Customers: Disposable commodities

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When I was a young man in business school, it was commonly accepted that the customer ‘was always right,’ and when selling to customers, a merchant had to give the best possible service to ensure the customer would be a repeat.

I wonder what has happened to that motto. Nowadays it seems that merchants don’t particularly care if they get repeat business or not. They are often surly, deliver shoddy products and/or service, and are lackluster at best in response to customer complaints. It’s almost as if, like a lot of the items we buy that are designed to be used for a while and replaced—everything from cell phones to cars—customers are the same. Merchants are, it seems, satisfied to make one sale per customer and move on to the next.

Now, I could go on ad infinitum about the lack of pride in workmanship that seems apparent these days, the lack of concern for customer service, but what really gets to me is the attitude that seems so prevalent, or at least it seems so to me, that customers are as disposable as the goods they sell us.

A family I know bought an extremely expensive set of machinery—I won’t give details about their name or the device they bought for privacy reasons—and as soon as the two-year warranty expired, the darn thing started breaking down. Now, we’re not talking about a twenty-dollar item that you expect to be flimsy, but a system that cost nearly a thousand dollars.

When it broke down the first time, the company sent technicians to look at it and they came out after nearly two hours, fiddled around with it, said they had to replace a broken contact or something of that nature and handed the homeowners a bill for several hundred dollars for about two hours work.

You might think that was that, but you’d be wrong. A few months later the machine broke down again, and the repairmen came to look at it. This time, again for a substantial service fee, they pushed a few buttons to reset the device and informed the homeowners that the wrong components were installed originally and eventually they would have to buy the proper one at a significant cost.

Whoa, you might say. If you dunderheads installed the wrong component aren’t you kind of responsible to make things right? Well, if the warranty was still in force, yes, we would, they said, but the warranty has expired, so tough. Aren’t you kind of responsible for the problem? After all, the problems that exist now, according to your own technician, are caused by the faulty installation in the first place. Response. Shrug and sorry, but that’s the way things work.

This is not the only such incident like this. I’ve personally experienced this kind of shoddy, ‘you bought it now it’s our problem’ kind of behavior. There are a number of stores, restaurants, and service companies that I no longer use. The terrible thing is, though, I don’t think they care. Could it be that people these days are so concerned about getting things as cheaply as possible they don’t care that they’re being treated like a paper cup that you drink from, crumple and toss into the trash.

I don’t usually wish for the good old days. The good old days really weren’t all that good in many ways. Women were treated even worse than they currently are, and minorities were less than second class citizens. Children died from preventable diseases and in many places, people didn’t even have indoor plumbing. What they did have, though, was craftsmen who took pride in their work, cars that didn’t fall apart after 30,000 miles, and merchants who wanted customers to come back and buy again. The main things that were disposable were paper cups and tissues.

Let the good old days stay gone but bring back some of the habits. And, a word of warning to all you merchants out there. I am not disposable. – NWI