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Losing the Customer

November 30, 2010 | by Yael Mermelstein

If only we'd make all our decisions looking at the long term.

“Mommy, my sneakers are ripped.”

I take Yaakov’s sneakers in my hand, the musky smell of pre-adolescence wafting through the air.

“Can’t be,” I say, turning them over and over, sticking my fingers through holes peppering the length of the shoe. “You’ve only had these three weeks. They were a fortune. What did you do, dunk these in a paper shredder?”

“Wasn’t me,” Yaakov says. “I didn’t do anything, really.”

His blue eyes scream innocence. I grab my pocketbook.

“Let’s go,” I say. I drive to the shoe store and plunk the offending sneakers on the counter. “I want a refund on these.”

The proprietor of the store walks over to me leisurely. “A refund? Why?”

“There is more hole than shoe here sir,” I reply. “I bought sneakers, not flip-flops.”

The man sighs, holds them up in the air and looks at them, or should I say through them. “He probably plays too much soccer,” he replies.

“I played soccer once in them,” Yaakov says. “And that’s why I bought sneakers.”

“Tsk, tsk,” the man says. “Would you like to buy another pair?”

“So that he can make crater sized holes the next time he decides to play with the boys at recess?” I ask. “No thank you. I want a refund.”

“No can do,” the man says. “I’m sorry.”

We walk out of the store and trash the shoes. Then I go to a different shoe store and purchase a new pair of sneakers, made especially for soccer.

“Why didn’t you fight with him?” my son asks me as we drive home.

“It wasn’t worth it. I’m just not going to buy from that store again. The owner made a very unwise business decision. In the short term, he gained $50, but in the long term, he lost a lot more money than that. He lost a customer.”

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As the phone rang and this VIP began speaking to me, my son came through the door, his cheeks stained with tears.

Short term and long term. Wouldn’t it be prudent to weigh all of the decisions that we make in life in light of these two opposing values?

I remember a work interview that I had scheduled at night when my children were supposedly asleep. As the phone rang and this VIP began speaking to me, my son came through the door, his cheeks stained with tears.

“Mommy,” he croaked, “I need to speak to you.”

“Sweetie,” I said. “Can it wait? I have a very important interview right now with a very important person.”

He hesitated. “It’s important but…”

I vacillated. I needed to finish an article and this woman was on the phone. She was very hard to reach. But my little boy, he could be hard to reach sometimes as well. In the short term, this article was more pressing, but in the long term, speaking to my child was a much more worthwhile investment.

“I’m sorry,” I said to the woman on the phone. “I have to go. My son needs me.”

What my son shared with me was over and done with by the next day. But his memory of my hanging up with a VIP for him, that is eternal.

When my husband comes home from work and I’m exhausted from my own long night of work and childcare, all I want to do is shut my eyes to the world for a few hours. But he wants to share with me – something happened at work, he has a new insight into one of our children. In the short term, I’d much rather sleep. But in the long term, communicating with my husband is building an edifice that will stand us in good stead forever.

As a freelancer, income often waxes and wanes. I recall one time when a prestigious job offer came at a time where financial relief was a primary concern in our family. I was asked to create humorous anecdotes based upon the stories in the Bible. The Torah being sacred to me, I feared I would make a mockery of the precious words within it. In the long term, the job wasn’t consistent with my value system as a believing Jew. And yet, in the short term, it could patch up many gaping holes in my life.

I didn’t take the job.

In Judaism, the concept of long term is even longer than our human comprehension can conceive of. Our actions are infinite. They live on way beyond our finite existence. They stand to defend us in the world to come. They are vital and are never forgotten.

And God never wants to lose a customer.

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