One of the unspoken reasons Americans flock to online shopping is the diminishing quality of customer service. It’s not just for lower prices and convenience. It’s getting more and more difficult to experience civility and great service when we go out, so we are staying home more and having purchases brought to us.
While most of us enjoy these conveniences of a tech economy, there is a real potential these trends will continue to erode the social fabric of America. Does Uber, Grubhub, or Amazon ultimately promote fairness, balance, and equality in the economy? Is Facebook making money off of us not seeing each other face to face?
Several years ago, I was in Philadelphia to visit a Brown’s Super Store, a fourth generation grocer who purposely goes into impoverished communities and food deserts. They hire from the community, establishing a social contract with the people that live around the store. The profit margins for the store are lower than other stores but they make a profit and the real returns are sustainable. The stores offer foods specific to the diversity of the communities, credit union services, and healthcare clinics. Compare that with businesses like Walmart, now the largest employer across the U.S. It is no coincidence that the high level of economic inequality we experience now has happened at the same time as the rise of Walmart with their low median wages. Job security, social safety nets, and thousands of local businesses all faded away with the predatory tactics of Walmart and the ascent of online technology.
It is delusional to think all of us spending more time in our homes is great for the community. If we continue to view our transactions as just a means to an end, we will have no more diversity of places left for the human experience and connection with strangers. Businesses will continue to respond by automating even more services and using fewer people. We have become okay with this to the point that when we do venture out most of our exchanges are with faces and names we don’t remember. I’ve noticed it with my mail service. After our long-time carrier Chuck retired, we’ve had a series of carriers, I suspect because there are more technology and less people investments occurring.
So, we are caught in a Catch-22. Whether online giants like Amazon continue to reinvest profits in local face time services such as Whole Foods or experiments with more automated self-checkout, remains to be seen. Large employers like Costco and Trader Joe’s still get it, offering wages and benefits to live by and receiving some of the highest employee satisfaction marks in the nation. Chick-fil-A and Publix are soaring because of exceptional customer service and consistency. Sears, Kmart, Toys “R” Us, and Winn-Dixie; a little more foresight, employee investment, and customer service training, and we might still have them.
Customer expectations for instant gratification have increased, but it has become dangerous to the sustainability of our own local economies. Online-based businesses and apps will meet our needs, but at what cost? We the customers need to stop abandoning neighbors and their jobs for shiny new things, self-checkout lines, and cheaper prices. Businesses need to train more in customer service and promote fairness and equality. If we treat people like faceless cogs, both the customer and the employee, it won’t be long before we are all at the mercy of a few billionaires and a million robots. We have to do better.
Daniel Parker is an author, educator, and public servant. He may be reached at email@example.com
Wow, judge much? I know lots of people who wear crocs, and they are not wearing PJs along with them. Who would want to be out in public with people like you judging their damn shoes???
How about the fact that I can’t go into many retail stores and ask a question without a look of pure apathy and an excuse about “this ain’t my department”. When I shop for groceries, I do so at TJ’s, Publix or Sams/Costco. At Costco I can go to a live cashier, but at Sam’s it is hit and miss with poor attitudes from the cashier – so I always use self checkout. Publix is always a pleasure to shop at. They know what CS is all about.
There is a definite trend toward customer service personal having a bad attitude ……most act as if they do not want to be there to begin with , much less wait on a customer. Sears is a fine example…..worked for them many years ago when you had to know how a table saw, router, mower or whatever worked in order to explain it to the customer…….not today………the help barely knows how to tie it”s shoelaces much less anything else AND they could care less ……..yet they get hired by the faultering management…………ever notice the attitude at most fast food joints ? AND they think they are worth $15 / hr.! We are a product of ourselves that needs a basic overhaul…………came thru the GREAT DEPRESSION, when you got down on your knees and thanked the Lord ,every night, that you still had a JOB ! AMEN !
Thank you for the insightful piece. I try for some continuity in my kids’ lives…I like for them to see the same doctor each time, the same dentist, the same hairdresser, etc. It is important for us to build connections with the people whose services we rely on, but we find it increasingly difficult. As mentioned in an earlier, we too knew our mailman for awhile – but Tony retired, and we’ve had a series of temporary replacements since. I rely on old TV shows like Little House on the Prarie and The Andy Griffith Show to provide the kids with a sense of what “community” can be. Any night of the week, we can find the Olsens behind the counter at the mercantile and that goofy Barney Fife on the beat! Good times.
Thank you for sharing, and for reading.
I find the worst customer service of any local business is at Walmart. And they’re usually out of 2-3 things I need on a short list. But we tolerate that, because they have the lowest prices.
Another example of bad customer service, from a company in the local market that doesn’t get it:
Tallahassee Democrat Subscription Terms
“If at any time, you decide to cancel your subscription, you may contact customer service at 1-800-999-2271, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or click here for chat support, and the full amount of any balance over $10.00 will be refunded.”
So, they still keep $10 of your money if you come to your senses and stop buying their left-wing propaganda. Nice.
No surprise their circulation is hitting a 60-year low. Even though the population in their market is almost four times greater than 1960.
As to your mail service Peter, carriers are delivering large Amazon packages along with all the letters. Their workload has quadrupled in the last four years, and they can’t even fit all the boxes into their personal vehicles, which are required for the rural routes.
Correction: “Daniel” not Peter, sorry. You’re not Spider-Man.
I have met Stan Lee. Thank you for reading.
Let Snidely preach on it:
It’s so much less that its getting more and more difficult to experience civility and great service when we go out, and so much more that we are getting too fat soft afraid and annoyed by human contact.
Not to mention we’ve become such “pajama boys and girls” that when we do muster up the courage to leave the house many of the more dorky among us wear pajama pants and crocks as our shoes…and think that is OK!!
It does make many of the more dorky among us feel better about their pathetic selves to pretend we are killing retail because of some lack of civility and great service from minority store workers…I get that.
Quite likely the person that started the lack of civility and great service was the man or woman in the mirror wearing those ugly pajama pants and crocks.
All you Net Flix watchers need to turn off the TV and get out of the house more often. And BUY SOMETHING. That would be a good beginning.
Oh and please dress like you are a somebody and leave those ugly crocks and PJ pants at home when you do go out.