Service, Satisfaction, And Other Legends of Old

Long, long ago in a land far, far away, there existed an ancient practice called customer service. Highly trained tribal leaders were anointed the title of “service reps,” and their role was to assist the befuddled and the bewildered with the purchase and use of goods and services. Legend has it that in this long forgotten place and time, humans delivered milk to your door and men in uniforms ran out of the gas station to fill up your car.

But alas, as the information age dawned, this culture of courteous commerce was not sustainable, and the practitioners of this ancient art died.  Their replacements – computers and voicemails systems – had many advanced capabilities, but they lacked the intuitive wisdom of their human forbearers, and thus the art of personal service perished from the face of the earth.

I don’t know about you, but if I pulled into a gas station and a bunch of guys rushed up to my car armed with paper towels and a pressure gauge, I’d think I was being accosted by a overly aggressive NASCAR pit crew and peel out faster than you can say “psycho killers.”

When was the last time you got great customer service?

If you stay at the Ritz or buy a top-of-the-line Mercedes, you usually get treated pretty well.  But when it comes to the more mundane purchases in life, most of us find ourselves wading through voicemail or Internet hell anytime we need help.  You’re more likely to see a CEO pose naked in the annual report than you are to get a real live person on the phone.

Yet just as I was convinced that human service reps had perished from planet, I discovered a small tribe of people who still practice the ancient art of personal service.

Ironically enough, they weren’t meditating in a hut in Tibet or hanging around the filling station in Mayberry; they were on the other end of the 800 line for Apple computer.  Yes, the company that makes the coolest high tech gadgets on the planet also has real live people to help you when something goes wrong, and, get this, they are even empowered to make decisions.

When my laptop bit the dust for a third – and very exasperating – time, a quite personable young man named Joey Kelly decided that rather than try to repair it again, they should replace it.

No “you’ll have to talk to my supervisor.” No chastising me about user errors. No trying to wait out the 20 days until my service contract expired. Just, “You seem to be having a problem with this one, so why don’t we just replace it with a new one.”

Honesty compelled me to admit that I may have been a little hard on the poor thing.  Hauling it in and out of my purse all over the country.  Letting my kids watch videos on it when they’re sick in bed. But even after confessing that a few cracker crumbs may have fallen into the keyboard, Joey still sent me a new one.

Of course, a laptop is no small item, and I had paid for an extended warranty.  But what made this situation so impressive was that Joey actually had the power to make a decision on the spot.  It was obvious that his company culture, policies and training created an infrastructure that encouraged him to think.

Bad service is usually the natural result of companies treating their employees like mindless clock-punching drones.  So until organizations decide to change that, we’ll all keep getting more – actually probably less – of what we’re already unhappy about.

But I live in hope. One day the great goddess of good business practices will return to the earth.  She’ll wave her magic wand, profits will spill from the trees, and well-paid, well-trained guys named Joey will gallop up bringing laptops and milk to your door.

Lisa Earle McLeod is an author, columnist, keynote speaker and business consultant. The founder and principal of McLeod & More, Inc, she specializes in sales and leadership training. Her newest book, The Triangle of Truth, has been cited as the blueprint for “how smart people can get better at everything.” Visit for a short video intro.   Copyright 2010 Lisa Earle McLeod.  All rights reserved.