The Unexpected Defines You

Last week I decided to buy a couch for my office. Clients drop by fairly often for meetings and brainstorming sessions, and these old pine kitchen table chairs clearly aren’t treating their spines kindly. I didn’t want to be extravagant, though, so I logged into, expecting, well, not expecting much.

I was surprised to find a couch on the website that I really liked. Even more surprising was the fact that it was very affordable (I’m very well known for my champagne tastes and beer budget). So I headed down to the local outlet to feel it up and see if I liked it as much in person.

It turns out that there’s not much room at the local Brick, and the floorspace they do have seems to be dedicated to their catalogue’s most exquisitely grotesque wares. The salesman I talked to explained that they’d never even actually sold the couch I was interested in and he therefore couldn’t attest to the feel of the fabric, nor its colour in late daylight versus dawn, nor the loft of its cushions, no matter how many times I asked about these important details.

I decided that this man has the hardest job in the world: selling something he knows nothing about.

Chagrined, I asked him for the name of the manufacturer (Dynasty) and headed home. Online, I discovered that the couch was actually made in Calgary and so placed a call to their head office.

Again, my expectations were low. I fully expected that whatever over-worked, underpaid receptionist I ended up asking my rather exhaustive questions of would just get me off the line as quick as she could.

“Hello, Dynasty Furniture, how can I direct your call?”

Sigh… here goes nothin’…

“Hi, I’m calling from Whitehorse where a Brick store sells your couches but doesn’t stock any, so I don’t really know what they’re like. I’m interested in buying one, and I’d like to ask someone about the feel of the fabric, what it’s like to sit on, and how it displays in different lights.”

This was the part where I expected this poor, bored person to accidentally hang up after not-so-subtly whispering, “freak,” under her breath. That’s what I’d experienced with most phone calls of this sort, anyway.

Instead, the receptionist at Dynasty said this: “Hm. That’s an unusual request. It sounds like you should speak to one of our designers. Hold on while I put you through.”

I was stunned. And excited.

A few seconds later a woman with a thick Spanish accent came on the line.

“Hello? You want to talk to me?” She seemed surprised that anyone might care about what she had to say.

“Yes, hi,” I responded. “I’m interested in a couch at the Brick called the Austin. But I can’t see it or feel it, so I’m wondering if you’ll describe it to me.”

And she did. In wondrous, elaborate, inspired detail for 20 minutes. When she finished, I knew not only exactly what the fabric felt like, or how the cushions would react to my son leaping onto them, or how the colour would display at dawn’s first light, then high noon, then evening’s tungsten, I knew about the very essence of this couch. And I was in love with the thing.

I went down to the Brick and ordered one.

Based on the initial tone of their voices, I’m assuming that the people at Dynasty probably didn’t receive a lot of calls like mine. They didn’t expect it. They weren’t trained for it. But they handled it. They didn’t have to, though, especially not for a crummy $500 couch.

But the two people I spoke to were exemplary in the way that they handled something that they didn’t even see coming. They handled an unusual request with commendable aplomb. And, as a result, a sale occurred. And, however small, that sale mattered.

This is what defined them, and it’s what defines us all: how we respond to the unexpected. Do we respond to it with positivity, and embrace it, or do we try to swat it down like a malicious insect?

It is in how we respond to what we don’t expect that we find ourselves. It’s not just businesses that need to understand this, but each of us as individuals.

By the way, the couch is awesome. It’s everything the Spanish designer described to me, and more.