Want Great Customer Service? Visit the Parking Authority

City employees are some of the most polite, cordial service workers I've dealt with in Philly. (Really!)

I often note—and sometimes write about—the lackluster quality of human interaction in this town, especially in service capacities. At a moment when service with a smile seems like a quaint vestige left over from those grand old times when people didn’t whip out their phones in the middle of supper, I am generally satisfied if service comes with anything more than a grunt. People aren’t trying to be rude or unfriendly, I don’t think: They’re simply not trying at all.

There are, of course, exceptions to the new rule of less-is-more interaction, and the biggest surprise of all of these came to me recently, at jury duty. Obviously, I wasn’t thrilled about fulfilling this particular civic duty—it’s a pain to fall behind at work while you just sit (and sit and sit) waiting to be chosen or let go. I admit that when I got there, I was not trying to be my most courteous self, that I certainly did not walk in there with a smile. Nor did many of my fellow citizens.

To my great surprise, though, every city employee—from the guy at the metal detector to the people handing out name tags to the woman who wrangled all us potential jurors into our appropriate courtrooms to the bailiff—was exceedingly polite to the unsmiling masses. Even sunny, I’d say. They made jokes, they lightened the mood, they quickly and efficiently did their job. They thanked us for coming, thanked us for following directions, thanked us for our patience. They were the most mannered people in the room, and I felt cheerier going out than I did going in.

A few days after service (I was chosen to serve, but the trial was delayed and I got released), I received a thank-you note expressing gratitude for my service. The note came from the judge. I don’t even get thank-you notes half the time for gifts I’ve given. This seemed like further proof that some of the nicest employees in town are the ones working for our city. (Oh, the state, too: In the last year, I’ve had pleasant, efficient and downright friendly encounters at both the social security office and, yes, the DMV.)

I figured that my opinion about this wouldn’t be a popular one, but when I mentioned my positive jury-duty experiences to a friend, she then raved about her interaction with the L&I, the city entity second only to the PPA in infamy: The folks there had kindly and doggedly helped her out of a jam with a landlord. And speaking of the PPA, another pal of mine recently came away from a mix-up over a parking ticket just glowing from her “indescribably lovely” interaction with Anne, the residential parking permit point-person.

Not to gush too much, here, as I do think that it is part of all of these people’s jobs to be polite and friendly to the people with whom they interact, but it’s a lot of people’s jobs to be polite and friendly—and that doesn’t always make it so. (A note to private businesses: When the parking authority is getting more props for customer service than you, it might be time to take a long hard look at who’s behind your counter.) Of course, courtesy is a very small thing to be impressed by in given all that’s going on in Philadelphia, but it is nonetheless meaningful, and makes life—and jury duty—better for us all. Consider this my thank-you note.