Once upon a time, if you bought a product or service, you often got rewarded for your loyalty. Grocery stores gave out trading stamps where you could save little blocks of gummed stamps in little books until you had enough for whatever prize you had been coveting in their catalogue. Banks thanked you for your business with toasters and blenders. Gas stations rewarded you with glassware while they washed your windows and filled up your gas tanks so you never had to get out of your car. Service with a smile was the order of the day. It was apparent that merchants actually appreciated having you as a customer.
Fast forward to modern times. You rarely see a human at the gas station since you can pay at the pump, and your reward for doing everything yourself is that maybe gas prices haven’t gone sky-high since your last fill-up. Grocery stores offer reward cards, but do you actually save anything other than possibly receiving one or two coupons for items you have absolutely no use for? No, those loyalty cards are basically ways for stores to track everything you buy and sell that information to their suppliers so you can fight off the barrage of telemarketers now clogging up your email and phone lines.
And the bank? Do I need to remind you of the fact that not only are there no longer rewards for banking, but you’re lucky to make five cents a year in interest on your accounts, and they will charge you for every transaction you attempt to make if you’re not a millionaire? One personal example occurred recently when I had about $30 left in an account I had to open because I had a car loan through that particular bank. Once the car had been sold and I no longer had the loan, I no longer thought about that account. And then one day a few months later I realized I had a few dollars I had forgotten about that would come in quite handy, and went down to the bank to get my money and close out the account. “You have a zero balance,” the teller cheerily informed me. “How is that possible?” I asked in all my ignorance. “I should still have $30,” I insisted. “Oh no,” the teller smiled. “You let the money sit there so we had to charge you a monthly fee for not using that money, so it’s all gone now.” I won’t tell you the details of the downhill slide of that conversation.
And, there’s the airlines. Aside from the fact that it is such an unpleasant experience to even go near a plane anymore, we now have to pay for talking to a human, choosing a seat that’s not in the restroom, needing luggage that holds items we might need when we get to our destination, ice, water, a bag of months-old pretzels — you all know the drill.
And let’s not forget restaurants. I don’t eat meat and I can no longer have anything approaching delicious food, namely food that has gluten in it. So, going to restaurants is almost as fun as getting teeth pulled these days, having to search for something that resembles food I used to love, anywhere on the menu. So when the server bring the ubiquitous basket of bread to the table, I sadly turn my head away while others eagerly consume both their share and mine. When I order an omelet at one of my favorite restaurants, it comes with bread as well. So, I’ve asked if they could substitute something else for the bread – such as sliced tomatoes, which I usually choose as my side. I’ve been briskly informed that they cannot give me that substitution because bread can only be substituted for bread. But what if I can’t eat bread, I plead. They are very sorry. Maybe I’ll have extra cheese on my omelet. That’s an extra dollar. Or maybe I’ll have egg whites instead of eggs since they are supposedly healthier – that’s an extra dollar as well. Sigh.
So what set me off today, after years of eroding concern for the mental well-being of the lowly consumer? Our local newspaper. Of all things, why would I be upset that I’m paying more for a smaller paper delivered fewer days a week than before? I’ve adjusted to that reality. But the Emmys are on tonight and I thought I’d take a look at the TV magazine insert to see which channel and what time the show is on. I can’t miss Neil Patrick Harris, after all! I checked the paper multiple times, shook it, flipped pages, went back out to the mailbox in case it had fallen on the ground. No TV magazine. And then I noticed the little blurb in the corner of the front page, informing the readers that there will no longer be a TV magazine included in our subscriptions – we can pay extra for a new, improved TV magazine with complete listings, “significantly more channels,” and more extraneous nonsense that I couldn’t care less about. No, thank you. I don’t know who will be willing to pay more for a TV magazine, but with all that information available online, I’d like to know what these people were thinking.
There’s got to be a small corner of our society left where we are valued and cherished. Someone who cares about the little guy. If you have any ideas, please let me know. Because lately, service with a smile is about as rare as service without added fees. Or bread for sliced tomatoes.
Copyright Nancy Machlis Rechtman, all rights reserved