to this abuse. If there's something I can help you with then I will, otherwise you'll have to leave."
CUST: "Get me a supervisor!"
ME: "No. They're going to tell you exactly the same. We're not going to give you that money. That's it."
CUST: "IT'S MY F&CKING MONEY!!! YOU PUT ME IN THERE!!!"
ME: "Stop yelling. We didn't put you anywhere. And it may very well have been your money, but we're not going to repay it. We don't work that way."
CUST: (by now he's stamping his feet and slamming his hands on the counter) "GIVE ME THE F&CKING MONEY OR ELSE YOU WHITE C%NT!!!"
ME: "That's quite enough of that. Leave or I'll call the police."
CUST: "Call them! Call them!!! White c%nts! I'll kill them all! I've had enough of you you f&cking white c%nt! I'll kill you and all your family! I'm going to live for five thousand years and I'll stomp your bones into dust beneath my feet as I walk upon this nation and rule the Earth!!! I'll kill..."
ME: "That's it. Leave. Now. This is your last chance before I make the call." For dramatic effect I picked up the phone.
CUST: "F&cking white coward c%nt!" With that he threw the bottle, slammed the door and left. Bottle fell short of the mark, missed me by a country mile. Mind you I wonder if he'd call me a coward if there wasn't a big counter separating us? I'd love to see what he does in a bank. For the record he looked whiter than me but there you go. That's a conversation seared into my mind.

Our big boss came running out, just in time to miss the whole event as happens. "Everything alright?" he asked. I felt like saying, "No, everything is far from alright," but this is a guy who believes these things don't happen because we don't file as many reports about them. Why don't we file the reports? Because nothing happens with them, because he believes the incidents don't happen all that much. Vicious circle time. So, shaking a bit, I went and served the next person and the next one after that and so on for the remainder of the afternoon. After all, I'm a big guy, I can take it (that's the general attitude in the office - and people wonder why I snap at times and yell at them out the back when they add to our stresses).

I filed a report eventually. Our middle level manager is right behind us and wants the reports done so she can throw them all at the big boss. I can't help but feel that it'll have no effect. Nothing will be done about our personal security until someone gets seriously assaulted. Me? I was looking over my shoulder walking home that night and I'm now again looking at options of other employment, only this time I'm deadly serious. That's one death threat too many for my liking.

So whoever controls the funding for places like John Knot House and the Aragorn, thanks a lot. Perhaps you want to come to where I work and work the counter one day and see the results of your handiwork. Perhaps I'll send them all to your office and say, "Your money is with that guy there." Won't happen though as people in high places never get their hands dirty. They're happy to just tell people what's happening to them in the workplace with no idea of the reality.

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*John Knot House - not it's real name - sends chills up my spine. My alert level was about 6 out of ten when he walked in. Say John Knot House to me and my alerts hit ten instantly. John Knot House is a high-security mental health facility where people with serious social issues and criminal behaviour are housed, or used to be. It provides assessment for people referred by the courts and psychiatric treatment when required for people who have been released from custody. It's a hell hole of a place - something I've learnt from listening to people who've been there. In 2005 it was revealed that some people pretend to be ill just to get in there in order to rape and steal from those who are in genuine need within the facility - something that has been denied by various politicians who've probably never gone to the place. So when someone mentions they spent a lengthy amount of time there I'm on full systems go alert.

**Aragorn House - also not the real name - is a halfway house for those who can't find housing anywhere. Again, mainly for those who've been released from prison or have serious social issues. Again, the stories we hear about the crime levels within the walls of The House are amazing. Assault, rape, theft, drugs - you name it, it was happening, but again no-one would admit to it in the higher places.

The House is about to be emptied - releasing more people into the general public - and rebuilt. This means around 30 to 40 people who have serious social problems are now back into the general public. Not a great issue you might think, but guess who has to house them now that every other boarding house has said they don't want them and they can't find private rental? And guess what houses we're going to be using? Don't be yelling at us when your new neighbour moves in.