Published in the 0pelika-Auburn News
By Walter Albritton
October 24, 1999

Are common courtesy and gratitude dying in the business world?

Are we witnessing the decline of common courtesy and gratitude in the business community? My own experience seems to confirm that we are, and that is a sad commentary on our society.

Recently I made another visit to a popular new office supply store in Opelika. I had made at least 25 previous trips to this store to purchase supplies. This last time, which may indeed have been my last visit to this store, my purchase totaled $202.71.

The clerk who waited on me at the check-out line offered no friendly greeting, not even a smile. I stood there amazed at what the young man said, and what he did not say.

When he finished totaling my purchases, he told me the amount. I handed him my Colonial Bank check card which he began to examine. After a few moments he asked if I had any identification. So I handed him my driverís license whereupon he spent more time studying it.

I asked him if there was a problem or if the store had been beseiged with bogus credit cards. He indicated, again without even a faint smile, that he was just trying to make sure that the card belonged to me. He pointed out that I had failed to sign the card on the back. It was a new card and indeed I had neglected to sign it.

Then, with no comment whatever, he swiped the card through his machine, handed it back to me, and placed the sales slip on the counter for me to sign. I signed it, handed him his copy, put mine in my pocket and proceeded to leave the store.

As I pushed the cart to my car I have to confess that, already irritated, I was now becoming angry. For a moment I toyed with the impulse to push the stuff back in the store and ask for my money back. What was missing?

Common courtesy and gratitude, thatís what! Buy two hunder dollars worth of stuff and nobody says, "Thank you for your business?" Have we become so impersonal that sales clerks are not expected to say something like, "I hope you found everything you needed", or "We appreciate your business?"

Fuming to my wife about the matter, she dismissed my concern. Get over it, she said, "thatís just the way it is nowadays." I thought she must be right; I needed to just get over it.

Grow up, I told myself. We live in a world of numbers now. People are paid by the hour to take your money. Thatís the way it is. They are not paid to say "thank you" for spending your hard earned money in their store. They donít owe you a smile or even a bit of gratitude for shopping in their store. They arenít paid to be nice or personal, so get a life.

I was still trying to get over my frustration the next day when I walked into a furniture store to see if I could buy a handle for a recliner. As I entered the front door, a woman greeted me with a friendly smile and asked if she could help me. I told her what I wanted and she directed me to a counter in the rear of the store.

There a young man responded to me with friendly behavior. Even when he realized that I had not come to buy a truck load of furniture, he was very cordial, treated me with respect, and offered to secure the handle for me within a few days. "We will call you as soon as it comes in," he said with a smile.

Assuming that I would need to pay him in advance for the handle, I offered to do so. "That is not necessary," he said; "you can pay for it when you pick it up." As I walked out the front door, the same friendly woman spoke graciously to me again.

What a contrast! In a business where my purchase will be about twenty dollars, I was treated with courtesy and respect. In the other store where my purchase was ten times that amount, it did not seem to matter that I had shopped with them again, for the 25th time.

In the "friendliness is missing" store, no one greets you as you walk in or offers you assistance. The attitude seems to be this: "Weíve got tons of stuff in here, people; find what you need if you can and weíll be glad to take your money on your way out. And, for goodness sake, donít expect a smile or a thank you as you haul our stuff away."

Call me an old fuddy-duddy if you will. Tell me I am too concerned with triffles. But you can put this in your pipe and smoke it: from now on I am going to do the best I can to trade with people who seem glad and grateful to exchange my money for their goods and services.

Remind me that I am but one customer in a big old impersonal world and that the loss of my business will not make any difference to these fancy stores. The owners live in West Palm Beach and the sales people could care less if you never walked into their store again.

All that may be true, but it will sure make a difference to me to shop with folks who have not given up on common courtesy and gratitude.

Oh, before I quit, let me thank you for taking the time to read this. I appreciate it. Stop by again sometime and weíll smile at each other, before that goes out of style also.