In the classic film, “Miracle on 34th Street,” there’s a scene when Kris Kringle, Macy’s Department Store’s designated Santa Claus, tells a parent unable to find a gift for her child she should go to Gimbels Department Store instead. That’s a picture of what customer service is all about – even if it means sending a customer to a competitor.
I’ve been wondering what’s happened to this whole notion of customer service. At one time, too many salesmen in stores became pests, hovering nearby as you examined their merchandise at your leisure. Today, however, finding any sales associate is tantamount to finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. Often we even have to trudge across a store to make a purchase.
Several weeks ago I bought a new, expensive light bulb to replace one that had burned out in the range hood above our stove. Last week the replacement bulb burned out. So I went back to the name brand, big-box hardware store and exchanged it for another. The packaging for each of the new bulbs that matched mine was torn apart, so I purchased a different bulb a store associate stated would do the trick.
When I got home, however, I opened the intact packaging only to discover the new bulb was cracked in three places. So I returned to Name-Brand Hardware Store again, bought a bulb that seemed sound – no cracks – and brought it home. But this one didn’t work either. (Hint: When you pick up a bulb and you hear something that sounds like broken glass inside, it probably is.)
Lastly, for the second time in one week, the national newspaper I subscribe to – which is delivered every morning with the local daily paper – didn’t arrive. I called the newspaper’s circulation department, received the obligatory “I apologize” and “I’m sorry,” and was assured the periodical would be delivered by 3 p.m. As I write, it’s 4:30 – and still no national newspaper!
We read about the woes of the retail industry, citing declining sales and often decrying purchases made online rather than in stores. Is that any surprise, when retail institutions have cut service to the bone until it bleeds and we receive as much personalized attention on the Internet?
Years ago, entrepreneurs like J.C. Penney and Sam Walton built their businesses on genuine interest and concern for their customers, who felt valued and received help when needed. Penney and Walton were men of faith, undoubtedly motivated by biblical passages like, “do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12) and “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).
Modern-day business, loosed from the moorings of a Judeo-Christian worldview, prefers a short-term, profit-centered approach. Customers are treated like cattle rather than valued assets that help the businesses to survive.
God actually set the best example. He took a “customer service” attitude when He sought to reconcile rebellious humankind to Himself. In Romans 5:8 we’re told, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” And Jesus declared in Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”