Two who embrace the holiday spirit year round
COLUMBIA, Mo 12/24/13 (Op Ed) --  Ask anyone who has ever had a memorably good -- or bad -- customer service experience -- on the phone, at the store, with the bill collector, the insurance company, the cellular carrier, the cable guy. 

Ask anyone and they'll tell you:  Nice customer service people stand out.   They make our day.  Make us believe in the redeeming qualities of the human spirit.  Make us feel like we matter, like that old adage "the customer is always right" actually means something.

Living in a small community for the first time in my life, I started paying more attention to the nice -- and not-so-nice -- customer service people I encountered, often over and over.  I made mental notes, then started comparing those notes with others. 
After five (or has it beeen six?) years making my list -- and checking it twice -- two names kept reappearing in answer to the question, "So whom do you think is the nicest person in Columbia you've dealt with as a customer?"

Doesn't matter where, or how, or why.  Just who.   Not only have these two customer service people never disappointed me (always been a joy, in fact), everyone I speak to about them says a version of the same thing.

Bob is just super.    And Ellen -- I love her!

They're talking about Bob Wood, proprietor of Dawson's Shoe Repair in downtown Columbia; and Ellen Schlie, of the US Postal Service, downtown division.   If you haven't had the pleasure of Ellen's calm, warm demeanor amidst a tidal wave of holiday mailing madness, or Bob's always upbeat, always smiling delivery of a perfectly-fixed pair of favorite shoes, you're missing out on some of the best Columbia has to offer.

I refuse to miss out.  When Ellen is busy with a customer at the postal counter, I'll often let people go ahead of me until she's free.  I held onto my favorite pair of Italian loafers -- desperately in need of new linings and who knows what else -- until Bob returned to work from a recent shoulder injury.  

Such is the power of nice, which in a high-stress customer service environment is no less than Hemingway's famous measure of courage:  the ability to maintain "grace under pressure."    

Though mine was an informal survey, we Ellen and Bob fans are hardly alone.   "Her smile glows," Tony Messenger wrote about Ellen when he was a columnist for the Columbia Daily Tribune.   Her demeanor, he wrote, is both "elegant" and "graceful". 
Online reviews of Dawson's Shoe Repair invariably turn to Bob's kindness.  

"The owner of the shop is one of the sweetest people I've met!"  wrote a Google reviewer

"Dawson Shoe Repair has one of the friendliest gentleman I've ever met," a Yelp reviewer wrote.   "He is kind & cheerful & I always leave with a smile." 
Such is the power of nice.

-- Mike Martin for the Columbia Heart Beat