Weiner’s Department Stores used to be as ubiquitous in Houston as bluebonnets in a Texas spring. As a cheap place for family clothing back in the 1950s, they were only beaten by the Robert Hall Clothing line as an economical choice for Houstonians living on a tight budget. And speaking of such, I found this YouTube preservation of some popular Robert Hall commercial jingles as I was researching this subject. To my own state of complete unsurprise, I remembered the lines of most advertising lyrics you will hear at this site from a half century go. It was clear through the brainwashed minds of brains like my own that the “Mad Men” of early media advertising learned that they could play and condition our buying patterns like that well-known drum.
Here’s the link for a mental “jangle” into the radio past.
.Mading’s Drug Stores were another business you found everywhere too. Back in the day that people bought groceries at a grocery store, and drugs at a drug store, and clothing at a clothing store, Mading’s seemed prosperous enough in the Houston economy. It’s enclosed telephone booth (the kind that Superman once used to change clothes from his Clark Kent disguise) also was the nearest place from home for a private phone call to my girl friend. It cost me a nickel, but that was a coin that rolled a long way for a good cause.
As younger kids, we used to pull that oldest telephone “joke” in the world on Mading’s, which sold cigars. cigarettes, and pipe tobacco, of course. After all, it was a drug store and it sold these items back in the time that those then everyday household items were not counted as addictive substances. And, of course, our calls had nothing to do with the promulgation of public health. We were just being “wiseacres,” as my dad dubbed us, once he disapprovingly discovered what we were doing.
What we were doing was this simple and this stupid: We would call up Mading’s Drugs and ask for the tobacco department. From there, this exchange would take place:
Mading’s: “Tobacco here.”
Wiseacres: “Do you have Prince Albert in cans?”
Mading’s: “Yes we do.”
Wiseacres: “Well, you’d better let him out before he smothers.”
How stupid could we get? How about this one: “Hello, Mrs. Stalin. Is Joe home?”
Fortunately, the cure for some forms of stupidity is maturity. It’s just not always guaranteed for everyone in every instance. And all the while we were growing up, even in this seemingly permanent world of predictable brand names and stores, and safe, clean telephone humor, the world even then was changing all around us.
Today I’m just grateful for every new day that comes along. I no longer count on any brand name or service being around forever, but I am amazed that not a single new Internet company has yet picked up on the business response that could make them bigger than Twitter or Facebook ever dreamed of becoming. And it was something that brick and mortar stores of the 1950s did pretty darn well. Now, in 2011, it’s almost totally slipped out of sight – and especially in Internet business.
That’s simply this: paying close and concerned attention to customer needs after you’ve taken their money. Today’s Internet services do a hawkish job of getting people to sign up for this and that; then they take their money by credit card; then they leave them flat on questions of delivery, honesty in advertising, and technical support. Based on my own experience, very few Internet customer support programs include a genuinely workable phone option on customer questions and many of these even seem designed to discourage customers from ever asking for customer support more than once.
If it’s ever going to “seem like yesterday” again on the business trust side, America needs more businesses that care about the quality and value of their goods and services as they remain dedicated to preserving a good relationship with customers beyond the point of sale. If those business conditions cannot be restored, then I predict we are wasting our time trying to restore our national manufacturing economy to its former might.
Seems like yesterday? Prove it. Bring back the human response to customer support.