We are a nation of low expectations. We see it everywhere, from our politics to our purchases. We generally choose the best of our limited options, accepting it as the commonplace it is.
Customer service is no different. I was reminded of that recently after being thrilled at how I was treated. Don't get me wrong, I was very happy to be treated so well, but it also served as a reminder that those occasions are the exception to the rule.
Long story short, I had trouble with a cell phone and water. Needless to say, like Madonna at the Republican Convention, it wasn't a good mix. My phone was out of commission and I needed help.
I won't mention the company - it rhymes with D-global - but I went to one of its local stores in search of assistance. It was crowded, so I braced myself, figuring on standing around unhelped and unhappy. But an employee made sure I knew he saw me and that he would be right with me, and once he was he was as pleasant and helpful as could be.
He relayed a story about getting his own phone wet, told me to let it dry out for another day before giving up on it and offered a trick. He said to put my phone in a bag of uncooked rice to help absorb the moisture. I thanked him and figured even if his recommendation didn't work, I'd have a head start on dinner.
A day - and several questions as to what my cell phone was doing in a bag of rice - later, the trick had worked and so did my phone. I felt several emotions - happiness that it was fixed, thankfulness that the person had helped me and an overwhelming craving for Mongolian beef.
But as happy as I was, I couldn't help but think of the numerous other times I would have appreciated someone in customer service actually providing service to a customer.
Like the guy at the rental car counter saying he didn't have a car for me and, despite my reservation, couldn't provide any help. Or the person answering the company's national help line then telling me that every minute I inquired about the car they didn't have for me was a minute I was losing trying to find another car from another company.
Or the myriad times I've had problems with an airline or made calls to a corporation only to get a thousand voice prompts before being transferred to a rep located in another country. Too bad they don't have the options I really want, like "dial 8 to scream your disgust" or "dial 9 to tell us what you really think."
No one ever seems to be able to help, but whenever these companies want payment, they seem to get in touch just fine. Funny how that works.
The problem is we're too accepting. We're so used to bad customer service that we're conditioned to think it's OK. It's like a lyric from the band the Gin Blossoms: "If you don't expect too much from me, you might not be let down."
But we should expect more. As the guy who helped me with my cell phone proved, customer service can come with a smile. And, if you're lucky, a new dinner recipe.
E-mail Todd Cline at email@example.com. His column appears on Tuesdays.