They've Lost That Lovin' Feeling

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What has happened to Customer Service in America? Have businesses lost their love for consumers? Are there now so many people, with so much money to spend, that businesses need not make customers satisfaction a goal; need not build a base of loyal return customers? Are some companies so shortsighted, so arrogant, that they fail to understand that return customers are their insurance against a time when the market takes a downturn? I sense that some sellers actually dislike customers who expect high standards, skilled service, and quality products. I find myself feeling that some corporations and their employees have become the modern equivalent of the unaccountable, train-hopping, shark oil salesmen of yesteryear.

It certainly seems that many sellers and providers in the current marketplace feel no love for their customers; act as though there will always be other willing buyers waiting to serve the needs of the businesses — as opposed to businesses meeting the needs of the customers.

How unfortunate. If the entire business community would once again embrace the long-valued philosophy, "The customer is always right," our sluggish (dying?) economy would probably show growth. I often leave stores convinced that my attempts to spend $money$ there definitely inconvenience, and at times even anger, employees who might have fun at work if only bothersome customers would stop showing up. Smiles fall to frowns; attitudes sour; many fail to even speak.

It is not that I mean to bother anyone when I enter a business, but occasionally I do need more from a living, breathing clerk than he or she is willing and/or able to do. I do expect businesses to train employees for more than Change Dumping. Yes, would it not be nice to again get our change counted back into our hands? Hahahaha! Clerks count out change?! Nowadays? When is the last time that any of us have been on the receiving end of that skill? (Thank you, Pubelick Skoools of Ghost-America!)

Supervisors and higher-level managers, even owners, are also at fault. They are the ones who fail to hire (or contract someone else who fails to hire) employees who: 1) dress and act as though they are proud to have a job; especially that job, 2) have the skills, training, and knowledge to perform that job, 3) understand and appreciate the role of the customer ($$) in the success of the business ($$), 4) are eager to serve customers, 5) are able to do some problem solving in order to serve the customer, even if that means asking questions of supervisors and other workers, and 6) who speak clear, proper, understandable, un-punctured, English.

There is nothing like the noise of a steel ball flailing around, wearing down all teeth within its reach, to clutter speech and drive customers away from that business and over to its competitors. There is no cultural pride in using a low verbal dialect, or substandard pronunciation, to a Standard English-using customer. I, myself, walk out of businesses that hire such employees.

I also excuse myself and hang up the phone when faced (eared?) with a pleasant, eager-to-serve clerk who only knows Parrot English and whose comprehension of spoken English falls below that of a toddler.

LST: "I am having trouble with my computer."

Parrot English User: "I understand that you are having trouble with your computer."

LST: "I frequently travel across time zones. Is there any way that I can change my computer so that it will override the decision of the fool who drew the time zones, putting Michigan and Alabama in different zones despite the fact that my Michigan home is almost exactly at the same longitude as my Alabama home?"

P.E.User: "I understand perfectly what you are saying. I understand that you are having trouble with your computer." Or your credit card; or your new stove; or your….

A silly example, but the responses from the other end are very typical, no matter how one tries to explain something that is not on the overseas person’s "Expected Problems" script. If the explanation is longer than two simple sentences, I ask for my call to be transferred stateside. I keep hoping that companies will start to see that we, the sheeple, do indeed notice and we do move on to their competitors as soon as we are able to get the "English speaker" at the other end of the line to understand that we wish to end the call. I have often asked for a "Native English User" only to end up with — a broken-English speaker who serves as a semi-supervisor with the same limited comprehension difficulties.

Occasionally, I have questions regarding stock, performance, ease of use. Sometimes I would just like to see the product and read the box! I bought a new air conditioner from a Wal-Mart competitor because all of the AC boxes in the Cadillac, MI store were turned Spanish side out! First of all, I do not speak Spanish, and second, the boxes were too heavy for me to spin. I also resent signs that direct me to ask a salesclerk for assistance in reaching stock that has been placed on shelves over my head. Ask a salesclerk? How? Who? Where? When?

Some of the rudeness seems to be company policy. I first noticed this back in the mid-1980s when I returned a garment to a company that I had been using often and for a length of time. I enclosed a note explaining why I was returning the item; mentioning that it was not up to their usual quality. Their response? They spoke not a word but went quickly to work and removed me from their mailing list. Forever! The Catalogue-Blackballing-Network must be as efficient as the Never-Hire-This-Teacher-Network, for I have never again seen a catalogue from that company, no matter where I have lived; no matter how my name has changed. (A few trees saved, at least.)

