Innovators in Rural Community Economic Development
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  • Not My Job: Creeping Customer Exploitation

Not My Job: Creeping Customer Exploitation

Are you old enough to remember when it was not your job to pump your own gasoline? If not, let me share the world I grew up in. Gas stations were staffed with gas attendants. Those attendants were real peopel who came up to the driver's window when you pulled into a gas station. They asked you if you wanted gas, and if so, what kind and how much. They also asked if you would like to have your oil checked. They filled the gas tank and, while it was filling, washed your windshield. They were paid by the gas station. They did not take tips. They provided service. 

Similarly, when you used the telephone to contact a service provider of any sort, public or private, you typically got a real person on the other end of the phone who asked what you were calling about and where or to whom they should direct your call. You did not have to spend your time listening to a litany of options and then press the correct number and hope for the best. You were not kept on endless hold. If you needed to leave a message, it was taken by a person and delivered by a person.

At the grocery store there were two people at each checkout station; one to ring up your purchases and one to place them into bags and back into your cart and to help you out to your car if need be. You were not expected to scan and bag your own purchases or place them back in your cart. There was nothing extraordinary about this: it was basic customer service.

Today, customers are increasingly called upon to be "co-producers." We do more for ourselves; companies do less for us. They employ fewer people. They make more money because their costs are reduced. We spend money and receive less and often lower quality goods and services. Our "free" labor subsidizes corporate profits. It also means we have fewer interactions with real people in our everyday lives, our social skills atrophy, and our sense of isolation increases. As these extra "jobs" cost us time and energy and often create stress and contribute to exhaustion. Have you looked closely the people around you lately? When I do I am overwhelmed by how exhausted many people look. Thjis should not be surprising considering all the extra "jobs" we've taken on.

Why are we letting corporate greed and available technologies drive us toward a society in whcih we interact with each other less and less and in which we have fewer and fewer experiences of helping and being helped by strangers on a regular basis? How is this feeding into the political polarization we are currently experiencing? Let me know your thoughts.