The complexity of 21st century life has made bad service the rule and good the exception. In general, the larger the enterprise the worse the service. There is one screaming exception to this rule – Amazon. I’ll come back to them below. Good service is always the same. It is prompt, courteous, exceeds expectations, and addresses problems with dispatch. You immediately recognize it, these days with surprise.

Consider a massive corporation in the communications and entertainment business. It also has retail outlets. if you go to one of them you might encounter a representative who is polite or bored. It’s the luck of the draw. But it is possible to have a satisfactory encounter. Though, often it’s necessary to call a remote location for service delivered over the internet. In this instance you’ll enter telephone purgatory. You’ll be on hold until the appearance of a decubitus ulcer threatens cutaneous integrity and you typically hang up with your problem as unresolved as your reddened dermis. Often your only remedy is to cancel the service and hope another dinosaur company will solve your problem.

The company that put you on lifelong hold is in the communications business. How hard would it be to institute a call back service that would eliminate staying on hold? Many smaller companies already do this, but it’s beyond the capacity of Engulf & Devour. Amazon never puts a caller on a life sentence of hold. I’m still getting to them below.

So how do you cancel service from a provider who is incommunicado? The only solution is to contact your credit card holder and dispute the charge. Such an action has always worked for me – at least so far. If the credit card phones go silent we’re in another dimension of woe.

Let’s confront the Emperor of Bad Service – the medical profession. If you doubt me, visit any emergency room. Do so as an observer. If you’re there as a patient you risk life, limb, and possibly your bank account. I know many survivors of previous visits to the ER who prefer death to another encounter. They’re (ERs) dirty, crowded. overwhelmed, and dangerous. So the next time you get an acute illness that requires more than your local urgent care center can handle plan the illness for normal business hours. Then hope you can convince your primary care doctor to see you tout suite – good luck on that one. But wonders never cease.

So let’s be optimistic. She sees you and recommends direct admission to the hospital. Congratulations, you’ve bypassed the ER. But now you’re confronted by the admitting office. They won’t let you in until they receive approval from your insurance company or Medicare, etc. There you are seated on a hard wooden chair with a minimum of a six hour wait ahead of you. What’s wrong? You’ve got heart block and are in urgent need of a cardiac pacemaker. Any chance that you’ll be denied care? Of course not. But it still will take six hours before the go ahead comes through. You’re sitting in view of a grim faced clerk counting what’s left of your pulse as it mimics the last few bars of Mahler’s 9th Symphony hoping your exhausted cardiac reserve has 360 minutes left in its account. When the obstacle course is finally surmounted and a cardiologist gets hold of you. You receive a miracle of modern technology in the form of an implantable pacemaker that’s attached to the wall of your right ventricle. It has battery that will last longer than you will and is devoid of the wires and external paraphernalia that characterized earlier pacemakers. Did you get good service or bad? Both! Can we rid ourselves of the administrative miasma that surrounds the good medical care? No! And it will only get worse as medical care becomes free. The doctors now and forevermore work for the administrators. And the administrators will soon be entirely in the employ of the government.

Leaving life and death encounters behind, let’s take a vacation. For a zeptosecond pretend that COVID never happened. You’re going to stay at a resort hotel. You made your reservation on the internet and never confirmed it by phone as previous reservations so made had been honored according to plan. When you arrive at the hotel, family and baggage in tow, you find that the place claims it never heard of you. You have a printed confirmation which is not in their computer. Furthermore, the resort is 100% full because a ladies’ undergarment manufacturer has booked the entire hostelry for the same seven days you had planned to spend enjoying the charms of the five star palace. There truly is no room at the inn if you’re not in the brassier industry.

Two possible outcome, one good the other bad: The basic principle of hotel management when confronted with this type of problem is to get you off the premises as quickly and with as little cost as possible. If the five star joint takes this approach, you’ll be confronted with a battalion of assistant managers who will refute every argument or plea you offer while nudging you to the nearest exit. This is the outcome most likely to happen. You and family on the street, 1000 miles from home, screaming grandchildren, accusatory offspring who keep reminding you of what a ditz your are for not calling to confirm the reservation. And you have no place to go. You can’t even return home as you have a non refundable plane ticket that’s good only a week from now. Also, all flights prior to that date are booked. Your only recourse is the Salvation Army or a homeless shelter.

There is the small chance that the resort will live up to its reputation and find you accomodations closest both in quality and location to what you booked. They should also provide this compensatory service with a greatly reduced tariff or none at all. While not the rule, such an outcome is possible.

I mentioned commercial air travel above. This industry contends with medicine for the summit of bad service. Consider what they bludgeon you with. First after you’ve bought your non refundable ticket six months in advance, you show up at the check in counter (four hours early as instructed) where 15 people are ahead of you each with two over packed bags. After waiting for half an hour you reach the counter manned, or womaned) by a surly clerk whose been made surly by the nature of his job and the attitude of the would be fliers who’ve been made surly by the long line. You then pay a baggage fee that is directly proportional to the likelihood that your luggage will emerge 1,000 from where you’ll end up.

But the biggest challenge awaits – The TSA. The grandma gropers will go ballistic from the pacemaker I’ve mentioned above. It will set off alarms as far away as your destination. Then the agent will put a wand over the pacemaker despite admonitions not to do so. If the wearer is lucky he’ll get away with a grand mal seizure. If not cardiac arrest will put an end to the security check. The ticket will still be non refundable.

Assuming you’ve made it through security with only damaged dignity, the next hurdle is the flight attendants. They’ll tape your mandatory mask firmly in place such that cyanosis is certain. But no will notice because your head is covered in gauze. Then you’ll be offered mandatory peanuts and sparkling water laced with more surliness. Finally, you’ll arrive sans bags and sans hotel rooms. What do do? Stay home! If your visiting relatives they probably don’t want to see you, anyway. If they really do want in person contact make them come to you.

About the only place you can get first class service with at least a 75% chance is an up scale cruise line. There are only about four or five of them. Their continued existence is in peril because the COVID pandemonium has cast them as floating Petri dishes. Their main market is the elderly who are most susceptible serious effects from the virus. Most of their putative customers will have to fly to get to the ships – see above. Then they’ll be subjected to so many supposedly beneficial health mandates that a digital rectal exam will seem preferable. Perhaps some of them (the cruise lines) will make it. But many of them are buoyant zombies.

Finally, as promised, Amazon. How did it go from online book seller to the retailer to the world? Luck had a lot to do with their success – right time, right place, right business model. But a large fraction of their market domination was the result of their record for good service. You could be sure that any problem would be promptly settled to the customer’s satisfaction. Their service was so good that other retailers are still trying to catch up. Compare ordering a laxative from Amazon to a trip to Walmart to get the same product. Then the pandemic occurred and Amazon was in possession of the best service for a homebound populace. And they also offered a streaming service. Now they’ve entered the prescription pharmacy business. CVS and Walgreens beware.

Success and power have blunted their record, but inertia is still moving Amazon forward. They, along with Microsoft and Google, control the cloud. As power inevitably corrupts they have been accordingly contaminated. Other retailers are trying to catch up. Amazon still responds almost immediately to entreaties from their customers, so they’ll maintain their lead for awhile. But eventually Schumpeter’s creative destruction will overcome them.

In a world overwhelmed with bad service what should the potential recipient in need of service do? Stay local. As in governance, discussed here earlier, it’s your best shot. Remaining close to home may not always work, but there is no alternative.