As Americans, we like our things. Boy, do we like our things. We like our little impulse buys and we like our big luxuries.
But we want it affordable.
So we've moved from a culture of craftsmanship to a culture of mass production. This isn't limited to products, either. It extends all the way to customer service, too.
My mind started down this path a while back, but it began honing in on the topic late last week. A week ago, my husband and I took a long weekend getaway to a little resort within driving distance. It was our anniversary trip, and we'd planned it long before the other travel came up. While there, we chatted with a man who asked where we lived. We told him and he asked if we were "from there." My husband said yes, I said no, and somehow within a few minutes he was telling us he'd moved from Maine around the same time as us for more or less some of the same reasons.
"I grew up here," he told us, meaning the city near the resort, "But like you was away for a long time. You forget a few things, like how fond Texans are of their big trucks. Everyone here wants some enormous SUV and the more luxurious the better. I was talking to a guy the other day and he was saying he wished he could afford something, and I thought, 'Guy, you have a Lexus SUV and you can't afford this, are you kidding me?' It's a matter of priorities and Texans will sacrifice anything for a luxury huge truck. Not only that but they'll do it every couple of years so it's always new!"
I started thinking about it, and decided he was right. Texans are overly fond of fancy and huge vehicles. I've driven through some areas you might consider poor. The houses are ramshackle, broken windows patched with cardboard, yards overgrown...certainly not affluent. And yet, in the driveway? A brand-new Expedition.
My husband and I consider a car something you buy, own free and clear, maintain and drive until it crumbles into pieces on the side of the road. Every now and again we crave a new car, or a minivan. We consider how much it would cost and that we'd have to finance it, and suddenly the approximately $1000 per year we spend on our cars doesn't seem like much money. We want safe cars, good cars. And we have them. new cars are nice, but it's not our priority and we won't risk other things for a new car. Our priorities are attached elsewhere.
This seems to be atypical for our area. You might be shocked by the number of H2 Hummers on the roads here. I am.
But it's reflective of our cultural greed. Yes, I said it: g-r-e-e-d.
I'm not immune. I'm greedy too. Our cars are old and old-ish and paid for, but they are nice cars.
I fall victim to consumerism in every other way too. I want a nice house with nice things in it. I want my world to look pretty, and I want what I want when I want it. I like being able to take trips; buy Halloween costumes for my kids; come home from Target with a non-catastrophic shopping trip due to a stroll down the dollar row, cheapo toyesque crap in two small hands.
I'm susceptible to commercials and messages that tell me I need. I'm gullible to sales, and tactics that induce a false sense of urgency to "buy now! good deal!" in me.
I have had to work hard to overcome these urges and create new buying (or rather not buying) patterns. I have to work carefully to maintain purchasing balance, working within my budget but not to the unnecessary for us extreme of total deprivation (which can prompt a spree). I understand I am a product of myself and my culture, and to people who'd love to simply have one half of one of my meals for one day, I sound ridiculous. Not to mention the rest of what I have.
In the end, these days, what sells me is service.
I like to use my buying power to a good end. In return, I like to feel good about how I spend my money. I want to make sure I've spent it on what I should, where I should.
I haven't felt that way lately. I think this is largely because most of my money has gone to service, service for my house.
I've written about my aggravation with Best Buy and Whirlpool. I've ranted somewhere (here? there? everywhere?) with my ongoing annoyance at the plumbers who have not fixed my plumbing.
I do know I've ranted at the home warranty company to whom I pay insurance extortion to make sure we can repair things that go wrong in our "vintage" home.
The girl who listened to me practically snapped her gum in my ear in boredom.
"My GOD," I wondered to myself, all 85 and curmudgeonly, "Whatever happened to commitment to quality? To service? To caring?"
I realized that most of these service representatives are probably a generation behind me and don't recall a world that wasn't here today, gone tomorrow mass produced.
And I suddenly felt not only the paralysis of aging but also the realization that the world is moving forward faster now than I am. Worse than that, I realized I have become one of Those People who happily reminisce about the Way Things Were. And even worse than that, I was forced to acknowledge that I preferred the way things were in the Olden Days.
I live in an el cheapo world of mass production and nobody but me expects anybody to care or anything to last longer than a year.
I sat there and told that home warranty customer service girl that they should stop working with this plumbing company if anyone other than me had a problem because it reflected poorly on their company. I repeated myself three or four times because she had no reaction or response whatsoever and I thought she must not understand me.
No, it is me who misunderstands.
When I pondered deeper, I realized, "What are the odds this girl makes as much as much less more than $10 an hour from a company she cares not one whit for and probably will not work for in one year's time?"
Slim to none, my friends.
She has no motivation to care about me. She doesn't care about the company that employs her; it's just a job, and probably not even one she likes at all. I bet she didn't even bother herself to write down my complaint.
The plumber? Although he ought to have a commitment to craft, he works for a Big Company now and is assembly line like everything else these days.
The fact that he barely fixed one problem, created another, then took nearly a month to come back and fix that, which he tried to do half-assed after arriving three hours late (creating an 8 hour wait time for me)? Didn't even register for him.
I reported poor customer service to people who didn't care who worked for a company that didn't care.
It's because they don't care about building customer relationships any longer. They don't. One time sales. In and out. Up the bottom line. Decrease expenses. How big a bonus can the CEO get and how little can we pay our employees?
Loyalty is what is missing, and because of that, care and quality are what is missing.
I don't have a McLife. I don't drive a McSUV. I don't live in a McHouse. I don't SuperSize everything. I like the Simple Life, green, high-quality and considerate.
I feel like an old-timer when I say it, but I miss the old days when more things were out of reach. When things weren't so mass produced because everyone felt an entitlement to everything. When customer service wasn't subcontracted to another country where people really named Jaimin answer to Joe and try for a generic US television accent, and cultural needs and nuances are lost, as are personal relationships and caring.
It might be monetarily cheaper for companies to invest in new customers instead of retention of existing ones, but it costs us so much more in so many other ways.
Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
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