Apparently, THIS is what Nikki Haley meant by “running government like a business”

I was surprised that, on my previous post, nobody had anything to say about Nikki Haley’s directive to state employees to answer the phone by saying, “‘It’s a great day in South Carolina!”

Wait… the news stories didn’t say anything about an exclamation point. But how else could you say that? The content demands such punctuational excess.

For years, I’ve been hearing Nikki (along with a few million other thoughtless people who understand neither business nor government, how they are essentially different, or how they are supposed to be essentially different), say she wants to “run government like a business.” Somewhere, there’s video of me sternly expressing to her why she is wrong to say that, and her smiling back sweetly, obliviously.

This directive is not only as vapid as that phrase, it gives me an idea that perhaps this is what she meant. Perhaps this is the kind of business she wants government run like. A particularly off-putting, phony, soul-eroding (for employees) kind of business. The kind that makes you want to turn on your heel and walk out as soon as you encounter the reception desk.

Up to now, I have only run into this kind of chafing chipperness in the private sector, in the mouths of receptionists and others who are force to say it like so many galley slaves (keep rowing; keep saying the phrase). Not any more, thanks to Nikki Haley, and the voters’ unmitigated foolishness in electing her to this office.

40 thoughts on “Apparently, THIS is what Nikki Haley meant by “running government like a business”

  1. Walter Durst

    By the time the state employee has made his/her greeting, one will have forgotten why one called. I guess that is the point. “Don’t bother us. We are having too much fun here in SC”.

  2. Bob

    I’ll bite. I told my state employee wife about this last night. Her comment was “I’m too busy to answer the phone; I let calls go to voice mail and return them as needed; this won’t affect me.”

    The story was on the front page of THE STATE and covered on WIS-TV this morning, so I had to mention it during our morning “dog” walk. Her response this time was “doesn’t she understand how busy and demoralized we are?”

    Of course not; should have kept my mouth shut.

  3. John

    I don’t know what else to say other than your sentiments are just dead wrong on this one. As the owner of a service-based business with four offices throughout the state, I can tell you that this kind of thing is pretty common in the business world now. I could provide you with a pretty long list of companies based in Greenville, Columbia, etc. that are directing employees to use similar-sounding positive, upbeat phrasing when dealing with the public or with customers. This is becoming very common and is not off-putting to most. Do you even know how many upper middle class suburban families with all their disposable income to spend choose Chick-fil-a to grab a bite to eat specifically because the employees are courteous to customers, saying things like “my pleasure” in response to a thank you? It’s a part of the business model that has proven widely successful for Chick-fil-a, Nordstrom Department Stores, and many more.

    Sure this won’t solve the problems that the state faces, but you should be commending not condeming Haley for something that is pretty simple and positive instead of nit-picking. Especially as an ad-man, do we really need to get back to Destination Branding 101? The fact is that these government agencies provide a service to the taxpayers, and the rub usually against government is that it is not customer-friendly. This small step might go a long way to making it just a little bit better.

  4. SusanG

    I feel kinda of the same way when I walk into Moe’s, and they all say “Welcome to Moe’s!” I know I’d want to commit hari-kari if I had to do that a hundred times a day. And I think it was Coldstone Creamery where they all sang some little ditty when you walked in. Ugh!

  5. Rose

    “Protective Child Services. It’s a great day in South Carolina! What is the nature of the abuse you wish to report?”

    how’s that?

  6. Tim

    This is nauseating. I suspect it will be roundly ignored. The worst part is it will subject SC to more ridicule as a vapid, policy-phony place… Well, maybe its accurate then. Still nauseating.

    If I am calling an agency, I want someone’s name and I want the agency. Yes, I want pleasantness, but I don’t want this dumb phrase.

  7. Claudia

    Already posted on the other thread, but it’s worth repeating: Stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid. A word not normally used in my vocabulary. Does Haley live in a bubble???

  8. Brad

    Here’s the Wonkette thing that Lynn T. referred to. It’s headlined, “Nikki Haley Fixes South Carolina’s Bad Vibes With Stupid Phone Greetings.”

