Is customer service dead?

When I was a child back in the dinosaur age, customer service meant something. When we went as a family to the grocery store on Friday afternoons, clerks and bag boys were underfoot to help with anything the customer needed. My 5’2” mother always needed help reaching the top shelf. Even once I grew tall enough to help her, the store managers considered that help their responsibility. Once we entered the check-out line, boys unloaded the groceries and boys bagged and repacked them into another cart before taking them out to the car. If during the week Mama walked to the grocery store, boys would deliver the groceries to the house for her. She never learned to drive, and Daddy was working. That was long before the current system where some Walmart employee will shop for you and deliver to your vehicle. We didn’t appreciate what we had I guess, but things surely have changed.

Consider Wal-Mart, for example. Please understand first of all that I am not criticizing our local people. They must follow instructions from management and have no control over the situations I’m complaining about today. I find them always helpful and friendly. I’ve been noticing, as have many of you, that the number of cashier stations manned by real people has diminished drastically while the self-checkout ones have increased.

“Ah, the better to serve you, my dear! We’ll help you get in and out faster.”

Not long-ago Larry and I ACCIDENTALLY got in a self-checkout lane in the Waycross Wal-Mart when our cart was running over. We realized it before we started scanning, but the lines were too long to go back and start again. We may have cursed a bit under our breath--maybe, but we started scanning. On the 4th item, we had to call for help. We waited several minutes for the clerk to come to our assistance. She came, cleared our problem, and we resumed the checkout process. Seven items later, the bananas wouldn’t scan. We called her again. This time my foot was tapping impatiently before she came to us. Once when she came to us, she had to send someone to the back of the store for a price check. Now the people behind us were tapping their toes also. At the end of our venture, we’d had to call her about 5 times. We’d have done far better to wait in line a few more minutes for a real person. Now we always check. Nonetheless, if fewer cashiers are on duty, the wait can grow quite lengthy.

Invariably I have trouble with produce. The scanner can’t seem to handle bell peppers or cabbage, and never bananas. I know how to maneuver the self-checkout lane, but it never works right for me. The devil that lives in the machine sees me coming and starts to lick his chops immediately. His red eyes gleam, and he tears the rolling paper, so my receipt won’t come out. He’s ready the minute I get there and put the first item on the belt.

Furthermore, I resent the principle of the thing. Wal-Mart will assure us that the whole change-over is for the customer’s benefit in the long run. The key word is efficiency for the customer. I haven’t fallen for that one yet. The key word might be efficiency for the company since it no longer has to pay as many cashiers. Customers are frustrated though, and I can’t even count the number of times I wanted to leave the groceries in the cart and bend my knees toward home. I haven’t yet, but who knows?

Is there a solution? Here in Baxley, we have several options. We can pay more to shop somewhere else or we can drive out of town. We don’t have a grocery store on every corner as the larger cities do. Most of us just put up with Wal-Mart’s shenanigans for the simple convenience it offers and gripe to each other as we wander from aisle to aisle. As for customer service, that’s a thing of the past, another good thing gone with the wind.

EXCEPT for the young man who helped me with buttermilk this weekend—now he understands the concept and acted upon it. It is a common complaint of mine that the buttermilk slot in the cooler is usually empty when I pass by. Saturday morning, a young Walmart employee went searching in the back for me and found three half gallons jugs of whole buttermilk. I bought all three. I can’t run a kitchen without it.

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