SPECIAL REPORT

MANNERS PAST AND PRESENT

RAE CORELLI January 11 1999
SPECIAL REPORT

MANNERS PAST AND PRESENT

RAE CORELLI January 11 1999

MANNERS PAST AND PRESENT

SPECIAL REPORT

The discussion of customer service does not revolve exclusively around complaints. Among many people, the subject invokes nostalgia. “I remember the coal man coming, and what a nice guy he was,” says Toronto-based consultant Patrick Gossage, who was press secretary to prime minister Pierre Trudeau. “He had a black face from the coal and he was part of our weekly social intercourse. I’d go down the cellar stairs with him and we'd have a chat. I remember thinking: ‘Boy, this is neat.’ Of course, the milkman knew the kids, even knew their first names. And taking a cab used to be like having a chauffeur. Now, you take your life in your hands and you have to tell the guy how to get to where you want to go.”

What TVOntario chairman Peter Herrndorf misses most are doctors who made house calls. “With two kids in the house, it’s a real issue. It gave you a degree of comfort if you had a doctor who did that kind of stuff.”

Laval University professor Andrée Roberge remembers the time when the clerks in hardware stores “could explain how to choose a product and how to use it and if you brought in a part from something, they could tell you how to replace it. This is no longer the case.”

Dawn Russell, dean of law at Dalhousie University in Halifax, says: "I remember being a chambermaid when I had just graduated from high school and was trying to earn money to go to college. I always tried to do the best at whatever I did, I always tried to do it well. Today, you have to wonder about the ethic in our society, not just in young people.”

But not all the happy stories belong to ancient history. On the eve of departing on vacation, Toronto insurance broker Lucy Sousa discovered that her camera was not working. She went to a photography shop where a technician took the camera apart, cleaned and reassembled it. He snapped and developed some random pictures to make sure everything worked and handed it back to her—at no charge. In Winnipeg, householder Lisa Taylor called a plumbing contractor and told him she thought her heating-system boiler needed to be replaced (estimated cost: $4,500). But he checked and said all she needed was a metal bracket. The bill: $78.11.

The door-to-door milkman may be gone, says Michael Pearce, director of the University of Western Ontario’s undergraduate business program, but people now can shop on the Internet, “Where you go online, tell the store what you want and they deliver it.” University of Toronto economist Michael Berkowitz points to the coffee shop chains, “Where people can actually go and talk and we didn't have those years ago. You can sit there and read your paper and you don't get chased out.” The University of Manitoba's Robert Warren says international couriers have been a boon to individuals and businesses “fed up with surly post office employees and not having their letters arrive on time.”

And while many complain loudly about lineups at the banks, others have eliminated the aggravation by switching to Internet banking services. “I don’t stand in line any more,” says Neil Loomer, publisher of the periodical Edmonton Jewish Life. “I can sit at my computer in my office and pay all my bills, transfer money and check my balances without ever standing in line again.”

RAE CORELLI