John Rodgers: Tradition of fine service alive in Lone Star State

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I landed in the Lone Star State two weeks ago on a visit from the gelid climes of New Hampshire. My sister, who delivers babies in Denton, welcomed me and told me the family SUV was experiencing electrical problems related to the battery.

Having had a long history with Sears, I called them up and got Jim on the phone. Jim amiably informed me that they’d run a free test on the battery to determine if it was junk or not — “Bring it on over,” he said. The next morning, I did just that.

Now let me provide a little context before I continue. I lived in South Korea for about a decade where I taught high school English and edited a cultural magazine.

Since returning to the U.S. last spring, I’ve been confounded by the scarcity of good service.

More often than not, I’ve experienced rude, apathetic, lazy and unprofessional service from the hardware store to the restaurant.

This just didn’t occur in Korea — and Asia in general — where businesses pride themselves on taking good care of the customer from the get-go.

Seo-be-su, Koreans say, and examples of such service are all around: department stores where employees greet parking customers with a bow and immediately welcome and assist customers entering shops; food delivery with men on scooters delivering fresh, steaming Chinese food on platters to your door in a flash (later they return to retrieve the empty plates); restaurants where $5 meals come with numerous side dishes, all refilled upon request free of charge. 

One evening in the capital of Seoul, when my Samsung TV went black with a buzz, I figured its day had come.

A quick call to the service number on the back of the set and the next morning a smiling man showed up at my apartment, dissembled the TV, checked a few things, replaced a part and turned on the set.

Just a few months ago when my mother’s TV went haywire, it took nearly two weeks for someone to show up; when a new microwave malfunctioned, I had to spend five hours on the phone contending that my mom (who’s in her 70s) shouldn’t have to bring the new appliance to the store for repair — this was mostly met with contempt. There seems to be a “more of me, less of us” thing going on back here.

Distraction abounds, and as we become more “connected,” an ironic distance has developed between people. Common courtesy isn’t so common and the general definition of service may need a revision.

Such were my sentiments when I arrived at Sears that Friday morning with my battery in tow. Walking through the service entrance, I put down my battery in a random spot next to the door rather than carry it to the counter, and headed toward a place in line (I didn’t have an appointment and no one knew who I was yet.).

In the time it took me to walk 20-some feet and get in line, a bearded man in Sears garb emerged from a side door, walked to my randomly placed battery and said, “You need this checked?”

Momentarily flustered by the flash of service, I struggled to respond but eventually got out a, “Yes.”

It turned out the battery took a full charge (“Glad I could save you some money,” Jim said.) and my sister’s SUV fired right up later that day (and continues to run fine). But what mattered most was the exemplary service provided by Jim and his staff (especially the bearded man out back — a Mr. Nelson, as I recall).

In a fading American industry, this is a tradition that should remain at the core of our country’s identity. 

It is heartening to find it alive and well down here in Texas. 

JOHN RODGERS is a freelance journalist and editor for Groove Korea magazine.


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