Where, Oh Where, Has Customer Service Gone?

Where, Oh Where, Has Customer Service Gone?

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Look at the happy row of customer service professionals in the photo- ready, willing and able to assist if you need help with their company’s products or services. They should be able to solve any problem, in a reasonable amount of time, to your satisfaction. In fact, there was a time when companies trained their staff with the following in mind: the customer is always right. Those were the days!

Customer service has changed quite a bit during my lifetime. A good example is at gas stations. In the 1985 movie Back to the Future, Michael J Fox’s character is sent back to the mid 1950’s. One of the best scenes when he is back in that decade is of a gas station, where the car pulls in and several guys in matching uniforms come out to help- one fills the tank, another washes the windows, and the third one checks the oil. The only thing they charged you for was the gas. I remember laughing out loud at the scene for two reasons- one, being amazed that type of service ever existed, and two, how far gone it was by the mid 1980’s. Little did we know gas stations were just the beginning.

Let’s start with the difficulty of reaching a human on the phone. You rarely can get to them without several screening questions- are you calling about a,b,c, d, e or f? Please enter your account number, first and last name, date of birth, blood type, address and phone number where you can be reached. Ok, I made up blood type, but you get the picture. Please also briefly state what your problem is- I have learned to just continually say “speak to a representative” until they send me to one. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

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And of course some humor is in order. This true story has been shared on my Facebook page in the past, but most blog readers didn’t see it there. It is the story of me trying to mail a birthday card to my daughter who lives in London. It goes like this- I have mailed lots of cards and packages to her over the time she has lived there. The cards usually cost about the same. So I went to the post office at my neighborhood grocery store a week before her birthday. The young man helping me weighed it and told me a price that didn’t seem right. So I asked him to check it again- he said yes, that’s the price to mail it to the Isle of Jersey. One of the channel islands between England and France. I said this card is going to London, but he said the postal code ( similar to a US zip code) that I wrote was for Jersey. I suggested he look at the list of postal codes in his machine. He said London wasn’t there.

I told him it had to be. It’s the capitol of England. No response. The Queen lives there. No glimmer of recognition. My last attempt was to mention the large ferris wheel, the London Eye, pictured above with Big Ben in the background. Still nothing. I politely asked him if someone else could help. He cheerfully said, no, I’m the only one. I gave up and let him charge me for sending it to the Isle of Jersey. It arrived in London, but not as quickly as it should have. Good grief.

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My next adventure in customer service is more recent, and it happened at the same store. I shop at this particular location because their product selection is excellent, and it’s close to my house. They were very helpful during the worst of the pandemic. The prices are a bit higher, but the quality is usually worth it, as well as the customer service. But recently, there has been a change in leadership at the store that hasn’t gone very well.

I noticed about six months ago that the usual managers weren’t there any more. This was part of a restructuring process mentioned in the news that seemed designed to eliminate assistant managers. Understandable, especially since Covid has converted many shoppers to totally online. But there are still plenty of people who like to shop in person, myself included.

Two incidents come to mind. The first was early on a Saturday night. Only four checkers were open, and they were all high school age. As several customers waited in line, all of the checkers had customers buying alcohol they were too young to ring up. So they all turned on their flashing lights. It took a long time but the lone manager went to the first checker, and helped her out. Then she walked away, ignoring the other three blinking lights. A man in front of me literally yelled “we still need help in these other lines”. The manager appeared startled, and came back and helped the other three. Bizarre at best.

And last but not least, the case of the disappearing bagger. The same store, about two weeks after the underage checker incident. I was waiting for my fairly large grocery order to be rung up, and the bagger was putting things in my cart. About half way through, I heard him ask the manager if he could go on break. It was indeed the same one from the underage checker evening. She told him yes, and he disappeared. In the middle of bagging my order. And she did too. So the checker and I got the rest of my order taken care of and put in my cart. Unbelievable.

This was enough for me to send an email to their corporate headquarters. I was polite but to the point. I received a reply that the store manager would contact me by phone. It has been over a week and no one has called. I am not optimistic that anyone ever will.

I can’t decide if I should admit defeat on this one or try to contact them again. Since I’m retired and not that busy I will probably try one more time. If I ever connect with the local manager I’ll let you know how it goes. In the meantime, I should probably look for a new place to shop, but hope springs eternal that things will improve at my formerly favorite store.

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