Service in the “New” Economy

While I was traveling, the freezer quit, and it quit over Labor Day weekend, spoiling a great deal of food.  Since I wasn’t there, and my wife was traveling part of that time [elsewhere], we lost a lot of food.  Upon my return, I set out to find a replacement. Surely, this could not be that difficult, even where I live, and finding a freezer was not, indeed, difficult.  Getting it delivered was the difficult part. 

The orange big-box store near us [you know to what I’m referring] had a freezer of the type and size we wanted, and the price was the lowest… but they couldn’t deliver for more than two weeks, and that wouldn’t work because I’d be on the road again, and they only deliver during hours when my wife couldn’t be home [Don’t ever talk to either of us about “cushy hours” for university professors in the performing arts!]. It also took the staff fifteen minutes to figure that out.  Another retailer could deliver in four days, and could give me the answers in less than five minutes, but the price was some fifteen percent higher.  Except… in either case, carting away the old freezer wasn’t going to  be that easy – because the local landfill/waste disposal site won’t take refrigeration equipment until it’s been certified to be drained of its coolant, and that costs more. In the end, I bought the more expensive unit because the “service” supposedly provided for “free” by the large big box outfit would have required waiting almost a month… if I could even count on that.

When I went to upgrade my antique cell phone – only very slightly – I had to wait a half hour for anyone to get to me… and that was at the second cell phone retailer.  At the first one, no one even noticed me.

This is far from the first time events such as these have occurred, and while I’m reluctantly willing to pay more for service that reduces the stress in our lives, what bothers me about all this is that I see those kinds of choices vanishing, and the ones remaining becoming more and more highly priced.  If you want to take enough clothes on a trip or vacation to provide a choice of what to wear – it’s going to cost you more one way or another.  If you want an appliance delivered in a short period of time, it’s going to cost you more.  If you need service on your cell phone, you’re going to wait.

At the same time, there are people who need jobs…and for all the increases in employment that the government statistics say are happening, an awful lot of them aren’t getting hired, and those same statistics don’t reveal the true costs of goods and services, which are rising.  The result is that we’re all seeing higher prices, less service, and fewer jobs, even as all the economists are claiming we’re moving to a service economy.  Come again?


7 thoughts on “Service in the “New” Economy”

  1. Tim says:

    When I spoke to a sales assistant in the UK concerning a new mobile (aka cellphone) he explained how he was bonussed. It is all about customer age and demographics.

    Young well-dressed professionals are the prime target. They do not have land lines; their whole communications life is embedded in a single mobile device: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, mail, surfing, apps to get alerts, camera and maybe even a phone. For this privilege, they are prepared to pay £70 ($100+) month as a basic contract. That is before you add on ‘extras’.

    Older people want a device to make an occasional call. Probably pay-as-you-go.

    So my son gets instant attention, whereas I have to wait!

  2. Wine Guy says:

    To echo Tim and sympathize with both of you, I’m decidedly middle age looking (grey hair, thich through shoulders and abdomen).

    Getting help at the Red-Themed Cellphone store to get a replacement power adaptor (because they can’t just be on the wall or a tower somewhere) took me CALLING THE STORE MANAGER FROM INSIDE THE STORE.

    I just took his phone number off the ubiquitous business cards and called it.

    He was immediately off his computer (playing Words with Friends) and answering the phone. When he realized I was calling from inside the store, he was not even embarassed: he tried to pawn me off on one of the associates. I smiled and said, ‘No thank you, I’ll just get my smartphone down the street.’ Now the store I get help at is orange and blue…. and the service is a smidge better.

  3. Elena says:

    I had a similar experience a few months ago when my fridge went. Store A couldn’t get one in for a week, they would have to have it come from a different province entirely. And, left us waiting for quite a while to find that out.

    Store B again would have had us wait for a couple of days, but did at least try for same-day delivery.

    Store C, the sales-person went all-out trying for same-day delivery, and would have managed for us if it had been earlier in the day. Regardless, he was able to get us a fridge that evening, and we could pick it up right then – provided we had a way of getting it back upright so we could plug it in right away.

    In terms of service, employees, at least in retail, are also being expected to do more with less: fewer hours all over the schedule, fewer co-workers, but being expected to do the work that two or more employees were doing before, etc.

  4. Grey says:

    Let me challenge this: It may be that the other store was actually market rate for goods plus reasonable delivery, and Big Orange was the ‘cheap’ option, with all the caveat emptor that implies. Here, Big Orange got you with the bait and switch by making you think the time cost had been eliminated, and in the process skewed your thinking about what a fridge should ‘cost’ because you priced it only in dollars.

    I think this more or less matches the free market experience that you pay in money or you pay in time.

    That’s not to say that customer service hasn’t taken a nose dive. Retail has to compete with internet sales – did you price that fridge on – and cutting labor costs is a visible way to keep costs down for the bean counters, even if too few staff or crummy staff kills your business in the long term (as Wine Guy’s comment demonstrates).

  5. Steve says:

    I appreciate what Grey said because I usually like to have a less expensive, do it yourself option. For Mr. Modesitt a 15% charge is worth the delivery and disposal. Others might prefer to cart it to their truck with the help of family, friends or the kid next door just to save a few bucks.

  6. The carting I could do. It was the disposal of the old freezer that posed the biggest problem.

  7. lee beagan says:

    the only way of getting away with disposal of old appliances is to call a scrap yard or one of those people that pick up scrap metal. At least that is a solution where I live here in Ontario, Canada. Mind you getting it out to the curb can be an adventure in and of itself.

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