Always Usually Sometimes Never


Recently, I attended an office meeting at which it was explained that those we serve would soon be asked to complete a survey regarding their overall experience. The higher we score on the survey, the better. In the meeting, we learned that the survey is composed of approximately twenty statements. Respondents are asked to make those statements most true by checking one of four boxes:

Always. Usually. Sometimes. Never.

It’s not uncommon for companies to survey their clients. That wasn’t the surprise. What surprised me was that we receive a score ONLY when respondents check ALWAYS. Should respondents check any of the other boxes in terms of our performance (Usually, Sometimes, or Never) we get no score at all. No matter how good the service, how thoughtful the intent, how clear the instructions, or positive the experience, if the respondent doesn’t check the box labeled ALWAYS – it’s as if we did nothing at all.

I don’t usually speak out in office meetings, but I did in this one. I felt like someone had just tossed a tiny hand grenade in my general direction. It hadn’t exploded yet, but I could hear it hissing. I have a sneaking suspicion that at some point our salaries will be linked to this survey. Can you hear the hissing sound now?

Once I had that realization, I thought about all the folks who’d ever asked me to fill out a survey. Almost always, when given a survey, I throw it in the trash. On those rare occasions when I do fill them out, I hardly ever check ALWAYS.

Extremes of any kind make me uncomfortable. I’m a middle of the road kind of person. No matter what the question, I would be more inclined to score someone USUALLY before ever considering ALWAYS. I’m not sure how ALWAYS would even apply to most situations.

I understand now why the salesperson at Books-A-Million draws that ridiculous smiley face on my receipt by circling numbers and his name and underlining a phone number I’m supposed to call to tell someone on the other line that he, “did awesome today, ok?”

Until now, my general sentiment was to grumble to myself on the way out of the bookstore. I’m not going to call someone and tell them the check-out person “did awesome.” I frequently brag to managers when I receive exceptional service, but I just don’t know that just ringing up my purchase constitutes “awesome.”   Isn’t that what salespeople are hired to do in the first place?

Recently at a fast food drive-thru window, the attendant handed me my receipt and mentioned her name was printed on the receipt for use in the survey. The survey she was emphatic I take once I left the drive-thru. She specifically asked me to mention her name in my response. Clearly, the grenade already blew up her weekly meeting.

This whole issue around the survey made me curious about how I would score if my immediate family used this same system. Make these statements most true my darlings, using: Always, Usually, Sometimes, Never:

  • Mom listens to me.
  • Mom serves nutritional meals.
  • Mom hordes sweets in an effort to enjoy them in the peace and quiet.

One Sunday not too long ago, Ginny brought 50 Publix bakery petit fours to an after-church reception. They were so pretty and summery and tempting. 60 calories in one perfectly square, white iced, multi-colored buttercream, flower-topped bite. I could’ve eaten all 50 all by myself. But I didn’t. I was in public.

When Gin asked if “the boys” wanted to take the twelve or so leftovers home, I pretended like I wasn’t sure we should, while she pretended that she didn’t know I was already plotting how to eat them all by myself. Sometimes sisters do a lot of pretending.

Monday afternoon on the drive home from work, I thought about those leftover petit fours. I decided to eat one while cooking supper and another one after the boys went to bed. I would take my time and eat them in four bites each, so I could savor the buttercream as it melted in my mouth. I hoped there were some with pink roses. Those are my favorite.

Standing in the garage looking through the window of the mudroom door, I saw the petit four box on the kitchen table. The pastry box lid was askew. My heart beat faster. I opened the door, put my purse down very slowly, and listened for children. It was quiet. As I slunk closer, I saw smears of buttercream on the cellophane top. Empty, white paper petit four wrappers littered the inside of the box, but I was in luck. Out of the twelve I brought home on Sunday, there were three left. I didn’t say A WORD.

I am not ashamed to say I hid the petit fours. When I left home Monday morning, there were twelve uneaten petit fours. When I came home, there were only three. Clearly, someone had enjoyed their fair share.

I am ashamed to say that after the children had gone to bed, I tiptoed into the kitchen, opened the pantry doors and slid the pastry box off the top shelf while watching the kitchen door over my shoulder.  Like a criminal.

While slowly lifting the box, I inadvertently tilted it, causing all three petit fours to fall toward me. Much to Paisley’s delight, one fell directly on the floor, but two landed bottoms up on my chest, smearing frosting on my old, soft, NASCAR t-shirt pajama top. It was karma, I thought to myself as I licked buttercream off Dale Jr’s face. They didn’t taste as good as they would have if I’d totally gotten away with it.

I can’t help but wonder if St. Peter uses a survey to grant entry into heaven. It’s one of those thoughts that pops up just as my head sinks into the cool spot on my pillow, or when the hot water from the shower hits that spot between my shoulder blades that makes me close my eyes and linger until my skin is red. What sort of questions would St. Peter ask? In heaven, will ALWAYS be the only score that counts?

That day in the meeting, I felt my face flush and got that feeling Jamie warns me about.  He calls it my Jerry McGuire and warns against it.  I clamp my lips into a thin line.  Then, I squirm a little in my seat.  I know it’s an exercise in futility because I’ve already formulated my opening volley in my mind.

As the grenade hissed on the table in front of me, I asked my boss, “This is a set-up, isn’t it? There’s no way any of us will ever achieve this goal, is there?” Without a word, I knew from the look on his face that was the whole point.

I sneak into our kitchen late at night in sock feet to savor tiny bites of petit fours. I lick buttercream frosting off my NASCAR t-shirt, and I pray that when St. Peter checks USUALLY on my survey instead of ALWAYS, that score won’t keep me out of heaven because that checklist is the only one I have control over in the first place.

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