Service In America

I'm going to vent about customer service in America. I hate to do it; most of the time my annoyance is directed at the U.S. Government. I work overseas, usually, and I haven't been in the states for quite some time, so perhaps I had an incorrect view of how things work here.

But I've been home for the last 8 months and wonder if other Americans are having the same experiences I am. So I'll just mention a few incidents that have happened recently and hopefully, through your comments, I can find out whether my experiences are typical or not.

My wife and I needed physical examinations for our visas. The place we went to didn't have an x-ray technician there and we needed a chest x ray. They said we would have to come back. It was a 45 minute drive there and now we have to take more time to come back. If were an emergency, there would be no problem and they would send us to a hospital nearby, but since it wasn't, we would have to come back. They also had 2 types of AIDS tests, which we also needed. One was $63 and the other $94.50. I asked what the difference was. The cheaper test wasn't definitive, the nurse told me, and it would be better to get the more accurate, more expensive one, for visa purposes. Can someone please explain the reason for a test that doesn't give accurate results?

We also need 10 passport photos each for our visa paperwork. At Wal-Mart, the total is $100. But we couldn't get it done there, anyway, since the camera was broken. At Wallgreens, the price was $79, but the woman at the counter didn't even know how to do it. She called a manager who took a picture with a crapy digital camera. My wife has a better camera sitting at home. After waiting for 25 minutes, they said the background was incorrect and they had to print them again. No timetable, no sorry about your wait. But I was able to overhear the two ladies discussing when they should go on break.

Twice at Walmart - once in Ohio and once here in Maine - I waited for over 10 minutes before anyone in automotive department showed up and asked what I needed, which was a simple oil change. In Ohio, they said they would page me when they were finished with the car. After waiting for over 45 minutes, I went to ask when it would be finished. The clerk said my car had been done for 20 minutes. I had been sitting in front of him for the last 30, just waiting. No page, no one else was around. I asked why he hadn't paged me. "I forgot" was the response. The second time I just left because no one ever came.

Our front headlight was out. I asked the mechanic to change it at "Sammy's Lube Express", along with my oil change (I planned to get it done at Walmart but no one ever came to help me) and buy new wiper blades. He said they could do it, but after leaving, I noticed it was still out, but at least they didn't charge me for it when I checked the bill. So I went back and said I did want it changed, in case there was some confusion. He said they didn't have the bulb in stock at the moment and that was why they didn't change it. Gee, thanks for telling me. Perhaps that was information that I could have used when I was there the first time.

While getting fitted for a wedding tux, an employee at Men's Warehouse who was sitting next to the employee who was helping me, answered a phone call. The caller wanted information on a sale they were having. I overheard their conversation. In addition to being rude to the customer, after he hung up the phone, the employee began to complain about how stupid the caller was, right in front of me and a few other customers.

My friend and I were at Pet Quarters buying some dog food. When we were at the check out, the cashier rang up the dog food as $23. But it was on sale for $16. My friend asked if the price was right. She just gave a blank stare. He asked if she could check. She literally said nothing and walked away. She came back, entered the correct price and my friend paid what he should have - $16 plus tax. The cashier said nothing. No apology or anything. She was even annoyed that my friend had the audacity of point out that she made a mistake. He was nice about it. He wasn't rude or anything. If I was her manager, I would have fired her instantly and profusely apologized to the customer. I didn't even buy anything, but I'll never buy anything from that store.

These are just a few examples of the terrible service I've seen in the states. I have lots more, of course, like the mailman always delivering our mail to the house next door, instead of our mailbox, both clearly marked and 200 yards away from each other or the incompetent baristas that my wife works with at Starbucks. But what is the point? You get the idea.

When unemployment is at 9.7 %, I have to wonder how a manager can put up with employees like this. I know there are lots of people looking for work or at least more hours. If I was a manager, why not take the opportunity in the recession to find good employees, since there are so many for each position. Why not have exceptional customer service since people are spending less money? If there is a sub-standard manager, why not look for someone who is excellent?

The average employee / manager I deal with on a regular basis, is below average, and I find myself wondering how this person got a job in the first place. I'm constantly thinking, "I would never hire that person" or "How can they allow an employee to do that?". We are in a recession. This should not be. We have plenty of capable people looking for work in this country. We need to expect better service and demand it when we do spend out money.

Honestly, am I crazy?


  1. Here's the problem.
    The type of customer service you're getting and remarking on is, across the board, a minimum wage field problem.
    These jobs require very little training, and an 8th grader could do most of them with 3 days OJT.
    We used to call these 'entry level jobs'.
    Now that we have established laws that insist these jobs be treated as good long term primrary wage earner positions.
    Consequently, the people doing them tend to be people with little motivation - the folks who have little to no desire to go the extra mile, try to please the customer (or the boss), or learn the customer service skills that could advance them to better paying positions.
    Even in a time of low employment, these jobs are exactly the jobs that are easiest to get - and moving on from one to another is fairly easy.
    Conversely, it's difficult to fill them with folks who do want to get ahead.
    The culture of least effort has taken over these positions, and there's reduced appeal to these positions for those who DO have the desire to get ahead.
    It's become a horrible dead end, and until we go back to paying what the market will bear instead of forcing employers to pay the lowest quality employees as if they were contributing to the business, you'll continue to see this problem.

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  3. I agree with Kit above, the turnover for this kind of jobs is really high, and it's difficult to get a hold on good employees for them. You could hardly say that kids these days aspire to be proficient cashiers.

    The only persons suitable for this job right now are the students who come from abroad with work and travel for summers. I know because I was one of them. It was nice to see a bit of Americana, but the native employees were disastrous. I did everything there was to my job, mostly because I just like doing a good job. But I don't plan on being a cashier or work in customer service for ever.

  4. I'm sorry but doesn't every study conducted show that the majority of Americans are liberal leaning? I'm not just talking about whites here. I'm talking about Black, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans and Arabs, too. I could never understand why conservatives like that term, it always seemed a little misleading. But that's not new for America.


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