Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I Used to Be A Complainer

I don't mean to make myself sound older than I am, but do you remember when customer service actually meant something?  I'm not talking about the idyllic 50s that has been portrayed on television and in movies (though we know it was not nearly as idyllic as the entertainment industry would like us to believe it was); I'm not THAT old.  I'm talking about the 70s and even into the 80s. 

Remember when diners were not expected to leave a 20% tip unless the service was great, and a simple comment to a staffer about something amiss - a dirty bathroom, a mistake on a bill, cold food, etc. - warranted a visit from the manager?  The idea that a customer might complain to someone higher up the food chain (pun intended) was enough to make managers do whatever was necessary to make it right.  It was not unusual to get a comped meal or dessert or a discount coupon for the next visit.  In my experience, in today's restaurants, the manager isn't even there half the time and customers NEVER get anything comped.  The wait staff is usually hustling but everyone else seems to stand around a lot.

But the restaurant industry isn't the only one that has allowed customer service to become extinct.  Remember when gas stations were "service" stations?  Full service was the same price as self service, and it included a fill up, a window cleaning, an oil check, tire check, etc.  And - gasp! - you could ask for directions and you might even get a free map.  Now you can't ask for directions because some young kid is behind the counter in the mini-mart.  Maps are $5 - if they have them.  You have to pump your own gas; in fact, very few gas stations have "full service" as an option even if you were inclined to pay the higher per gallon price.  And the clincher??  We now have to PAY for air and water!!

When I was a kid and even into college, when I went to the grocery store, the butcher knew everything I could possibly ask about meat and poultry.  The produce man would cut open a melon and let me taste it.  The liquor department had its own manager, who bought everything the store sold, and could recommend a great gift or pairing.  There were stock clerks everywhere and plenty of checkers.  In today's "super" markets, we have banks and coffee shops and pharmacies but God help you if you need to ask a question about something; you will have to schlep all the way up to the front of the store just to ask for help, and then you have to wait while someone who knows next-to-nothing comes to "help" you.  If you're lucky enough to have one of the nicer markets in your area, you pay about 4-10% more for your groceries.  And let me tell you ... I worked in the grocery industry in the 80s and today's grocery employees do not make much more than I made way back then, and their benefits and retirement are not as good as they were, so we can't blame the inferior service on high-paid union members.

Back in those days, if you experienced poor customer service, you could get satisfaction.  I used to write letters; anytime my customer service was lower than an acceptable level, I wrote a letter of complaint.  And guess what?  I ALWAYS got some sort of response.  Some responses were better than others, but the point is, I always got a return letter or phone call.  Managers made me feel like my business was appreciated and they wanted to keep it.  Sometimes I got free stuff, much to the laughter and giggling of friends and family.  (My cousin's husband used to urge me to write letters because he loved it when I got free stuff!).  Sometimes I just got an apology.  And you know what, the apology was fine.  No matter the response, I felt like my opinion mattered.  Now THAT is customer service.

Now let's look at customer service today.  Oh, wait.  There isn't any.  We don't interact with people; instead we are sent to a website.  Sometimes we are told to fill out a comment card.  But you know what?  I never hear from anyone anymore.    

I miss the good ole days.

1 comment:

How to Grocery Shop For FREE said...

Too true! Customer service isn't even close to what it used to be although there are a few places that still care. Whole Foods comes to mind.