I often wonder if you can really teach someone to be nice. You can teach someone to obey the rules and be polite, but being nice is a different thing.
Many retailers are trying to instill some degree of customer service in their employees. You can teach the principles all day long, but there are some people who will still be a stick-in-the-mud.
I was in an eating establishment on the day I wrote this. When I headed toward the door, a waitress bellowed, "Have a nice day." Based on her tonal qualities, I don't think she cared if I had a day, nice or otherwise.
I love restaurants where there is a waitress who is just dripping with kindness. I like the kind of woman that flirts with old men who come in for coffee and pulls a pencil out of her hair to scribble down your order.
When I think of customer service, I think of a man named Mikie Wolff who worked at a little hometown department store in Tifton. He had that ability to look at someone and know exactly what size they needed. By the time you said you needed a sport coat, he had pulled out two for you to look at.
He didn't make a sale without making sure you didn't also need a belt, socks or underwear.
Harold Sisk was the manager of the Belk store in Monroe for many years. He was a cynical guy, but knew the fine art of customer service.
When my expanding girth required me to go up a size, he looked at the too tight pants and said, "You going to wear ‘em that low or do you want some that fit you?"
He made it fun.
Art Kunzer and the late Charlie Frierson didn't want to send someone out the door with something that didn't look good. The reputation of Frierson-McEver was on the line and they knew it.
Many young men today wear dress shirts that are a good two inches too big in the neck. That would have never happened in Art or Charlie's day.
The days of having someone really serve you as a customer are waning. It seems that most clerks are content to stand behind the cash register.
Their first goal is to offer you a store credit card and their last goal is to read your name back to you from your check or credit card. There is nothing satisfying about having someone call you by name who is reading it off of your credit card.
This is another one of those laments about days gone by. Every now and then, someone shows up on the scene with that genuine caring personality and offers to find you a different size or hang your selections in a dressing room. They tell you something looks good and you know they mean it.
I don't think customer service is dead. I think it is just on hiatus. Customer service still exists in some circles and I'm grateful. I don't think we need to pull out the defibrillator and restart its heart.
I think we just need to wake it from a long and extended nap.
There are plenty of genuinely nice people in this world. We just need more of them on the front lines of retail business in this and every community in America.
Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.