June 19, 2012
In 168 BC the Greek ruler, Antiochus led an attack on Egypt. Before reaching Alexandria, his path was blocked by a Roman envoy, who delivered a message from the Roman Senate directing Antiochus to withdraw his armies from Egypt and Cyprus, or consider themselves in a state of war with the Roman Republic.
Antiochus said he would discuss it with his council, whereupon the Roman ambassador instructed a soldier to draw a line in the sand around Antiochus and said, “Before you cross this circle I want you to give me a reply for the Roman Senate” – implying that Rome would declare war if the Greek ruler stepped out of the circle without committing to leave Egypt immediately. Weighing his options, Antiochus wisely chose to withdraw.
The above story recounts the origin of the “line in the sand” metaphor depicting confrontation, adversarilism, and an ultimatum. And, while this conflict took place more than 2,000 years ago, similar showdowns between service providers and customers occur daily in a variety of forms. Here’s one particularly egregious example from a disillusioned supermarket employee.
Customers are not the enemy. Instead of fostering an adversarial service culture by refusing to make exceptions, admonishing customers, reacting defensively, and enforcing customer-unfriendly policies, service providers should embrace customers for who they really are: the source of their incomes, group health insurance, and retirement nest eggs. (Don’t kid yourself. All of these benefits—in addition to the last pair of shoes you purchased for yourself or your child—were made possible by your customers’ spending.)
The next time you detect a line in the sand between you and your customers, consider inviting them across. That way, you can be on the same side.