    It’s a little off-base when it says Nikki is approaching SC’s woes “like a champion middle manager with a mean collection of self-help books who thinks everybody’s problem is all the negative thoughts filling their auras.”

    That last bit, about the auras, doesn’t really sound like Nikki. It sounds more like her sister.

  9. Brad

    Right after I posted this, I was at the Starbucks on Gervais, and as I often do there, I ran into Dick Harpootlian.

    He greeted me by saying, “It’s a great day in South Carolina!”

    If you’re the head of her political opposition, you have to be loving this.

  10. Brad

    Seriously, though, I think we’re looking at a deep cognitive divide here.

    Some of us are immediately mortified as what we see as the deep, embarrassing, foolishness of this order.

    John (above) quite sincerely believes this is good customer relations. He doesn’t hear the off-putting phoniness of it at all, just as I don’t hear the… well, what he regards as positive.

    There is probably no way I can explain my position to John, because it is based in such a subjective, gut reaction. Ditto with him being able to persuade me of his position.

    For me, it screams that Nikki Haley is someone who was never in charge of anything involving human beings before she suddenly got to be in charge of South Carolina government (or the fraction of it that a governor runs), someone who has a fundamental lack of understanding of how the world works.

    John thinks it sounds fine. And that’s almost as big a gap, it seems to me, as between me and somebody who thinks that fingernails sound OK on a blackboard. I can’t objectively prove that that’s a bad sound (yeah, I guess you could empirically measure the way it makes people’s hair stand on end or something, but pleasurable things can do that, too); it either sounds awful to you or it doesn’t.

    Different strokes and all that, but I find gaps like that frustrating…

  11. Karen McLeod

    To me there’s a lot of difference between employees being upbeat and courteous, and employees being told to answer phones with a silly “upbeat” phrase. I, too, show preference for places where the staff are polite, friendly, and helpful (eg. Publix). I cringe at a one size fits all “cheery” greeting (“Welcome to Cici’s” comes to mind).

  12. bud

    Sorry John but you’re just flat out wrong. I certainly appreciate pleasantness when ordering my fast food but that syrup-laden upselling crap is just offputting. Not sure what focus groups support this nonsense but I find it irratating. As a former employee of a fast food place I simply ignored the canned greeting. If you can’t say something with conviction it’s probably just best to risk getting in a bit of trouble.

  13. Tim

    Only receptionists should have to say this, and they should really say, “Thank you for calling the Department of ______. How may I help you?”

  14. Doug T

    The article on The State website has received 284 comments so far. A quick glance reveal most of the comments are ridiculing our guv for this nonsense.

    Business or government people should be polite on the phone, but this forced cheeriness is…ugh.

    Sorry John.

  15. Kathryn Fenner

    Thank you for calling the South Carolina Departmentor ______. Your call is important to us—not so important that we have an actual human being to take it–we furloughed all of them. This voicemail device does not require health benefits, won’t join a union, use drugs or have children requiring education. It’s a great day to be a machine in South Carolina.

  16. Lynn

    It’s a great day is South Carolina, hold please …. is most likely to be the response you get at understaffed state agencies. Yep hold, please.

  17. John

    Maybe you all are right. Having state employees answer the phone in such a disgustingly pleasant manner that puts a positive spin on our state is definitely something to have a cow over.

    Seriously folks, is this really something to complain about? Stop and think about yourselves. I dunno, maybe people who spend time writing or commenting on blogs are just by nature darker, more negative people.

    The average person out there living and loving life ain’t gonna be offended or “off-put” by some state employee saying “it’s a great day in South Carolina!” Think about it. Did that server at Moe’s or Chick-fil-a ever piss you off that much that you walked out and never went back?

  18. Kathy Duffy Thomas

    I agree with Karen & Bud. I don’t go to Moe’s because they yell at me when I walk in.

    On running a government like a business: most of the businesses I work for try to Raise revenue. While they may cut expenses, they don’t cut out their services. And of course, they want to make a profit, which I don’t think the government should do.

