America’s Service Economy

We’ve been told that manufacturing jobs have moved south of the border because America has been shifting from an industrial economy to a service economy. The move has been gradual throughout the last century and picked up speed over the last decade or two.

In the mid-1980s, Time ran a cover story on this new service economy and pointed out that the service we were counting on, well, it wasn’t so good.

Recent experiences in 2005 prove things have not gotten much better.

Three weeks ago, we went to the local Verizon store to make an adjustment to Deb’s plan. We were told wait for the paperwork to clear in two weeks and then you can call and get everything adjusted to our liking. At the two week plus one day mark, I made the call and the woman at the Service Center was baffled why the paperwork hadn’t been done. I was directed to deal with the store directly. I waited until yesterday and made a visit only to discover the paperwork had still not been processed. The sales rep showed me a three inch stack of air with her fingers, indicating the backlog. “Yeah, we’re getting two or three of these a day and you just have to be patient.” I was told. Two or three a day and it takes over three weeks? I wouldn’t have been so frustrated had I not followed the company’s own instructions. So I wait.

About the same time, I took a Pepsi Star Wars promotional items to the local Mailboxes Etc. I paid them to pack the items and ship them to Louisiana where my good buddy Alan Chafin was awaiting receipt. The box gets there a day or two later than expected but arrives. However, Alan informs me, the box arrived half the size it was intended to, which meant the motorized Death Star looked like the Rebels had already paid it a visit. Apparently, it wasn’t packed very well nor was any care taken in its shipping.

A week later, our dishwasher died. It was old, estimated to have been installed somewhere in the late 1970s, early 1980s. The time had come and fortunately, it occurred while Sears was still having a dishwasher sale. In fact, it was the sale’s last day so we rearranged our plans and hightailed it after work to Milford. We deal with Dave, a lackadaisical and monotoned sales man. Deb had done her research at consumersreports.com and we had four models to check out, two of which they actually had. We debated the options and the warranties and the different rebates and discounts. We settled on our model and processed the paperwork. Dave hands me the receipt and I’m told that the unit will be ready on Aug. 6 but I should call Frank tomorrow morning to get an appointment set up. So, bright and early Saturday morning, I call Frank and get a guy who sounds as if I woke him up. Turns out, Frank’s an independent contractor and doesn’t normally work Saturdays. Thanks, Dave. I explain what’s up, he says since it won’t be ready until the 6th I should call back then. But, we make a tentative appointment for the 8th. Well, I call on the 6th to confirm the appointment since it would mean Deb working from home. Frank has no idea what I’m talking about. As we reconstruct events, he realizes he never received the paperwork from Dave. I call Dave. He swears he sent it and was re-faxing it immediately. Meantime, work intrudes and Deb can’t be home on Monday. I ask Frank if we could do it Saturday and since we both work in Manhattan, he takes pity and agrees. Then, Friday night, he leaves a message to say Saturday’s no good, can he do it Sunday? Sure, and yes, at 9 this morning Frank arrived and 90 minutes later, we have a new dishwasher installed and ready to use.

Last Sunday, Deb and I wanted to replace our mailbox. We took the old one off and noticed that the mounting board was really too small and we were better off getting the right sized one now. A quick trip to the local Home Depot, maybe half a mile from the house and we stare at an empty slot where the mounting boards belong. The helpful associate said the computer shows that a truck was arriving that night with fresh stock and by six a.m. Monday morning we could stop by and buy it. On Monday, we dispatch Robbie to pick up the item. The spot was still empty and the new associate informed him that stock never arrives on Sunday nights and regardless of what date is on the computer it’s always plus or minus a day or two. Come back in a few days he’s told. I return yesterday and the slot is still empty. The associate du jour looks it up and says, yep, 38 pieces arrived this week and he can’t find them. Must have sold out already. And there’s no indication a re-order was place. He wants to direct me to the Bridgeport or Norwalk stores. Instead, I go and find the store manager and point out he has a poorly trained staff and an inventory management issue. He looks up the SKU number and realizes that yes, 38 pieces arrived, but none were sold. This begins a hunt in the Loading Dock and elsewhere until I’m informed it’s here, probably buried beneath larger stock on a pallet somewhere. Come back in a few days. Which means I will now be making a fourth trip to a buy a $4 item.

It’s vexing to say the least. The number of gaffes above made by representatives of some major firms, shows this service economy of ours still has a few kinks to be worked out.

(And let’s not get me started on Cablevision again…)

The good news, though, is that Robbie got a job serving at the newly opened Cold Stone Creamery. I can guarantee you that his service will be exemplary – he’s having a lot of fun. Tip him and he’ll sing loudly.

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