Posted by: Christine Donovan | May 11, 2009

Customer Service Starts with Good Manners

I had an epiphany the other day as I was preparing a speech on etiquette.

Etiquette, the set of social rules created during the reign of Louis XIV, took a major blow in the 1960’s and 70’s as we Baby Boomers rebelled against everything establishment.

Nothing was more “establishment” than Emily Post, so many of us (not me of course!) found ourselves belching at the table while picking out the spinach in our teeth with the dessert fork.

As Baby Boomers bore children (now known as Generation Y and X), the custom of teaching “manners” in the home went the way of white gloves and saddle shoes, and later generations were not largely exposed to formal etiquette training (unless one attended cotillion of course).

Now this wasn’t true of every family, but it does offer one explanation as to why blatant rudeness and disregard for other peoples’ feelings seems to have taken over the American world.

My epiphany came as I watched a rude young female cashier at my local supermarket roll her eyes, cross her arms, and with obvious disgust, refuse to assist the elderly lady in line in front of me who had dropped her change all over the counter and was trying to rescue it.  I stepped into help, and naturally “Miss America” was now equally chagrined that I had butted in.  On some strange level, she seemed to enjoy watching the poor woman struggle, and was annoyed that I was ruining the entertainment.

And at that moment the answer to the common question, “What ever happened to customer service?” hit me.

It’s simple:  Many in our workforce were never taught basic good manners.  It’s not just service per se… it goes deeper than that.  It’s about kindness, unselfishness and respect for fellow human beings.

Sheesh…! I hadn’t seen the obvious before this moment. I had been blaming corporate training departments, lackadaisical managers, and the customers themselves (because they grin and bear this behavior without complaint). But here was the evidence … the majority of service employees simply don’t know any better….oy!

This young woman was probably giving this lady and myself the same attitude that she gave her grandmother or mother at home.  Nobody had told her that this was unacceptable behavior in the real world; nobody told her that her life will be sorely lacking in joy and accomplishment if this is how she interacts with people; nobody told her that flies avoid vinegar, and she was spewing a rather rancid balsamic in every direction (figuratively speaking of course).

Wow… so that was it. The lack of ETIQUETTE is the problem; and moreso, a total lack of empathy, of caring about one’s fellow human beings. The ME generation has borne the era of selfishness, and it’s contagious and out of control.

It got me thinking about the world around us: partisan politics (name-calling and open hostility among our “leaders”); reality television (Have you seen “Rock of Love”?); Jerry Springer, You-Tube, etc, etc, etc.

We’re living in a culture where insult-hurling has become great sport, where “I’ve got mine, the hell with you…” has become a common mantra. No wonder customer service has suffered — our entire society has suffered.

And I for one am on the campaign trail to bring back courtesy and kindness.


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