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Adam’s Apples – Real customer service

By James Mack Adams

For this month’s contribution, I would like to write a few words about something many of us encounter in our daily lives. It is commonly called ‘customer service.’ As the name implies, it is a service with the goal of keeping customers and clients satisfied and happy. 

When we think of customer service today, we have grown to envision a sign over a counter in a store or a voice on the telephone promising to settle any issue we may have with a product or service. The telephone voice may often be half a world away and have a heavy accent.

Customer service means something more to those of us who are old enough to remember an earlier time. Yes, there was a time when customer service began the minute you walked through the door or drove up to the pump. Those were the days before self-service gas stations, self-checkout scanners, and online shopping.

I must say that most of my past dealings with customer service have been very satisfactory.  Others, not so much. Sometime ago, I visited a local chain department store in search of a particular item of clothing I needed at the time. I went to the appropriate department, but no store associate was to be found. I walked around the store searching in vain for help. Feeling some frustration, I asked a cashier for assistance. He had to call someone out from some unknown location in the bowels of the store to answer my question. Yes, I do sometimes miss the old days.

Once upon a time when you pulled into a gas station to fill up, you didn’t have to get out of the car. An attendant filled your tank, cleaned your windshield, and gauged your tires for proper pressure. If you requested, he/she looked under the hood to check the oil and coolant levels.

Once upon a time when you visited a department store, there were trained sales associates in every department who were ready and eager to help you find the item for which you were searching. Well-dressed men with tape measures draped around their necks were ready to measure you for that suit you needed for a special occasion. If some alterations were required, that service was usually free to the customer.   

One department store holds the first-place spot in my memory of businesses with great customer service. F & R Lazarus & Co. was a large department store in downtown Columbus, Ohio in an earlier era of retail sales.

It was not uncommon for customers to spend several hours shopping the store’s six floors and enjoying a lunch break in one of its four dining rooms. The customers were at times treated to a live-model fashion show while enjoying their meals. It was a shopping adventure.

The store had a checkroom for coats and hats during the winter months. If the shoppers became overloaded with packages, they could leave them in the checkroom until they were ready to leave the store. Home delivery of purchases was available if desired.

A large waiting room, with comfortable seating, was available on the fifth floor. The room was a designated meeting place if family members became separated. It was also a place where dad could sit while mom shopped until she dropped.

Other amenities included home decorating consultants and an in-house travel agency.

A highlight of the Christmas season for many Columbus area residents was a night trip downtown to view the store’s window displays. The store’s professional window dressers used both static and animated displays to awe the viewers and entice Christmas shoppers. 

In later years, the iconic F & R Lazarus went through some merges with other retail firms. Things went downhill from there, including customer service. 

It is a fact that advances in technology have made shopping much easier, faster, and more convenient. However, I do sometimes yearn for a simpler time when shopping had a more personal touch.