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“Why don’t we go to Costco anymore?” my son asked me as I pulled into the local grocery store parking lot.
I snapped a reply, “Because they don’t care about their customers anymore.”
It rolled off my tongue so quickly it generated some introspection. Was my statement true? Had it really come to that? We suspended our bi-monthly Costco shop last year when Costco initiated its mask mandate. We stopped going to Fred Meyer (Kroger), and Carrs/Safeway for the same reason. At the height of the quarantine that left only one grocer in our area willing to respect its customers’ medical autonomy, our local neighborhood grocer Three Bears Alaska and we’ve been loyal customers ever since. Three Bears sells Costco products, with a hefty markup to boot, but it’s worth every penny as the last year proved.
As I parked the Suburban I debated inside my head, remembering everything that had happened in the past 17 months. The conclusion was a hard one for me. Yes, Costco chose collective fear over individual rights. Mask mandates, product rationing, service availability – all examples of a corporation top-heavy with bureaucrats tinkering at the expense of customers. Hospitals were worse, airlines equally so. All these institutions (and others) failed or continue to fail their customers.
When will it stop?
This propensity to reject individual rights played out across the societal spectrum last year; everything from churches to government institutions made judgment calls about how best to serve the people in their spheres of influence. Some refused to bow to illegal and unconstitutional dictates, but most capitulated. We the people were caught in the middle.
On the surface it seemed like very few of these institutions bothered to consider the most important facet of customer service: How do these policies/actions/mandates affect the individual: the living, breathing person standing at the entrance? For the most part, the answer was: poorly. But somehow that didn’t matter.
The Costco thing was a hard pill to swallow. You see, I used to be a Costco loyalist. I was almost militant about it. I worked for Costco for twenty-one years, and most of that time was spent supervising customer service. Ask any Costco employee, and 99% of the time they will tell you about what a great company it is to work for. They’re some of the most loyal employees in the industry, and Costco took care of me and my family quite well during those years.
But in April of 2020, they and many others forced families to subject themselves to long-term bronchial infections simply because a few governors have idiot advisors. They showed they cared less about the needs of the person at the counter than they did about the perceptions of those who weren’t.
The grocery stores were one thing, but sadder still were the churches and other care providers who closed their doors, limited interactions with those in need and erected distance barriers. They allowed a few people in far-off capitols to determine the scope and execution of their missions. The perception of the world overshadowed the dire needs of the community and it’s not hyperbole to say that people died as a result. That’s what happens when we concern ourselves less with the people in front of us than with the mob behind them – when no one stands up for the individual, the mob wins…and grows.
Customer service, pastoring, teaching…they’re all about caring for people. As any good pastor or firefighter will tell you, caring for people is the job, and you can’t do it effectively from behind a hazmat suit or over a video call.
Over the course of two decades in member service, I learned a few things about taking care of customer needs. The customer is not always right, sometimes they’re completely wrong, but it’s always your job to hear them out and find a way to satisfy their needs. You can only do that if you actually care about them, and if you don’t, you’d be better off finding yourself a vocation more suited to your empathy level. Something in government, perhaps?
Costco is one of the busiest stores in the world. Usually, the number of customers waiting in line number in double digits, with triple-digit numbers of customers flooding through the entrance behind them every thirty minutes. Less experienced employees tended to get overwhelmed by the mass of people, all clamoring for their needs to be met. Often, I’d take those haggard employees aside for a little pep-talk.
“Don’t focus on the crowd,” I’d say. “Focus on that person in front of you. Smile, be generous, and do whatever it takes to be 100% awesome for them. Do it fast but do it right. And when you’re done? Do it again for the next person, and the next, and the next. And when they’ve all gone home, they’ll know they received the very best care, and that it was worth the wait.”
This is the Gospel, simple and personal: Love others as you love yourself. Every day we have a chance to live it out in the way we decide to serve others. Or, we can choose to side with larger concerns. We are always invested in our priorities.
At Costco, customers would frequently tell me, “Wow, you guys are so much faster than the DMV.”
My response to them was always the same. “Yeah, the DMV isn’t invested in your satisfaction. We are.”
At least, that’s the way it used to be.Published in