Of course, some companies’ rudeness may be their point of pride; even their unstated mission. These companies are generally the only service providers. That is also true for companies that are on the receiving end of government subsidies, legal protection, or backdoor deals.

I have always had an itchy traveling foot, so as soon as I could safely travel alone — at age 9—10 back then — I hurried to the bus station and went to visit my grandparents who lived 180 miles from us. I had to take one bus from Ypsilanti to Lansing, where I then had lunch and a fairly long wait for the next bus. Those travel delays provided me with wonderful opportunities to observe other passengers while I waited for the "Up North" bus and so I did not mind them at all. Later in the day, that second bus driver would stop along the highway nearest my grandparents’ farm and let me off. Grandpa and Grandma Sneary would be parked, awaiting my arrival. I always arrived safely.

I can almost hear concerns: 10 years old! Traveling alone? Long wait in busy city bus station? What about strangers?! Well, remember that there were not so many threatening strangers back then. Also, rest assured that my mother always reviewed her stern warnings about the greatest dangers that lurked in and around those bus stations — "Remember Linda, all employees of that bus company have to pass a Meanness Test in order to get their jobs. Do not take anything they say or do personally. Do not let any of them hurt your feelings." ‘Tis true. Actually, 20 years later, when friends from Chile and England purchased unlimited bus tickets to see America while traveling to and from my home in Colorado Springs, I warned them prior to their arrival in New York, "BTW, All employees of that bus company have to pass a Meanness Test in order…" (My most recent experiences with "that bus company" have shown me that the younger employees seem not to have passed the meanness training, while many test passers still work in the system.)

It is almost beyond belief, but for some reason the customer service policies at too many companies have become anti-consumer. Such behaviors must serve some purpose or one would expect non-government-supported companies to fail. That so many not only hang on, but spread their anti-customer disease, is very worrisome. Is failure becoming a desired outcome? Are tax write-offs so financially lucrative? Or are some employees/managers/owners just too poorly educated to understand the short- and long-term consequences of a breakdown in the buyer-seller relationship? Do none of them face negative consequences for ignoring; for mistreating; for driving away dissatisfied customers?

Word-of-mouth was once the most valuable advertising tool available, but now too many people, at all company levels, are content to ignore; minimally serve; and rudely treat customers, especially dissatisfied customers. We all know that people who are mistreated will, for good reason, complain to family; friends; acquaintances; email buddies; maybe to the whole world, but do the employees at such companies know that? I have told employees that I would tell anyone who would listen about bad customer service that I receive, but their reactions usually amount to, "So? Oh, well. Go ahead. I don’t care." And so…I no longer use the services of UPS because of the way that I was treated by the owner of The UPS Store in Auburn, Alabama. He, as well as the corporate levels of UPS, did not care about my concern, and so now neither do I care about theirs. There are other shipping companies that do want my business, and so I gladly take my packages elsewhere.

Once upon a time, any company intent on success did everything possible to prevent such advertising disasters, but now something seems to be replacing wise marketing strategies with very stupid, self-defeating ones. I suggest that those companies which do manage to stay afloat — that maybe even thrive for a while despite their mistreatment and minimalization of their customers — must either 1) receive governmental subsidies, props, and protection from the natural outcomes of unwise business practices, or 2) they lack competition. We should take this as a cue; as a suggestion to consider gaps that could be better filled: products made and sold with the buyer’s interest in mind; services more skillfully and pleasantly provided.

One very real need is for cheaper, quality educational alternatives to the public mis-schooling mess. In academically moral schools, graduates could leave with better preparation for life; with understanding of the benefits and workings of the free market; with greater awareness of the importance of providing a dollar’s value for a dollar; and even knowing…how to count change…28, 29, 30, 40, 50, 75, one dollar.

Linda Schrock Taylor [send her mail] is a reading specialist (continually seeking ways to improve her methods for Rapid Reading Remediation); a former public school teacher (The nail that sticks out is the one that gets hammered…); and a former homeschooling parent (whose son, now 20, insisted upon growing up, putting an end to all the fun). Linda now teaches English composition at a state university and is writing her first book.

Linda Schrock Taylor Archives

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