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Big box store courtesies sadly lacking for customers

October 24, 2009
By Wayne Sheets, Contributing Business Writer

What a way to start a week. I stopped by one of our big box stores Monday morning to have the battery in my wristwatch replaced. As I approached the jewelry counter, the young woman behind the counter almost hinted at a smile. That was the extent to which she acknowledged that a customer was anywhere near. A micro-millisecond of eye contact occurred when I handed her my watch and asked if she would replace the battery.

I watched as she removed the back and did the chores attendant with the job without speaking. I didn't expect to be engaged in a conversation regarding the current world economic situation or the exquisite features of a new Rolex, but I did expect her to say something like "Good morning" or "May I help you?"

As she worked, a co-worker appeared from behind a display rack and you would have thought some teen-aged rock star had appeared on the scene. An excited - frenzied almost - conversation ensued regarding the newcomer's hairdo. It didn't look so out of the ordinary to me. Her hair was long - I like long hair, maybe because I don't have any - silky and shiny, but we see those kinds of heads on our young people every day. She worked on my watch. They talked. I stood awestruck.

As this "stunning example" of customer relations was reinstalling the back to my watch, she asked, "You want to pay for this up front, or here?"

I said, "I'd like to pay for it here, if that is OK."

She said, "That'll be $4.24."

I laid a $10 bill on the counter. She laid my watch down on the counter and picked up the money. As I put my watch on, she laid my change on the counter, turned around and continued the conversation with her co-worker, saying not a single word to me.

We all know that BBSs are not noted for their courtesies. We know that being discourteous to customers does not appreciably hurt their sales. They are a bit like the insurance giant AIG, and some of the big financial institutions that are, or were recently, considered "too big to go broke."

I don't know anything about the BBS's pay structure, but I think it safe to say that few, if any, of their employees have any kind of pay incentives beyond receiving a paycheck for "hours served." In other words, they have no reason to be nice to anyone - they are going to get a check whether they sell anything or not.

Every Town, U.S.A., has at least one of these stores - they are ubiquitous as air. I would probably be correct in assuming that everyone is treated the same everywhere, but that doesn't take the sharp edge off being treated like an imposition.

One final point of this sad state of affairs is that most of those who act this way are young people. Before you blow your cork, let's face it: Our younger generations just don't exhibit the courtesies the older folks do - they have been raised differently, without being taught how to be courteous. That doesn't mean, to my way of thinking, that that justifies their actions.

I know: The future belongs to the young. But I can't help but cringe at what the world will be like when courtesies are dispensed with totally. No one expects to be treated like royalty when being served, but an acknowledgement that one is standing there would be nice.

Those concerned with the impressions made by those who work with the public have conducted several workshops over the past three years to help our service personnel understand the importance of their contacts with the public. Without exception, the mean age of those who attended the workshops was in the 45- to 50-year-old bracket.

Am I upset about the way I was treated? You bet I am! Will what I've said here do any good? Probably not. Do others get upset by being treated this way? Of course they do. Then why don't things change? Because it takes too much of the employers' time to train employees to be courteous, and besides the old axiom, "The customer is always right." went out the window when the fast-paced life we live took control. We simply take "the treatment" and go on with our lives.

George F. Kennan, one of this country's greatest foreign service diplomats, statesmen and writers, summed it up succinctly when he wrote in his book "Sketches from a Life:" "A man's life ... is too long a span today for the pace of change. If he lives more than a half century, his familiar world, the world of his youth, fails him like a horse dying under its rider, and he finds himself dealing with a new one which is not really his. A curious contradiction, is: That as medicine prolongs a man's span of life, the headlong pace of technological change tends to deprive him, at an earlier age than was ever before the case, of the only world he understands and the only one to which he can be fully oriented ... ."

nnn

Parents, are the young drivers in your family wearing their seatbelts when they "are behind the wheel?" It might be a good idea to have a chat with them to reinforce the importance of "buckling up."

According to George Washington High School Principal Melissa Ruddle, during a random check, 39 percent of students at GW were found not wearing their seatbelts.

nnn

The favorite day of year - no not Christmas - is just around the corner. Daylight savings time comes to an end on Nov. 1. Remember to set you clocks back an hour before you go to bed Saturday evening. That's also the time of year to change the batteries in your home's smoke alarms.

nnn

I spent several hours trying to find a definitive answer to what it cost us taxpayers for President Obama to fly to Copenhagen to woo the IOC to award the 2016 Olympics to his hometown Chicago. We will probably never know what it cost but one source said it was at least $1 million, probably more. Whether or not this figure included the cost of flying the back-up Air Force 1 and all the other support aircraft could not be determined - it probably did. The cost is out there somewhere; all one needs is the time to look for it.

The Pentagon recently said it cost $100,219 an hour to fly the reconfigured Boeing 747 without the president onboard. His presence aboard the airplane, however, requires additional spending for security, personnel and equipment.

Other sources speculated that flying Michelle over there in advance of her husband's arrival cost another $400,000 to $700,000.

There was a thin veil of officialdom flung over the completely ridiculous and irresponsible affair when the president summoned Gen. McChrystal, commander of the war in Afghanistan, on board Air Force 1 when in Copenhagen and gave him a "dressing down" over the comments he made in a speech earlier that week in Europe.

nnn

Thought for the weekend: "To the world, you may be one person; to one person, you may be the world." (Author unknown)

 
 

 

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