At a specialty grocery store in Traverse City, Michigan, a manager named Shea O’Brien was recently accused of not being able to read an angry customer that a type of fish advertised for sale was out of stock. In another instance, O’Brien said, a man who did not want to wear a mask verbally assaulted another employee, mixing personal insults with impromptu monologues about freedom and tyranny until the employee started crying.
“I kept screaming, and the governor said we don’t have to wear masks anymore,” O’Brien said. The woman’s reaction – that they were still mandatory in places where there were a certain number of workers – angered him even more.
Finally, the owner came over and “told the customer never to come back again,” O’Brien said.
It’s not your imagination: people’s behavior has really gotten worse. In a study of 1,000 American adults during the pandemic, 48 percent of adults and 55 percent of workers said they expected in November 2020 an improvement in US citizenship after the election.
By August, expectations for improvement had fallen to 30 percent overall and 37 percent among workers. Overall, only 39% of respondents thought the US accent is civilized. The study also found that people who didn’t have to work with clients were happier than those who did.
“There is a growing bifurcation between office workers and those who interact with consumers,” said Micho Spring, head of global corporate practice for strategic communications firm Weber Shandwick, who helped conduct the study.
At the same time, many consumers are saddened by what they see as poor service in companies that do much of their business online – retailers, cable TV operators, car rental companies and the like – and because they seem almost concerned with preventing customers from talking to real people.
“The pandemic has given many companies permission to reduce their focus on the quality of the customer experience they provide,” said John Picoult, founder of Watermark Consulting, a customer service consultancy.
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