Mayors upbeat about local building trends

Jeff Meyer, president of the Charleston Trident Home Builders Association (left), greets Summerville Mayor Bill Collins (right) as Kirk Mills of 84 Lumber shakes hands with Mount Pleasant Mayor Billy Swails (second from right) at the group’s annual meeting Tuesday.

While the recent economic downturn has brought about many bad things, I think it's directly responsible for better customer service.

Wasn't it just a few years ago we were all complaining about the absence of customer service? How clerks no longer cared? How there was never anyone around to help?

Well, things were trending that way because we were living in a land of plenty. Plenty of jobs. Plenty of money. Plenty of everything. Except good service.

We were routinely ignored by sales associates because they didn't care if we came back. We were treated rudely by checkout clerks who were too busy making sure their latest manicure wasn't damaged when they hit the cash register keys.

We fumed. We complained. But instead of customer service, we got lip service.

Then, the bottom fell out.

Algebraic reality

For the past two years we've all had to re-evaluate the value of a job. What once was considered a birthright suddenly became a much higher priority when it was threatened or taken away.

With unemployment in double digits, businesses closing, millions of former workers scrambling for whatever they can find and thousands of once-comfortable jobs now nonexistent, we are all reassessing our place in the workplace.

While the mathematics of what we now call the Great Recession means there are theoretically fewer workers out there to serve us, the algebraic reality is that those still holding jobs are holding on to them much tighter than before.

Fear is a great motivator.

New normal

Therefore, I actually get more attention when I walk into a department store these days. I receive more smiles from clerks than in the past.

With their backs against the wall, owners have come to understand how important customer service is to their bottom line and made it a priority.

It's a lesson that needs to be reinforced from time to time. Food is food. Clothes are clothes. Gas is gas. What differentiates one company from another is how the customer is treated.

So I find myself suddenly deluged with customer satisfaction surveys; being greeted when I walk into a store; not having to ask for assistance; and people asking me to come back soon.

I know the recession has been tough on a lot of people, and we've all had to adjust to a new normal when it comes to goods and services.

But in a way it's taught us a lesson we need to remember -- customer service always matters, more now than ever before.

Reach Ken Burger at kburger@postandcourier.com or 937-5598 or follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Ken_Burger.