Whatever happened to customer service?

Full-service gas stations, car hops, free delivery, doctors making house calls – what do these things have in common? Like good old-fashioned customer service, they are all things of the past. Maybe I’m showing my age, but, I can remember when you could pull into a gas station, get your windshield washed, oil checked and gas tank filled in one stop, most times, with a smile, back when customer service actually meant something.

My wife and I were recently in a big box store (which will remain nameless) shopping for a patio table. We found one that looked promising, but wondered if our current chairs would fit when pushed in underneath the table. So, I asked an “associate” (that’s what they call them nowadays) if he had a tape measure I could use. The response? “No.” The next thing I expected from him was, “But let me find one for you.” What he actually did next was simply walk away. So I went to the department’s central desk and asked the same question. At least this time, the associate actually looked for one, but to no avail. Her suggestion was for me to check other department desks to see if I could find one. Huh? Sure, I’ll spend the rest of my morning wandering around the store looking for a tape measure. So, I hoofed it to the front desk, where they actually had a tape measure I could borrow. I thanked the young lady there and shared my story with her. She apologized.

We proceeded to another department to buy window shades. The young man there was very helpful, asked what size shade we needed, actually walked us to the window shade display, found the size we needed and placed them in our cart! I told him of my previous experience and suggested that he should be training his fellow associates on customer service. He thanked me for my comments and asked if I would like to speak to a manager about my prior, less than stellar, experience. I said that was a great idea. He proceeded to page a manager. And page a manager. And page a manager. He could not get a manager to answer his page! I think there was a hidden message there. I thanked him for his help and suggested I will send an email.

What is customer service in today’s world? Sadly, it appears to be a website, that may or may not be user friendly. If you have a question about a particular product or service, you are often referred to their “FAQ” (Frequently Asked Questions) page. That’s where you can spend your time weeding through hundreds of questions to see if there is one that may fit your topic or remotely answer your specific question. These are particularly frustrating when your problem is of a technical nature. Ever try to call Apple, Microsoft or Facebook? It can be done, but it’s certainly not easy. Their phone numbers are as secretly kept as the NSA’s, you rarely speak to a human and once you can actually make a connection, the real frustration begins (press one for … press two for …, press three for …). And the waiting queue? A line at a Disney attraction pales in comparison.

It’s sad to read today’s news stories of the great retail giants who were once not only our nation’s icons, but so too Nashua’s. Stores like Sears, JCPenney, Macy’s and even the beloved Toys R Us are closing all too rapidly. Yes, much of it is directly linked to online competition. But one has to wonder, if good old-fashioned customer service were to return, might that tide be reversed?

Don Canney is a longtime Nashua resident and occasional contributor to The Telegraph.