Things That Really Happened Along The Way: I Can Hear You
Saturday, June 3rd is The Velvet Note’s Fifth Anniversary. You can attend our celebration by making a reservation at http://thevelvetnote.com/fifth-anniversary.
I CAN HEAR YOU
In March of 2014, I picked up the telephone, as I do a hundred times a day.
“Good Morning, The Velvet Note.”
There was a woman on the other end of line. She was crying. Actually, she was transitioning from the twangy cry to the ugly cry and she was completely incoherent.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, I cannot understand you. Just …try and calm down and tell me how I can help.”
“Can you hear me?” she pushed through the tears.
“I can hear you. What’s the matter?” I asked.
The woman explained that she had just heard that Diane Schuur would be performing at The Velvet Note and she had tried to buy tickets, but they were all sold out. She simply must attend the show.
I rolled my eyes. Seriously, Lady? Such drama. “Um…yes ma’am. We are definitely sold out. I wish I could create a seat, but I can’t. Perhaps you can see Diane another time.”
“No, you don’t understand,” she said. “We grew up together. We have been friends for most of our lives. I love her dearly. I rarely get out of Georgia these days because it’s hard for me to travel now. This is the first time she’s been here. I need to come to this concert. It would literally break my heart if I missed her.”
Now, I had heard lots of reasons why people needed me to create seats that didn’t exist. Anniversary, birthday, getting out of the doghouse….I didn’t know whether to believe her or not. I explained to her that we simply couldn’t do it, and there was only one night of shows. “What if I could get her to do a second night?” she asked.
“Um….I don’t mean to be rude, but I don’t think that’s likely to happen.” We had been lucky to get the first night. “However, I will make you a deal: You get Diane Schuur to perform for a second night at The Velvet Note and I will GIVE you your seat for free. Just have her management call me.”
That oughtta call your bluff, Ms. Crazy Crying Lady.
I really have to hire a service to answer these calls, I thought. I now understand why there’s no jazz owner in the country who picks up their own phone. I thought of all the additional hours I could recover each day if I only returned messages. I started looking on the internet for answering services we could afford. I found one, and reached for the phone. It began ringing before I could dial.
“This is Deedles!” she bubbled over.
“Deed…? Hello…what? Ms. Schuur?” Everyone in jazz knew that “Deedles” was Diane Schuur’s nickname.
“Yes, honey, and I am so glad you answered your phone. I’m in the airport and I only have a second to talk, but I understand that my friend has been trying to get seats to my show at your place and she can’t get in.
“Um….yes ma’am. That’s correct. Apparently, you’re quite the legendary celebrity, or something like that.” She chuckled. Whew, boy was I glad she had a sense of humor. “I am pleased to report that there are no more seats left in your show.” While talking, I had stood up and begun looking around the room for hidden cameras. Surely I was being punked for entertainment purposes.
“Well, what if I called Nick over at the agency and told him to add a second night. I have the next day off. Would that work?”
“Yes ma’am. We would be honored to have you for a second night.
“Good then. It’s all settled. Expect his call. I look forward to meeting you. Goodbye!”
I wasn’t sure what had just happened, but I was pretty sure it would never have happened if I hadn’t answered the phone. And yes, we got Diane Schuur for a second night and The Crazy Crying Lady was on the front row with tears in her eyes and a huge smile on her face.
Back in the Green Room, Diane told me that she had gotten a bit nervous for the first time in a very long time, because the audience was so close to the stage.
“But how do you know we’re so close? You can’t see us.” I asked. (Diane Schuur is blind).
And then, the Legendary Diane Schuur reached out her hand placed it on my chest. “I can hear you.” she said.
I threw away the number to the answering service, and I’ve never looked at it again. Over the years, many of you have thanked me for answering the phone personally, and I want you to know that it’s my pleasure. Truly. Thank you for letting me hear you. I hear your compliments and your complaints. I hear your excitement and anticipation. I hear about your first dates and blind dates and 30th anniversary celebrations. I hear you when you are making reservations to introduce your children to jazz for the first time. I hear you when you have a request to meet an artist or ask that he/she play a special song. It’s part of what makes it all worth it. Five years later, I’m still answering the phone, with every call, I thank you for letting me be a small part of the time of your life and the song in your heart.
Lesson Learned: The behavior of the leader should be consistent with the values of the organization. In order to have an “up close” club, you must find a way to stay in close touch with your customers. Even if it hurts a little, it’s more than worth it.