US Economic Decline: Whatever Happened to Serving the Customer?

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There has been
much speculation on the causes of the US economy’s reluctance
to return to healthy growth: a commercial life which once seemed
to hold the secret of eternal expansion now seems to have lost the
ability to recover.

My most recent
visit inclines me to make an entirely anecdotal and inexpert contribution
to this debate. When I was growing up in America – and working
my way through university in jobs that involved serving the public
– there was a sacred principle of employed life in the US:
the customer may not always be right but he is always to be treated
as if his needs and desires were paramount. The efficiency, courtesy
and helpfulness provided by retail businesses was one of the great
hallmarks of American life (and one that made a huge impression
on European customers who were accustomed to being treated like
grateful supplicants by those who deigned to provide them with any
service at all). Over the years of return visits to the US I have
noticed a really alarming decline in standards of behaviour and
competence: attitudes which would have meant at least a serious
warning if not instant sacking a generation ago now seem to go unmonitored
and unreformed as a matter of course.

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4, 2010

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