Thursday, May 29, 2008

Here lies "May I help you, please?"

Once again, I find myself browsing through magazines that are almost two months old and wishing I had been able to comment on an article in a timely fashion. But then again, the closest I ever am to having my fashion be timely is when I'm wearing something so old that it has come back into style.

That said, I draw your attention to an article in Time by Barbara Kiviat (a name that is actually an anagram for "via a rabbit ark") that is part of the cover feature, "10 Ideas That are Changing the World." Barbara's contribution is Idea #2: "The End of Customer Service."

Ms Kiviat chronicles the demise of customer service (and the rise of self-service) starting with the 1916 opening of the first Piggly Wiggly store in Memphis. Until that momentous event, people "shopped" for groceries by telling the clerk what they wanted and waiting for him or her to fetch it. (Remember Mr. Olsen in Little House on the Prairie?) The idea of customers walking along aisles of foodstuffs, filling a cart or basket, and paying for it on the way out of the store was so revolutionary at the time that Clarence Saunders actually applied for a patent.

The "self-serving store" was just the beginning of an avalanche of do-it-yourself developments: Self-service gas pumps, ATMs, ringing up our own purchases at Wal-Mart, buying our own plane tickets at a kiosk or on the Internet, ad nauseum.

But none of this was what I thought the article was going to be about when I read its title. When I saw "The End of Customer Service," I thought, "You got that right, sister! Nobody knows how to serve the customer anymore. Why, Monday night I went to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and the dermatologically-challenged, zoned-out child behind the counter didn't even ask me if I wanted my popcorn floating in butter-like substance. He didn't seem to care whether I wanted to spend "just 90 cents more" to also get 30-cents' worth of shriveled grapes covered with brown wax.

And, yes, I realize that here in the pampered suburbs having the concession stand employee put the butter-like substance on your popcorn for you is a soon-to-be quaint custom of the near-past. That's why I don't go to movies at the Mall of America anymore: you dispense your own yellow oil...onto a full bag of popcorn...meaning that only the top third of the bag contents gets soaked. Barbaric!

Next question: how many of us self-diagnose our illnesses by looking things up on the Internet? Now, there's a grand idea. From the same people who bring you the true stories of $300 cookie recipes and multi-million-dollar giveaways from Nigeria...health care!

Please excuse me...I would write more on this topic, but I've got to pull a tooth that's been bothering me...and then take out this useless appendix. Now where did I put my scalpel?

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