Have you ever had a customer service experience that was so bad you still can recall it years after the fact? I had one such incident that occurred in 1990, when I was seven, and I still remember every detail.
I was at a waterpark. Being an only-child for most of my life, I’d pretty much learned to play by myself. I was happily sliding and having tons of fun, like any average kid would do. It was a slow day at the park – I remember there weren’t a lot of people there and not really any lines.
All of the slides were open that day, including the fabled tube slide that I’d only learned to tackle at the beginning of that visit. I was smart enough to know that if it was closed, they’d put up a chain with a closed sign. I had actually seen them do this earlier when the lifeguard went on break. Of course, I knew that you never, ever break through a closed sign.
I grabbed my mat and headed for the tube. There was no sign or chain, so I went along my merry way, climbing to the top of the winding staircase.
As I reached the top, I started putting my mat down on the tube. Ready, ready, ready… I started climbing aboard the tube. Ready, ready, oh, this is gonna be fun!
“What are you, deaf or something!!!!!!!!!!?”
My heart sank. I looked over the railing.
“Don’t go down! Are you deaf!?”
That was the first thing I heard.
One of the lifeguards was standing below was screaming at me, telling me to not go down because there wasn’t a lifeguard at the top of the slide.
It took me a good 30 seconds. ‘Are you deaf?,’ rang in my mind.
Yes, actually I was.
I probably didn’t know it at the time, but turns out I had a pretty profound hearing loss from having ear infections as a child. It was so bad, in fact, I had to have surgery to correct it. I had not heard the lifeguard yelling at me from below.
I moved slowly down the stairs, dragging my mat alongside me. I walked past the lifeguards, refusing the bring my head up from the ground. I didn’t tell my mom because I was horrifically afraid of getting into trouble. I was terrified, actually. I only told her that I was ready to leave.
I don’t know how I remembered it, but years later it dawned on me what had happened. The teenage lifeguards had essentially bullied a 7-year old girl for having actual physical hearing loss.
Point to the story: never, ever joke about someone you don’t know being deaf (or having any other disability, for that matter) because you never know when that very well may be the case.