I grew up several decades ago during a time of social upheaval and change, a time when there was tremendous political and cultural tension, a time when there were riots and demonstrations and assassinations. It was a time when one could have expected the long established social etiquette customs to break down just as the rest of society seemed to be breaking down.
But they didn’t.
I grew up in a major city with supposed big city values and the hustle and bustle of the big city.
But when I went to a store or went to buy a car or a home or anything else I found the vast majority of people who waited on me to be efficient, focused on their job, friendly, and wanting to help. There was an expectation that service to the customer was paramount. Every employer, as well as every customer, expected those working with customers to perform their duties in a manner that reflected well on the company and the employee. If service was slow or rude or incompetent, it only took a single complaint to get results on the floor.
Of course there were some employees—and some companies too—that simply didn’t care. They were slow, indifferent, uncaring. But for the most part they were the minority
Today I live in a small city of about 130,000. Decades ago small cities such as this were famed for their hometown feel and the level of service that went far above and beyond what we would have found in a large city. When I moved to my current city back in the early 90’s there was a very high level of customer service and care in both the consumer and business sectors.
But something has radically changed in the way customers are treated, and it isn’t just where I live or just in Texas. I notice it throughout the country when I travel, more so in some areas than others but it permeates the entire country.
When standing in line at the grocery store, the person at the cash register is often more interested in talking to a friend or the checker in front or behind them than in taking care of the customer in front of them.
The salesman at the car lot glances at his watch a bit too much because you’re taking up too much of his time.
The person who called you to sell a copier sighs loudly when asked for an afterhour’s appointment because you’re busy and can’t meet them until after closing.
The lady on the phone trying to sell you electric service says she is too busy to come by and pick up your old electric bills to give you a rate comparison and wants you to fax them to her to save her a trip.
I’m certainly not trying to condemn all sellers. There are many great dedicated sellers out there. But especially on the retail side—and increasingly on the business side—customer service isn’t dying, it’s dead. Those who are simply there to get a paycheck now far outweigh those great sellers who are dedicated to their job.
What is the root of this change? Is it a breakdown of society? Of family? Are employers to blame for not training and insisting on a high level of service? Or are buyers to blame for not demanding respect and service?
More than likely it is a combination of all of the above.
Will we ever see a return to high customer service levels with attentive, well informed and committed employees as the norm rather than the exception?
I don’t know the answer—but I’m afraid it’s a resounding “NO.”
Now, am I simply an old codger who is missing all the great customer service out there? What has been your experience lately?
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