I got my first real job at the age of fourteen, working in a family run bakery/coffee shop. The bakery was new to the area and I was trained by the matriarch of the family in the appropriate way to serve customers. “Always greet the customer with a smile.” Sarah told me. Always ask how you may help the customer, fill their order cheerfully, never forget please and thank you and finally bid them a good day. I will never forget the first time that I encountered a complaint from a customer. A business man on his lunch break clearly asked me for a ham and cheese sandwich on a Kaiser roll. When I brought his order to the counter, he argued that he had ordered his sandwich on white bread. I didn’t know how to handle this and reminded him of his original order. Sarah must have heard me from the back where she was making the sandwiches because the next thing I knew she was beside me, apologizing to the customer and explaining that I was a new employee in training, and reassuring him that it would only be a moment to correct his order. I followed her lead and apologized if I misheard his order.
Later, I explained to Sarah what really happened. She looked at me with a big smile and calmness in her voice. “No matter what,” she said, “the customer is always right.”
“But how can that be?” I asked her. “I know I had his order right.”
“It doesn’t matter.” she explained. “The goal is to keep the customers happy so they will have a good feeling and come back. Exceed their expectations and they will become regular customers.”
She was right. That man continued to come in every day, was always friendly and even referred his friends and co-workers who also came in for lunch as well. As a server, I was expected to represent the face of the business. The values and culture of the business were what we conveyed to our customers.
Flash forward 35 years. I walk into a restaurant today and poor service is the norm. Most people consider good service, “You asked for a coffee. I brought you a coffee.” Quite often, there is no eye contact and no smile from service staff. Oftentimes, employees are in the middle of chatting with each other or glued to their cell phones. When they are ready, they stroll over to the counter at the pace of a slug.
I have watched the slow, progressive decline of civilization. I actually go out of my way to make sure I let people know when I receive good customer service. The decline of our civilized society is also apparent in our daily interactions with people. There is a “me” attitude that permeates our society. I see pregnant women and elderly or infirm individuals standing on a bus or subway while younger, more able-bodied people of both genders either pretend they are so engrossed in reading their book or looking out the window that they don’t notice someone else needs the seat more than they do. Other times, they look right at the person with a bold sense of entitlement plastered smugly across their face. Sometimes, I have to restrain my instincts and vigilante attitude so that no one will get hurt.
I often wonder, “Doesn’t anyone teach manners anymore? If someone is walking behind me, I hold the door for them. I’ve seen parents ignore their children pushing past an elderly person to get out the door first. I’ve seen people drop their groceries and people just walk by, not offering to help. I’ve witnessed someone falling and just lying there on the ground while passers-by just look and shake their heads or hurry on about their busy lives.
Is this lack of teaching our children proper etiquette the reason for the decay of our society? Are we, as a society, forgetting what it is to be human? Are we neglecting to teach our children how they can help make the human experience better for everyone? Is this all the result of the self-absorbed thinking of the, Me Generation? If there is any hope of saving civilization, I think we need to teach our grandchildren to be the, We Generation!
A native of Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Johanne R. Deschamps is a full time writer. Johanne writes poetry, articles and books that inspire and give understanding to readers through her own personal experience. She has been published in Survivor Today Magazine, Changesinlife.com, The Voices Project.org and Silver Sage Magazine. She is also the author of How to Write a Book in a Week and co-author of Gestalt Poetry.