The customer reigns again

A local banker recently made an observation about the economy that has subtly changed the way I view many of the businesses I regularly deal with.

He pointed out that, until the past year, the U.S. economy had been in an unprecedented state of fertility, a period that lasted more than 10 years (20 if you include the Reagan era). Because of this, business people in their 20s and 30s lack the first-hand experience of running a business in a flat economy, let alone during a recession.

I was reminded of the remark when I called to make a long-overdue appointment with my hairdresser.

After placing my request for the next available time slot, I expected the usual response of “three weeks from next Wednesday at three o’clock,” or some other option that meant three more weeks of dark roots and an appointment that cut right in the middle of my workday.

To my surprise, I was offered a choice of several convenient times (including one that same evening) by a professional and courteous voice on the other end of the line. Once I arrived, I was treated to a slew of free services that had never been offered before, including beverage service and a hand and arm massage.

Salons and other businesses that provide nonessential products and services have become aware that their customers don’t need pedicures and massages when times are tough. And for those of us whose household budgets haven’t been cut over the last year, we still think about the possibility every day, and we spend more cautiously because of that.

My experience at the salon was not an isolated one. Over the last few months, I’ve noticed a new appreciation for my business from many companies. I’m getting so used to being treated well that I’ve started to expect a higher level of service, at a fairer price, from just about everybody.

If I don’t get it, I’m quick to take my business elsewhere, because I know I can.

Maybe we needed to be reminded that the last decade was not “normal.” The reality is that business cycles go down as well as up, and you can’t always expect customers to be clamoring for you.