  19. Scout

    The thing is Chick-Fil-a employees generally come off as sincere. I would agree with you, John, that having employees be pleasant and positive and sincere makes a difference. I would not agree with you that using a canned phrase is a way to accomplish that, especially one that packs as much cognitive dissonance as this one. What canned phrase do Chick-Fil-A employees use? I don’t think they accomplish what you are talking about through a canned phrase. The thing is for many South Carolinians, it is not currently a great day in South Carolina. It could be argued that the ones calling state agencies might be even more likely to be the ones not having such a great day. So how is being greeted that way likely to make them feel? Mocked or lied to might be two possible initial gut reactions. Is this the effect Haley is going for?

    There might be some phrases that would create a positive, pleasant, courteous effect. “It can be a great day in South Carolina, how can I help you?”, perhaps.

    Haley missed the mark.

  20. Juan Caruso

    Brad, it was barely a couple of weeks ago that you joined the partisan chorus lambasting our Governor’s recruiting trip to the Paris Air show, remember?

    Oddly, you now join an even an smaller number who are critical of SC government receptionists (including Haley’s own) greeting the public in a manner befitting other states known for their genteel civility.

    One of the major problems with petty harping is failure to note things of import like Carbures LLC of Spain, maker of carbon fiber composite structures, investing $6.5 million in its first American aerospace facility in the South Carolina Technology & Aviation Center.

    Are partisan habits that difficult to break, or are 50 relatively high-paying, new aerospace jobs not as newsworthy?

  21. Phillip

    @John: the obvious difference…it’s one thing to be greeted at Chick-Fil-A by somebody saying “Welcome to Chick-Fil-A, I’ll be happy to take your order,” or some such thing, because that is PLAUSIBLE within the context of politeness. Sure, it may be “mandated” but it still has the ring of authenticity, because that is something that someone polite would say in offering to take care of a customer. I’m all for that.

    But “It’s a great day in SC” is NOT a plausible thing that anyone would say out of politeness, if someone did say such a thing it would make me think they really needed to have their lithium dosage recalibrated. It has NO plausible link to REAL conversation, and so has the opposite of the intended effect: it reinforces the “mandated” aspect of the greeting, and the insincerity involved is palpable, front and center, before you’ve even had a chance to explain why you are calling.

  22. JoanneH

    Do you think this will just turn into a way to fire people when we need to cut the budget again?

    “You neglected to greet callers in the required method x number of times. Clean out your desk.”

    RIF’ing made simple.

  23. Brad

    Juan, when did I “(lambaste) our Governor’s recruiting trip to the Paris Air show?”

    I don’t recall that.

    I think it’s fine she went to that.

    I remember writing something about her calling the reporter who wrote about it a “little girl,” but our Democratic friends didn’t think I was properly upset about that.

    I was sort of bemused.

    Anyway, I think it’s fine for the gov to go to stuff like that, and I’m not going to count the pennies on her account, unlike some. Steve Benjamin, too. Let me know when I said otherwise…

  24. Herb Brasher

    Since we are in the South, I would like for all state employees, or for that matter local or business, to greet me with, ‘Bless your heart, how can I help you?!’

  25. bud

    The governor’s expensive trip to Europe was far more egregious than the silly greeting thing. Spending a quarter of a million dollars on a trip is outrageous. She could have easily accomplished the same thing for about 50k.

  26. martin

    John, if you have finally worked up the courage to call Alcohol and Drug about your addicted spouse; if you have finally overcome your humiliation to call DSS about food stamps or reporting your child for neglecting his child; if you are calling Mental Health because your mother is having hallucinations, do you really think that a chirpy “We’re having a great day in South Carolina” is what you need to hear? How about something professional focused on the caller’s needs instead?

    What you, Trikki and her Cabinet heads apparently don’t grasp is that state agencies do a variety of jobs and sometimes a “Voice of the Customer” type canned response might not be right for all of them or their clients.

  27. Brad

    I would not trust anyone who answered the phone that way to deal with anything serious, whether it was a family crisis or an economic development opportunity.

    The first thing I would do is ask to be transferred until I got someone who sounded like a serious grownup, and did not answer the phone that way.

  28. KP

    It’s just … sad. I think the woman believes her own (national) press — everything’s great here now that she’s in charge. Only not a think has changed.

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