By Jen Jackson Quintano
We received our first negative review recently. It came from someone we’ve never even met, let alone worked for. It came from someone disappointed in our inability to look at his trees. We were too busy, and there are consequences for that.
This brings up two things for me: 1.) Sandpoint’s opportunities for business are outpacing its current workforce; and, 2.) small businesses live and die by the Google review.
Let me start with the latter point.
As with any form of social media, online reviews have the ability to be helpful but they also allow folks to say things they might never say to another person’s face. The internet is quite literally a screen behind which people hide yet wield great power. It calls to mind The Wizard of Oz: “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain! The Great Oz has spoken!” We have these elaborate online personas, but behind the curtain, we’re all just conmen from Nebraska.
(Random fact: Did you know the name of the man feigning to be the Wizard of Oz was Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkle Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs? Oz came from his first two initials.)
Here are a few fun missives from the wizards of feedback:
A reviewer of a local, longtime retail establishment writes, “[P]eople were slow mentally physically fat out of shape, I can say more, do I really need to? Disgrace. Close down.” Is that helpful? No. Could the grammar and punctuation improve? Yes.
A local restaurant was told, “Get rid of the cashier, she creates MOST of the problems. Sorry lady, but you do!” How about addressing the problems instead of the person?
Another local restaurant was given a one-star review because, “They promised ocean views.” Sir, I give you a one-star review for your shaky grasp on geography.
This publication was called a “left wing liberal fake news paper,” though, I guess that’s not a shocker. Can we use it in the masthead?
As Reader Publisher Ben Olson has previously admonished, please just be kind to one another, OK? Be patient. Let’s try really hard, despite our recent rapid growth, to be a community — a cohesive, connected, supportive one. If you take issue with a local establishment, maybe talk it over with management before shouting your frustration from the electronic rooftops.
Many other negative reviews of local businesses are pandemic-related — people pissed about the abundance or lack of masks — but most others relate to timely service. Either the lines are too long, the wait for food untenable or, as with us, the schedule for services too booked.
This brings me to my second point about supply and demand in Sandpoint. Currently, there is a greater demand for services than there is a supply of available providers. Admittedly, this is a bummer for most residents. In the age of Amazon deliveries, on-demand television and fully stocked box stores, we’ve come to expect to get what we want when we want it.
Yes, it’s annoying to have to schedule a haircut a month or two out. Yes, it sucks to go to my favorite restaurant and find a 45-minute wait any night of the week. Yes, it’s lame to not get a prompt return call from a service provider. But, holy cow, Sandpoint, that’s a growth spurt you’re going through! And such epic growth is attended by growing pains (just ask me; I hit six feet tall by middle school).
Most of us in the service sector are doing the best we can with limited resources. Have you noticed all the “Now Hiring” signs around town? Help is not easy to come by. We are fortunate to have two amazing employees, but we could probably hire another three people and run a second crew… if there was a competent pool of help to draw from and if we wanted to add further management responsibilities. Neither is true, so the four of us plug away as best we can, trying to hold boundaries around family time and recuperative breaks for our bodies. Our summer was scheduled out before it even began.
I will admit, though, that the busier we get the less time I have to devote to the personal touches that make a business special. I used to engage in more conversation with clients. I used to be able to text with them and answer basic tree-health questions. I used to send lengthier emails or swap pictures of kids and dogs or offer to pick excess fruit from overburdened trees. I don’t have time for much of that anymore.
These days, I feel a bit more like a robot than a warm and generous human. I answer calls, send estimates and invoices, run noisy machines and stick to the basics of service. To do more would push my already burgeoning working hours beyond acceptable limits.
In that regard, I understand the negative reviews that occasionally come our way as area business owners. Most of us here are stretched thin, and customers often bear the brunt of that. We can only do our best, and often our best isn’t perfect.
A longtime local recently called us and when she heard that we were booking several months out, she pleaded, “Can’t you hold just one day a week open for locals?” I get it. Once upon a time, not too long ago, there weren’t lines for everything here in Sandpoint. Just a few years back, a client could call us and be assured of service within a week or two. We were keeping up with demand. No longer. Now our voicemail is overflowing with recent transplants looking for tree help (as a result, I recognize waaaay more California area codes than I ever did before) and locals accustomed to quick service are left hanging.
So, amid this Sandpoint-area supply-and-demand conundrum, what’s a person to do? Again, I return to the admonishments to be kind and patient. Be a cohesive community, even if our bonds are stretching thin from so much goddamn growth.
As business owners, we can embrace the fact that we won’t please everyone all of the time. And with those customers who we do have time for, we can try to remember to be warm and empathetic, not just workaholic automatons.
As customers we can embrace the fact that, until Sandpoint’s workforce catches up with its population, we’re all going to do some waiting. We can fill that time with a new hobby. Maybe meditation or crossword puzzles. Or maybe reading Google reviews for fun, shaking our heads at all the Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkle Emmannuel Ambroise Diggses out there, ruling the Land of Review from behind the anonymizing curtain.
Jen Jackson Quintano writes and runs an arborist business with her husband in Sandpoint. Find their website at sandcreektreeservice.com. See more of Quintano’s writing at jenjacksonquintano.com.
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