I hear that a lot. The words are usually spoken by someone with hair my color. For us, "used to be" is measured in decades. For the pre-bifocal set with most of their internal organs intact, "used to be" was Tuesday.
When someone my age starts talking about the way things used to be, I am fairly confident the old days are going to come out smelling like a rose. These days, it seems, everything has gone to Wichita in a handbasket. And it's all "their" fault. I have no idea who "they" are.
Take customer service. I hear complaints about customer service all the time. In the old days, I'm told, the customer was always right. Nowadays, nobody cares about customers.
Last week I went to the Social Security Administration's field office here in Cape Girardeau. I had some questions. I wanted to talk to a real person. I was greeted by a uniformed security person who quickly -- and pleasantly -- determined why I was there and how I could get started. In just a few minutes I was seated across from a competent, well-informed woman who anticipated most of my questions and provided additional information that I hadn't even thought to ask about. I left feeling like a pampered taxpayer. When was the last time you felt that way?
My wife and I were in Sikeston on Saturday looking for a diner that, it turns out, has gone out of business. It had been at least 10 years since we had eaten at Lambert's, the famous home of throwed rolls. We pulled into the parking lot to see how many tour buses were there, thinking we could gauge the wait time to be seated. There were no buses, so we went in. There was no line. Nearly every booth and table -- and there are gobs of them -- was occupied, but we were quickly seated. The servers, mostly high school-age boys in Norm Lambert look-alike shirts and red suspenders, befriended us, answered all our questions, kidded with us and threw rolls at us. Lambert's draws customers for a lot of reasons, but one is the competent young men (and a few young women) who represent Sikeston so well. When we left an hour later, there were more than a hundred hungry customers waiting to be seated.
My wife wanted to scout out the address where she was scheduled to attend a meeting in a couple of weeks. It was in a neighborhood we were not familiar with. Nearby was a heating and cooling business, so I pulled in to see if anyone there could direct us. The woman in the office gave me a friendly greeting and quickly pointed me in the right direction. Then she called the owner of the place to make doubly sure I wasn't being misled. "What took so long," my wife asked when I got back in the car. "I was being helped," I said.
My wife found an appliance repairman whose well-stocked truck carries just about every part needed for a service call. He's a friendly fellow who takes pride in his work. We have a long list of folks who help us, guide us and fix whatever we break. They do it with a smile. And they genuinely appreciate our business.
Customer service? It's better than ever. You, too, can find it if you look for it.
R. Joe Sullivan is Editorial Page Editor for the Southeast Missourian. You can contact him at