Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Patronizing the Patron

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Patronizing the Patron

Article excerpt

As a consumer, you are loved. That's the message companies big and small want to get across to you. They really want the relationship to work. Now as never before, retailers are coddling us with a new touchy-feely lingo of customer service.

Recently, while running a few errands, I walked into a department store to exchange the couch that was delivered to my apartment for the one I'd ordered. Rather than being referred to the customer service counter, I was directed to the "customer care" counter. Apparently, the establishment wanted me to know that I wasn't just paying for a product or a service, but was getting some genuine goodwill for the future, as well as sympathy for any past sofa-buying traumas I might have suffered.

My next stop was a clothing retailer. I expected to see that old familiar sign posted on the walls: "Shoplifters will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law." Instead, I found one that read: "You are being videotaped for your own protection."

I suppose the benefit of this change is that now I, the potential shoplifter, can rest assured that I won't have to worry about any armed robberies interrupting my looting.

When I came home, it was to a ringing telephone. On the other end of the line was a telemarketer pitching the latest unprecedented credit-card deal. I'm always up for more credit, so I decided to listen to what he had to say.

Grasping that I was interested, he promptly stated: "This call may be monitored for quality purposes."

Putting things this way, the company almost had me convinced that the taping was being done in my interest. But then it occurred to me that the real goal was for the retailer not to appear paranoid that I might one day deny ever placing the order I was placing.

In step with modern society's struggle to not offend, assume, presume, or insult, the great retail race to patronize the patron is on. But so as to not leave their employees out of the euphemistic trend, companies are boosting the morale of the help, too. To that end, the position of salesman has been terminated to make way for the superior-sounding "sales associate." I wonder, is this an attempt to make the help forget they're earning only $5. …

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