As cliché as you might think it is, if I ever own any retail business, one of the first things that MY employees will have to do is to attend a “Dale Carnegie lite” seminar. If kids aren’t being taught how to treat others at home (whether by their parents or by the sitcoms that raise them), then I guess I’ll have to do it.

My kids have never eaten meat, and I think they’re healthier for it. I’m not rabid about it and I’m not a member of PETA. In fact, I eat out a lot, and probably 50% of the time I get something with fish or chicken in it, and once or twice a year, I dig into a juicy steak. At home, we don’t cook meat though, aside from the grill. It’s just something that we do. It’s a fact that nowdays there are many more options available for vegetarians at just about every restaurant.

However, it seems to be a hard point to make, even with restaurants we frequent regularly. Case in point: we placed an order the other night from our local pizza joint. My wife’s become enamored of their ranch crust pizza. So, our standard order is a ranch crust pizza, large, square, extra cheese, an order of cheese bread, and sometimes a 2 liter. If we have omnivores over, we’ll grab some hot wings as well.

We’ve ordered more than once from this place, and this order was no different than any other. Yet it’s the third time out of approximately 12 times that we’ve ordered extra cheese and gotten pepperoni instead. I can understand the mistake once, but three times? What kind of conspiracy exists that turns “extra cheese” into “pepperoni”? Go figure.

So I called them back. Ring, ring, ring… When they answered, I told them that we are vegetarians, and that they’d put pepperoni on our pizza. Her answer? “Well, we’ll give you a 10% discount next time you come in. Thanks for calling.” Are you KIDDING ME? You just screwed up our order, and your solution is a 10% discount? WE’RE FREAKING VEGETARIANS… not militant about it, just vegetarians, and last I checked, pepperoni is meat! They finally grudgingly told me I could come pick up a replacement at no charge. And now they’ve lost my business (although I bet my wife will order when I’m not looking).

Talk about ring, ring, ring – what’s the deal with cell phone customer service? This segment of the service industry treats the average retail customer like they’re doing you a favor. Like you’re not paying them, they’re paying you. It doesn’t make sense to me. Customer retention could be much higher if people actually acted like you’re a customer. Remember the days when the customer was always right? Now, there’s so much suspicion in retail that you practically have to fill out a job application and a background check just to get your problems taken care of.

Perhaps it’s our fascination as a culture with entertainment and stimulation. We’ve become a society of instant gratification and that has consequences that reach into every corner of our lives. I realized the other day that I now watch an average of 3 hours of television per day (usually multitasking by surfing the web). That’s 16% of my waking hours. Pretty significant amount of time, and it’s definitely affected my attention span.

As an example, I picked up one of my favorite books from childhood the other day. Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott. It was tough reading, let me tell you. Nothing like the pithy airport fiction that takes me a flight from Detroit to Minneapolis to finish. Nope, this one I had to sit down and dissect. Savor the language. Touch the characters. Almost couldn’t do it. Why? Didn’t have time. I had Tivo programs to watch.

I know, I know, I’m off on a rant here, but we’ve been changed fundamentally by the technology that I love, and not always for the better.

So in the hustle and bustle of your week, take a little bit of time out. Rip yourself away from SportsCenter. Tear your fingers off the keyboard. Turn off your cell phone. Your Blackberry, too. Go sit in Barnes & Noble, grab a coffee and read something that means something. Don’t forget to tip the counter person, and, by the way… did they smile at you?

It may be up to you and me to change the world, one server at a time. When you next get service with a smile, GOOD service, old-fashioned kind of service, let the person know you value it. Tip them well, but also tell them verbally that you appreciate good service. Better yet, call a manager over and tell them, especially if it is exceptionally good. The more you do this, the more it will encourage them to remember that people still want good service. Seriously, try it out. If we all did it, in some small way the world would be a better place.

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