Sometimes a rental has nothing to do with the tools
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I was shelving a chipping hammer the other day when I noticed an elderly customer enter the rental center. As I approached to greet him I noticed him looking around with a soft nervousness and looking down to a few pieces of plastic tubing in hands. I asked him how his day was. “Fine” he said, “I need to empty a water bed.”
No problem. I thought a waterbed pump and a garden hose should do the trick and it would be a rare opportunity to jokingly welcome him to the 21st century.
Before I had the chance, he told me his wife had worked in waterbed sales and traditionally she had been the one to maintain and empty the bed when needed. I had a feeling right then it probably wasn’t the greatest time to kid around.
I told the customer we had just the tools he needed to get the job done, a waterbed pump and a garden hose, and gave him a brief run down on how they worked. He presented the small pieces of plastic tubing I had noticed when he arrived.
“I think I have to use these. If I remember correctly my wife used them to fill it, but I can’t remember if I need them to empty it,” he said.
I couldn’t imagine how he would use them, and told him we have had great feedback on the option I had presented to him.
I brought the pump and hose down, and could immediately see an intimidated look in his eye. He told me again, “I’ve never done this before. My wife used to do this, but she passed away.”
At that point I got the sense that his questions didn’t have so much to do with the equipment, but more to do with facing loss. I gave him my condolences and explained the process again, but he kept asking the same questions over again for about 15 minutes.
“So this won’t splash,” he asked. “Which end goes into the hose? Do I need these plastic pieces? You see I’ve never done this before. How is it primed again?”
“You just have to submerge this end here and turn it on,” I said.
Each time he asked the same question it was like he was asking something else or telling a different story, like he was saying, “My wife did this, but she is gone now and I’m sad. I’m scared to do this alone.”
I couldn’t imagine the loss he felt. I assured him the job could be done and he didn’t have to worry.
He decided he would give it a go and I took him to the counter to fill out a rental contract, fielding more questions about the pump and hose. After the papers were signed, I asked if he would like one more run down on the equipment, which he immediately accepted, only this time I asked him to explain the process to me.
After perfectly describing how the tools worked, I told him he knew exactly what to do and offered to help him out to his car with the pump and hose. As we were walking out the door he turned to me and said, “You know I really am horrified. This is the first time I’m doing this without my wife who passed away.”
“I‘m sorry for your loss. This must be scary for you,” I said.
“It is,” he said.
“Well, after hearing you explain how the tools work, I’m confident you know what you are doing and think you’ll be OK,” I told him.
The customer looked at me and smiled for the first time since entering the center and offered his hand for a shake.
“Thank you,” he said. “I really appreciate the time you’ve taken to help me. I guess we’ll see how it goes.”
I wished him luck as he got into his car and headed back into the center.
Walking back up to the counter, a co-worker who had noticed the rental thanked me for talking to the customer and said it must have taken a lot of patience.
I guess it did but it also felt like I wasn’t answering the same question over and over again. I was helping someone take steps towards conquering a fear. He had a deep emotional connection to the job and came to us to find a solution to complete it.
When the customer returned the pump the next day, he seemed to stand a little taller, as though a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. He said there was no problem and thanked us again for helping him out with the rental.
I was left with a feeling of satisfaction and reflection. I thought about how easy it is in this industry to not know or forget that customers are not just in our centers renting tools. Customers are in our centers to complete goals, build businesses, conquer fears and overcome personal challenges.
The actual tools we rent can be a small or large part of the customers’ overall picture and goal, but the knowledge, patience and service we provide can have a huge impact on them and create long-lasting impressions in our community and with our customers.
Sometimes it isn’t about the tools at all.
Andrew Hunter is a former rental counter staff member.