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The older I get, the more I enjoy a helpful interchange with people who work diligently for businesses of any size. But, with each passing day, businesses who covet my dollars seem to want me, the supposed customer to do more of their work and to give them money for that privilege! If I’m paying, being treated like a customer would be a fine idea.

I think it all began with self service gasoline stations. Not only do I remember .55 cent gasoline, but I recall the days when there were service station attendants who would check the oil and scrutinize the tires while filling your tank. Sadly, those memories are now shrouded in the mists of history. At first it was a charming novelty and a time saver to pump your own gas. They even discounted the price! Now we are the hose handlers, there are no discounts and the only people you see are behind a bullet barrier.

In the early 1980s I was an early adopter of an ATM card from my bank. It was both cool and great to be able to replenish my cash supply at times when the bankers were asleep. But as time went on it became obvious that the bankers really wanted us to use the ATM all of the time so they could get by with fewer tellers. In a counter move a couple of years ago, at least one bank began offering concierge service to get a competitive advantage.

Supermarkets are now joining in that game with some featuring self-check-out. Do you really want to be behind the person with 40 items in their cart the first time they use that service? I’d rather have to take close up pictures of a rattlesnake! I like what comedian George Carlin had to say on the subject of getting out of a supermarket.  “I'm not the cashier! By the time I look up from sliding my card, entering my PIN number, pressing 'Enter,' verifying the amount, deciding, no, I don't want Cash back, and pressing 'Enter' again, the kid who is supposed to be ringing me up is standing there eating my Almond Joy.”

One of the things we most easily connect with and sometimes yearn for is the sound of a human voice, especially one that is able to respond to your questions. It is OK for me to tell my Blackberry to “call office” and have it do just that, but when I get the office, I want to speak with a real live person. Customers should be warmly greeted and treated with respect. Too many managers and employees loose site of who is really paying their salaries.

Everywhere we look, businesses are beating the bushes in search of customers, but the same enterprises are pinching and squeezing on customer service. Yes, it is challenging to find good people and even more so to train them well. Sadly, service from a live and knowledgeable human being is becoming the new luxury, soon to be afforded only by those who demand it and are willing to pay more. You can now book a plane trip, print out a ticket, endure the security screening and be on your way to the destination without anyone paying attention to your needs until they offer to sell you a sandwich onboard! And airlines wonder why they are sliding toward post office territory on the scale of experiences we dislike.

No, I’m not against progress but I am also a true contrarian. In my own business the phone is answered by live people between 9am and 6pm. We don’t ask you to choose languages or have a trap door behind the pound key leading directly to voice mail hell.

If I’m dealing with your business as a customer, then I really want to be treated like a customer, not one of your associates who works there and gets paid for it. My money should buy service and the attention of a human being even if fleetingly. Give me a human experience and in return I’ll give you loyalty and more business.

Anybody can install an automated phone system and other electronic “service” devices. They are now just another commodity. If you want a competitive advantage in this marketplace, bring a human face and voice to what you do. It will be appreciated and we know that can lead to sales and growth. Give me a reason to be a good customer by treating me like a desired customer. That is the true definition of a brand.

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