2018

26 April 2017: Customer service is a thing of the past

Democracy is a wonderful thing. So is equality. It’s great knowing we all pull our trousers on in similar fashion and share a common destiny: Not getting out alive.

But then we board a sardine can with wings or sit idling on a traffic-clogged highway or stand in a 30-minute line to board a ski lift, and think, “What the fuzzola!”

Solar eclipses are rare to behold. So is yours truly finding common ground with Jon Caldera of the Independence Institute. Liberal communing with Libertarian.

Both of us have found deeper meaning in the United Airlines fiasco that saw an older gentleman being brutally hauled from a plane for no reason—he wasn’t a threat or rude—other than being the one some omniscient, authoritarian corporate honcho declared, “It’s you who must go.” I suppose one ought not to blame the guy for doing his job per policy, though his fall-guy choice leads one to wonder why he hadn’t selected the six-foot-eight, cowboy-hat wearing, bearded bruiser with a bubbled lower lip suggesting a chaw of tobacco rather than the diminutive, older guy of apparent Asian descent. Maybe Tex wasn’t aboard, but had he been, it would’ve been a safe bet he wouldn’t have been the schmuck fingered for removal.

In his column about the UAL fiasco, Caldera asks the perfect question: “Why do we put up with it?” It being treating rudely and crudely. For Caldera, it comes down to two: Relief the ordeal is over and the customer knowing he/she got great bargain, a cheap ticket. True, but there’s more.

It’s who we’ve become. We not only shop Wal-Mart; we’re becoming Wal-Mart. Quick and cheap with shoddiness the price to pay in lieu of dollars.

Democracy and bottom-line capitalism intersecting.

Americans have a toughness about them. Our farming ancestors carved a living from the hard-scrabbled land. Our factory worker ancestors took on bottom-line industry captains to gain livable wages and tolerable working conditions. And we killed hundreds of thousands to eradicate slavery from the land of the free.

Yep, we’ve had some tough challenges, but largely, despite recent backsliding, those battles are won. For many, needs are met, and they find themselves with disposable income and time. Now that they got a slice of the economic pie, they want one of the “how the other side lives” pie.

Caldera exhorts us to give our business to businesses who treat us with respect. Nice, but the reality is we continue to give it to the cheapest. Because bottom-line rules for consumers too. Some of that is by necessity, the by-product, if not intent, of a debt-ridden people enslaved to jobs. For others, it’s choice.

Take flying for pleasure. One philosophy is to take frequent trips to gaudy places—read Vegas—by taking advantage of ridiculously low rates. An alternative is to save up for a better experience: Flying first class to a quality destination and having a more fulfilling experience. That’s class.

Caldera’s point about airline travel being democratized extends to other businesses including skiing. Skiers and snowboarders spend insane amounts of time commuting to spend outrageous amounts of cash to park, stand in long lift-lines, and consume mountain grub. They grouse, but they go back.

It’s becoming more evident customer service is going down the toilet. Corporations that service people—skiing, flying—as opposed to selling products in a competitive market—autos, computers—keep demonstrating they don’t really care about you. Their odes to customer—“guest”—service ring hollow as they jam more in or on board. They’re indifferent to lines, wait periods, and other inconveniences. They’re fine with the irate and frustrated customer venting their rage on the front-line people. And often, that’s on whom we vent our frustration, even rage: on underpaid, overworked front-line agents at the bottom of the corporate totem pole.

We’ve become a coarser demanding people full of First World angst and problems. We have a tolerance for inconvenience, so despite our anger, we go back. United will continue cramming its flying sardine cans. Vail and the rest will continue their marches to consolidation and profit. And the American paying public will dutifully play its part.

It’s price of affluence. It’s democratic. Everybody is equal. Except for…

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