When I first read about Karen Flynn, the optician who started the Vision Services program at Project Homeless Connect, in the San Francisco Chronicle, I thought, “Homeless people needing glasses? What the hell do I care?” Then I realized, “Hey, I have some leftover frame inventory. Maybe I could get a tax write-off!” I know, selfish and self-centered. I’m embarrassed to share this, but read on. There’s a reason I’m opening up to you.

When I met Karen, she declined the frames (there goes the tax write-off) but somehow got me to promise to volunteer at an upcoming event. Yeesh! “Great. Homeless people,” I thought. “Dirty, stinky, drunk, stoned, criminal, food-stamp, welfare, homeless people. What the hell did I get myself into?”

I was like many of you: too lazy to get involved. Prejudiced. Wrapped up in my own life. But something extraordinary happened to me that first day at PHC over 10 years ago. I was transformed! I gotta tell ya, it is an incredible feeling when you let go of all those false perceptions, once you admit to yourself you were a complete ass for thinking that way and embrace the reality. After my first event, I went home and wept.

I’m going to share two observations from my time so far with PHC:

1. At every PHC Vision event, the participants (and I mean 95 percent of them) were the epitome of graciousness and gratefulness. We were meeting pure need. And they were grateful to the nth degree!

2. During the same time span, I observed on social media how ECPs were troubled by some of their well-to-do, self-important, entitled clientele. Patients made some pretty unreasonable demands and it made these ECPs anxious, upset and angry. One would think well-educated, successful people would be gracious and grateful. Ah, the reality versus the perception.

These troubled ECPs would go on social media, asking for advice on how to handle these situations. The responses, though well-meaning, only threw gasoline on fiery situations, or else subjugated the ECP to these unreasonable customers. Well, if you ask for free advice, I guess you get what you pay for.

Y’see, we first have to understand the challenge. This type of customer neither appreciates nor respects:

  • You
  • Your expertise (they don’t think expertise is involved)
  • The time and work it takes to make a pair of glasses (from fitting, to measurements, to fabricating, etc.)
  • Their vision (they take being able to see for granted)
  • And a lot more besides, but this is enough to make my point: Overcome all these things with a customer who’s in your face, demanding something ludicrous. You’re on the spot. You have 10 seconds. Ready? Go!

Yeah, pretty hard to do if you don’t know the secret.

The “secret” is this: Go and volunteer your talents to those less fortunate in your community and listen to them. Listen to their stories. Let their appreciation soak in. Do this a few times and I can almost guarantee that when your pain-in-the-ass, entitled customer comes in ranting, you will be awash in self-confidence, knowing what’s really important. There is this calm that now comes over you. You will astound yourself at your ability to handle this in the future.


This article originally appeared in the July-August 2017 edition of INVISION.

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