Missing that personal touch from business

Published 9:41 am Friday, October 30, 2015


“Thank you for calling Acme Co. Your call is very important to us. All our associates are busy taking calls. We will be with you shortly.”

I believe I can safely say there’s not a person living in Vicksburg, Warren County, or any place else in these United States, who hasn’t called a business with a problem or complaint, only to hear the above message transmitted over the phone from a computer generated system. “Acme” is of course a fictional company, so just substitute the name of any company you choose in its place.

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Voice mails, answering machines and automated message systems are something I’ve never gotten used to over the years, although I’ve used an answering machine at home, and my cell phone has a voice mail system that is heavily used.

I guess it all goes back to when I grew up and made my way into the world of work in my teens, when you answered a telephone call with a phrase like “Thank you for calling … How may I help you?”

Back in the days when television viewing was restricted to three stations and the computers were huge machines that filled a room where the temperature was fixed below freezing, business owners or their employees answered their own phones, and when you called a doctor for an appointment, you were asked, “What is your problem?” instead of “Do you have insurance?”

The human element was a major issue with businesses back then. Many times the success of a business depended on the behavior of the owner, manager and their employees toward customers, both in the store and on the phone. I can recall many times when my mother would complain about a business because its employees were rude.

That’s one thing I’ve enjoyed about visiting the downtown shops here, whether I’m on an assignment or out shopping. The employees and managers are very friendly and helpful, even when they realize you’re not going to do business with them.

Technology has caused us to lose that human touch that made going out to buy a new suit or even a book a treat because you got to talk with someone new, or if you were a regular customer, an old friend.

In many cases, large stores have become impersonal.

Technology has allowed us to do our shopping on our computers or over the telephone from the kitchen table at home.

What used to be a trip downtown to look in the windows has been replaced by the touch pad or a mouse and scrolling up and down a screen.

We call for assistance and get put on hold by a computerized voice for minutes at a time before we are switched to some call center and talk to a stranger, possibly with a thick foreign accent.

I miss that personal touch. I miss being able to call a business or go visit it, know the person I’m talking to, and having confidence they are interested in helping me. I want a return to the human element.

And I really don’t want to lose it.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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