“The only thing worse than training employees and losing them is not training them and keeping them.”

Zig Ziglar

“May I help you?”

I spent many of my formative job years working in retail. There used to be one golden rule. The customer is always right! The number one thing we were taught during training is to provide the very best customer service to anyone who walked in the door.

Fast forward to this past week. I can assure you that customer service is all but gone from the modern world. Getting help in a retail environment today is about as frustrating as anything I do on a regular basis.

I went to McDonald’s this past week to pick up lunch for my girlfriend. One of the American symbols of service to my generation has now decided that I have to work for them without pay now to get a cheeseburger. I walked in to a very cold ambience and a wall across the front counter where a friendly face once would have greeted me with a very enthusiastic, “May I help you?”

There was nobody to greet me at the counter. A lone young lady was roaming around an area with large kiosks. I was informed that my order would have to be placed on the computer screen by me. I was quite honestly a bit in shock at the total change that had been made in the restaurant since my last visit a few weeks earlier.

I went about trying to order a chicken sandwich, fries, and a drink. I ordered the sandwich and went about having to individually request each condiment and dressing. It wasn’t the most pleasant of fast-food ordering experiences. Then I just stood around with a rather large gathering of people who also had been employed by McDonald’s with no pay to do their own ordering of a meal.

One thing that I found kind of sad was that a number of elderly people had stopped in for their regular burger. I felt bad when they expressed their frustration with the new system and a couple tried unsuccessfully to navigate the ordering ordeal. The busiest person in the place was the young lady who had to assist people or train them to be unpaid McDonald’s employees.

I probably waited over 10 minutes for my simple order. During that relatively long wait for a to-go order but a relatively short time, in general, I watched about six different people come back into the restaurant having to address incorrect orders. Of course, the one person to whom they could address the complaint was busy training new unpaid McDonald’s employees.

To say that patience and frustration among the people seemed a bit obvious would be an understatement. I pretty much knew as soon as I had placed my order this would be a very unsatisfying experience. I have made my last trip to any fast-food restaurant that decides it is up to me to do their service employees' only job — which is to wait on me, check my order for accuracy, and deliver it to me with a big old “Thank You.” If I wanted a minimum wage job, I would fill out a job application instead of wanting to be a customer at what is soon to be incorrectly referred to as the service industry.

I initially decided not to write about my hamburger inconvenience until I went to Walmart one night this past week to do a bit of Christmas shopping. After meandering for about two hours, I had filled up a cart with what ended up totaling a little over $391. I must stress that I had no real large dollar items but a shopping cart full of little gifts to wrap and various stocking stuffers.

I attempted to buy an item in the electronics department. A very pleasant young lady informed me that she could not answer any of my basic questions about one of the most common items stocked there. She couldn’t even answer my question as to the return policy if someone didn’t like the particular Christmas gift I wanted to purchase. For all I know she might not have even worked there, except for the tell-tale blue vest that had Walmart written on it.

After passing on that purchase which would have totaled $250, I finished up buying a few other things and headed to the checkout. My adventure was really just about to begin. There was a bit of a crowd at the self-checkout area and after my McDonald’s experience, you probably know how I feel about them. With the large amount of small purchases and a gift card which had to be validated and loaded, I looked for a cashier.

It was 10:44 on a week night the week before Christmas. There was exactly one checkout clerk working. He was to get off at 11 o’clock. He was at the 10 items or less checkout line. When I asked if he was the only checker on duty, he verified he was, but to his credit did say he didn’t mind checking me out. I am not sure the three other people who got in line behind me with one or two items felt the same.

When I explained I needed a gift card activated he informed me that could be done at the self-checkout lane, but it was kind of difficult to do. I politely informed him I didn’t really want to have to perform a difficult task requiring employee training after working all day and shopping until eleven o’clock.

He then tried to ring up an item and the register kept flashing in green lights something about a data error. He was getting pretty frustrated after several unsuccessful attempts until the customer behind me informed him that he had to not only put his scan gun to the bar code but had to register the serial number. Apparently that guy was a veteran unpaid Walmart employee. I considered that one random guy behind me who helped to move my basket of items along an early Christmas gift.

I now understand why Amazon is about to put brick-and-mortar stores out of existence. Once they can drone a hot hamburger to my house — I probably won’t support any of them. Customer service and immediate gratification is all these places have to offer. I got neither at McDonald’s or Walmart this past week

My Christmas wish is that the corporate executives who make such decisions would be forced to leave their big fancy offices and made to have to be a customer on the other end of policy changes at their own retail stores.

Customer service is like so many other gratifying things in life we take for granted — you never really appreciated it until it was gone.

Lindon Dodd is a freelance writer who can be reached at lindon.dodd@hotmail.com.

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