By Eric Huber Special to Published Mar 27, 2010 at 6:16 AM

No matter if you're the consumer or provider, lately you probably have found yourself pounding the customer service nail until it can't be pounded anymore.

As you'll quickly discover, I've been on both ends of the spectrum. You also may find yourself surprised at the way I'm starting to feel about the sometimes exaggerated (good and bad) customer service that is starting to pollute the retail and wholesale world.

Almost a year ago, my uncle and I were at a home improvement store picking up a roll of welded wire for my new patio. A seemingly level-headed gentleman with a cart full of bricks stood in front of us, waiting his turn. Upon being called, he hollered, "I've been waiting for someone to load me up in the yard for the past 15 minutes." Then, without hesitation, he violently rolled the cart towards the front desk, and let go while walking away shaking his head. The cart crashed into the desk. That was the end of that.

Three months later I was inside a Taco Bell, receipt already in hand, waiting for my food to be prepared. My number was called 25 minutes later. Five others had been waiting almost as long as well, and their food still wasn't ready. Instinctively, I said five words upon walking up to grab my food, "Can I talk to a manager?"

I was immediately greeted by a young lady who, after hearing me complain about how long I had to wait for just four tacos, told me that they had too many drive-thru customers, therefore only one employee is making food for those who are eating inside the restaurant. I gave her the "is that all you can come up with" look, and in an instant she soared back to her office and returned with a card redeemable for seven free items.

Two months later, while driving through Indiana, I stopped at a Hardee's for breakfast and was caught completely off guard by how a manager treated his employee. The time was 10:25 a.m. My wife and I were in the middle of a four-person line. Everyone was waiting for breakfast. After placing my order and grabbing my receipt, I heard the manager standing just a few feet away preparing food, rudely yelp out, "Stop taking breakfast orders. We have to flip to lunch, and we can't be making any more breakfast items."

The employee at the counter responded, "But all these people are here for breakfast and it's not 10:30 yet." Ultimately the manager didn't care. As the other customers and I stood in stunned silence, all I could think about was jumping behind the counter and slugging the manager.

I can go on and on with stories of bad customer service, but sometimes I think to myself: "Have I gone into customer service overload?"

I mean, should I truly expect great customer service everywhere I go?

I can't tell you how many times I've heard women complain to no end about the bad customer service they get when they buy carrots, toilet paper and bread from the grocery store. These same women are customer service aficionados at work, so naturally they expect the same kind of service they dish out. Wrong!

I consider myself an aficionado at times as well. I am in the customer service industry. However, for me to train my brain to expect high end service every time I pick up a box of Frosted Flakes is just silly, and is only going to set my mind up for failure.

More times than not, shoppers assume they won't get great service upon stepping foot in a food store, thus they often overlook all the good encounters and smiles they receive while breezing through their long list of essentials.

Julie Watson wrote a customer service tips piece for in 2005 that contained a perfect line. It read: "Don't expect to have a Nordstrom shopping experience at Wal-Mart." Right on!

Speaking of perfect, I get so annoyed with all the smiling faces that approach me at the nauseating bath stores asking me if I need help. Sadly, it's often repeated by the same person, until I get mad and storm out with a nose full of sweet lotions and potions.

I also can't stand the blue shirts at the major electronics store that often act like they don't want to help me, but once they do start digging into my problem, they infect my mind with all the stuff I don‘t really need. My head ends up being on the other side of my body as I make my way to the parking lot.

My favorite, though, are the furniture stores. Every time I go with my wife to look at something I must get bombarded by at least half a dozen sales associates. Just leave me alone. If I need help, I will ask. I mean, I know they're just doing their job; after all they were probably all brainwashed with that 10-feet, 10-second rule that I've been hearing since my days working at an outdoor store not named Cabela's. Who made that rule up anyway? It does not apply to everyone.

The questions now should be: As a whole are we starting to pound the customer service nail too far in to the wall? And if we pound it anymore, will the mind be trained to expect perfection? And once we get to perfection, will anything lower be nothing more than bad customer service? Most of all, will our expected perfection make it harder for the economy to dig out of the recession?

Yes, it feels good to receive great customer service. Yes, it feels good to provide great customer service. At the same time, I know to appreciate those average experiences as well, because the higher I lift my expectations, the more likely I'm going to be disappointed the next time around.

Temper your expectations, and shop with the confidence that you'll get good enough service to go home happy. At the same time, make your voice heard when it gets downright ugly.


Eric Huber Special to
Eric Huber is a staff writer for, and