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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 8 (November 1, 1934)

“What Can I Do For You?”

page 5

“What Can I Do For You?”

For those in trouble of any-kind, the sweetest music is in the simple query, “What can I do for you?”, from someone who shews real interest and knows how to do things.

Railwaymen of all occupations have many opportunities for using this phrase not only to those who occasionally rather timidly ask for advice to solve some minor transport problem, but to those who are obviously in some difficulty (particularly women and children, or sick or elderly people) about such things as luggage, or train location or telegram despatch, or any other of the temporary trials that confront, occasionally, even experienced travellers when in unfamiliar surroundings. It is worth remembering that there are always some passengers to whom a trip by train is something of a novelty. These do not know “the run of the ropes” and are liable to some confusion, due to strange surroundings, that may appear almost foolish to men who are daily about stations and handling trains. In these circumstances heartfelt thanks go out to the official who will see the need, and lend a helping hand.

Help of this kind is appreciated in proportion to the anxiety or distress of the person concerned. It will probably be talked about afterwards to friends and acquaintances, and in some some cases it is remembered for years as among the brighter incidents of personal history. The employee concerned is a distinct asset to the organisation for which he works, for the reputations of firms are built almost entirely upon the actions and attitudes of their personnel. “What can I do for you?” is the opposite of that other outlook summed up in the piquant American phrase “Passing the Buck.” Whatever the buck may be, to “pass” it means to shrug off any trouble or work or responsibility from yourself by referring enquirers to some other person or place. Dickens touched on this side of life in his reference to the “circumlocution office.” It is a time-wasting, tiresome and annoying system that ends up by making work harder and less pleasant for everyone concerned, and it is the deadly enemy of business organisation.

Of course when you enter a shop and the salesman asks what he can do for you, the position is somewhat different. As the buyer you are in the position of power, not of difficulty. Even here the nature of the courtesy extended by the staff has quite as much to do with success in selling as the price. But when service is being sold, as in transport of any kind, the respective positions of buyer and seller are not so tangible. The passenger buys a ticket through a grille from a person whom he scarcely sees. After that there is no visible exchange between the passenger and the large number of employees who are rendering service for the price paid on the ticket. The passenger's ticket entitles him to courteous consideration in every reasonable way from the porter who handles his luggage, the guard who punches his ticket, the driver and fireman who control the train movements, the waitress at the refreshment room, the car-attendant, the bookstall agent, the ticket inspector, and any member of any station staff where the train may stop on its journey. This looks like a large transport recipe, but it is essential to the making of a thoroughly good railway transport pudding; and as Christmas will be with us soon, some thought to the ingredients that make for happiness by rail appears to be timely.