2018-09-14 / Commentary

Friendly Self Service

It’s not a criticism; It’s an observation

I was standing at the checkout counter at Bed Bath and Beyond, feeling a little out of sorts. Waiting to pay for a wedding present. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not big on weddings; hate them more than funerals. And I hate funerals so much I refuse to have one for myself.

I know that’s mighty bold talk for a one-eyed fat man, to quote Charles Portis, but I’ve made it clear there better not be no solemn ceremony signaling my departure from life its own self. And yet I was buying a wedding gift for one of the very few people I’d do this for. So my mind wasn’t at full thinking capacity.

The smiling checkout clerk asked if I would like to take advantage of BB&B’s “Free Self Service Gift Wrapping Service.” I responded with an intelligent and cerebral question, Do what? When she confirmed my suspicions about what that actually meant, I told her I had no idea how to competently wrap a wedding gift. She said they might have someone who could assist me, and paged Trevor.

Trevor was brandishing scissors and accurately determining wrapping paper length when he admitted he’d never wrapped a gift in his life. I wondered to myself why he was chosen to help me out. Maybe payback.

During my early residence in Columbia, I regularly observed a convenience store on Highway 601 approaching Orangeburg. The marquee out front didn’t change from the time I first noticed it until five years later when the building was torn down. The sign said “you’ll love our friendly self service.”

I immediately thought of that sign as I watched Trevor. It seems the world is starting to catch up with innovative tongue in cheek advertising. Out front of a pet supply store next door to Hemingway’s, one of our two favorite local bars, stands a sandwich sign that offers free self service dog washing.

There’s an old Merle Haggard song called Harold’s Super Service that accurately describes what customer service at gas stations once looked like. Customers like the one in that song, demanding shareholders, and corporate greed, among other things, combined to erase any semblance of true customer service.

Oregon and New Jersey, last time I visited, both still required gas station employees to pump your gas, but customer service is a whole other thing. And the concept has been missing from American retail since discount businesses confirmed we like cheap stuff much better than friendly, knowledgeable people. Most folks today think good customer service is when a business sends you a survey and begs you to rate them high.

Trevor did competently wrap my gift although his heart wasn’t in it. A couple of edges needed retouching and he refused to even attempt the fancy ribbon. I don’t fault him. I should have known no one at BB&B would be willing to gift wrap something, and learned the art of such things myself long ago. I can cook, drive across the country, and change bed sheets. Gift wrapping doesn’t seem to require an astrophysicist’s expertise, so wrapping a wedding gift is on me.

Unlike many members of my gender, I take full responsibility.

Return to top