April 5, 2006

The Swerve

The essence of what is most wrong in so many businesses nowadays is perhaps best symbolized by the sloppy swerve instead of the tight turn that seems to be the current practice of so many drivers.


Why stay in your own lane and make a proper turn when you can just haphazardly aim your car in the general direction of the corner you are about to come to and swerve your way through others’ lanes as you go around it?


Increasingly I feel like we are becoming a nation of swervers, not respecting the reasonable guidelines marked on the pavement of life and instead doing things on our own terms with little of thought about the implications of our sloppiness.


You see swerving in the indifferent or sullen attitudes of counter workers at most fast food restaurants, in the faces of beleaguered airline employees whose understandably drained expressions only exacerbate the hell that domestic travel has rapidly descended into.


And what is most disconcerting is that as more and more people swerve, it becomes the norm. Why do more when so many get by doing less? Why care about others when you can spend that energy on your own concerns? Why treat the customer with respect if the customer has little choice to get your product elsewhere or is unlikely to spend the extra energy to do so? At one time, doing the right thing seemed to be a way to distinguish yourself from the bland and blase masses, a way to get ahead. Now when you actually operate in a manner that once would have been considered the bare minimum of acceptable performance, people actually look at you like you are crazy to be making the effort. As a Honda UK commercial decries, we've become a world in which "just OK" is considered good enough.


It is not a sustainable model of customer service, nor is it a sustainable model for civility, but it increasingly seems to be “the way we do things around here.” I see it in the face of the hotel clerk who tells me my room isn’t ready at the hotel’s self-proclaimed check-in time, but seemingly can’t be bothered to note my cellphone number and call me when it is so that I might go about my business in a more productive manner rather than loitering in the lobby in the hopes that housekeeping might finish quickly. Sorry dude, wouldn't want to put you out with such an outlandish request.


I’m thankful that in my earliest high school employment days as a server in a small Illinois family restaurant chain, I was taught to look for opportunities to serve, to seek out the chance to contribute to an efficient and memorable dining experience. It is a mindset that has served me well for more than three decades. Regrettably, it seems to be a lesson that is no longer being taught.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I often feel the same way Jeffrey. Although sometimes I wonder if I'm having early onset of grumpy old man. Damn kids!

I do try to reward good service by tipping heavily and looking for a manager to tell directly. I also once sent a note to the CEO of a company complimenting his sales person for being the ultimate professional and a big part of why I decided to buy their system. She got a standing-O, led by the CEO, at their next company meeting. So, maybe we can make a difference by putting some positive feedback into the system.

Maria Palma said...

Jeffrey,
Yes, I believe the state of customer service right now is pretty sad, but definitely hope to do something about it! I've featured your post on my customer service blog - thanks!

Matthew said...

Terrific post, Jeffrey. I've noticed this happening more and more, in just about every aspect of life. It's like the human race has stopped expanding, except for in numbers. We've had an awful lot of growth in the last 100 years, and it seems like now we're just standing still, stagnating. And we often don't reward those who even through the onslaught of sullenness try to do more than the current status quo.

But, to anonymous, unless that comment was made tongue-in-cheek, I don't think we should be blaming young people. In fact, if you look at the faces of most of these people, they're over 30.

-Matthew