The problem with big business, with mega-malls, and super-stores, is that the people propagating the business cease to see their customers as people.

Perfect example: my next-door neighbor called the energy company to report lots of flickerings of lights and electronic equipment. It happened to us, too, but I didn’t think anything of it – I trusted the electric company to do upstanding business. As they say, ignorance is bliss.

She was just one little person calling a big conglomerate. The faceless, nameless operator on the line said, “Ok ma’am, we’ll look into it.”

“How long will that take?” my neighbor asked.

“Two weeks.”

“Well that’s not good enough,” my neighbor said, but the agent didn’t care because she had no stake in the outcome of the inquiry. And she didn’t know my neighbor from a random person walking down any street.

Just a few days later, storms rolled in. Big, great rain clouds unleashed their torrent all over town. I was out in my minivan with the kids, picking up pizzas for our end of season soccer party, which was to start at my house Wednesday at 6:30.

We came home and walked in to a very strange house. Some lights were out entirely. Others were super-bright. I smelled smoke.

I wanted to look at the circuit box but the smell of smoke scared me, so I called my friend who works in construction and who was on the way over anyway, asking him to look at things.

He came, with his kids, and took a look downstairs. “You have juice,” he said, “just not to all circuits.”

But anytime we turned on a light, it went super-bright, popped and burned out. So we unplugged everything and turned off everything that was on.

And then the basement started filling with smoke. I called 911, got the kids out of the house and waited for the fire trucks to arrive. Scary as hell.

Turns out, a major power surge went from the almost-broken transformer outside that the energy company neglected to look into because it was just one person calling. It surged my house and three others, including the neighbor who called. It burned many of the sockets. The smoke was coming from a ballast in a basement light which, if we hadn’t been home, would’ve caught fire.

We’re fine. Our house is standing. All we lost was a stove, a flat screen TV, a Wii, a phone, a clock, a bunch of lights and we have a smoky basement.

But it could’ve been prevented if the energy company wasn’t so super-huge that they just get the job done without caring about the people they are serving. We don’t matter. The bottom line obscures the view of all of our open, trusting faces.

That’s the trick in business. You want to grow and make money, you want to serve people in a satisfying way, you want to exceed expectations.

But at that critical threshold when you are about to step from knowing your customers and being a familiar face to being the on-high guy that no one can reach, think. Is it truly best, for the betterment of the world, to take that step? Or is it only best for you?

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