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Whatever happened to customer service? Doesn't anyone else care that very few people in the business world know how to say "please" and "thank you" anymore?

The Oxford American Dictionary defines a customer as "one who buys goods or services from a shop or business." That's you and me. Service is defined as "use, assistance, a helpful or beneficial act . . . to be useful, helpful." And that's what you and I are supposed to be receiving. Sounds like a good thing, doesn't it? Can you remember when you last left a shop or store feeling good about the quality of service you received?

I'm not asking for much -- and you certainly won't mistake me for Miss Manners. All I want is to be greeted with a pleasant salutation. How about something along the lines of "May I help you?" That would be nice. When the transaction is complete, how about a "thank you," instead of "Here you go" as the bag is shoved in my face.

And another thing: Get rid of the "Have a nice day." Unfortunately, its overuse has rendered it virtually meaningless.

If I sound as if I'm overreacting, perhaps I have good reason. Just before writing this column I attempted to return a pair of shoes to a local discount shoe store -- the one that promises that you'll pay less for their shoes. Imagine my amazement as I watched the store manager's annoyance increase dramatically as I attempted to explain to him that he was giving me too much money back!

Finally, I gave up. Evidently he decided that the effort involved in reversing the transaction and starting over again wasn't worth the money lost to the store by over-paying me.

Add that to my vexation when, on the same day, the customer-service-counter clerk at a local drugstore handled my transaction without one single spoken word. I guess I should consider myself fortunate that I was waited on at all. But just envision how much more pleasurable the transaction would have been if she had managed to blurt out a "hello," "good afternoon," or "may I help you?" All right, I admit it, I yearned for a "thank you," too!

When was the last time you went to the supermarket and didn't have to listen to your cashier discuss his or her social life with the cashier next door? Seriously, I'm thrilled that Johnny finally called. But please, while you're sharing this monumental news with the rest of the world, could you manage to ring up and bag my groceries, too? I could mislead you by telling you that I usually shop in the top supermarket in town, therefore allowing you to assume that they are the only ones derelict in their customer-service responsibilities. The truth of the matter is, this problem is so pervasive that very few businesses appear exempt.

Lest you get the wrong impression, those lacking in customer-service skills cut across all age and ethnic groups and both genders. What's particularly surprising is the fact that the very people who are guilty of this decline in civility are the ones who declare "what do you say . . . " to their children whenever they fail to preface a demand with the word "please," or when they neglect to mutter a "thank you" after their parents have acquiesced.

Then again, I guess you can tell that I was raised during a time when society demanded that children addressed their elders as Mr. and Mrs. Oh, for the good old days. But I digress. That's another day and another column.

By now the word "ogre" has probably flitted across your mind. Really, I'm not. Having worked in some facet of customer service for more than 25 years, I know that there are some customers you just can't please, and some days that you just don't want to get out of bed. Even so, wouldn't it make the work-day experience so much more pleasurable if we were all a little more attentive and courteous to the customer? Of course, as customers, we all share the responsibility of offering reciprocal courtesy to those who venture forth to attend to our needs.

So this is my call to arms. To customers everywhere: Demand high-quality service, no matter where you shop. But remember to say "please!" Just because you pay discount prices does not mean you should settle for discount service.

And to store owners and managers: Listen up! It's time to take a long, hard look at the caliber of customer service delivered to your patrons. Are your employees cordial? Do they acknowledge the customer and offer assistance? Do they say "thank you" when a customer has purchased from your business?

If the answer to any of these questions is "no," then perhaps that flapping noise you hear is the sound of dollar bills flying swiftly past your doorway. MICHELLE SAVIT lives in Cheektowaga.
For guidelines for columns appearing in this space, send an addressed, stamped envelope to Opinion Pages Guidelines, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240.

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