Customer Service in the Past

Personal Customer Service and home deliveries provided by a variety of grocers, green grocers and other local merchants came to an end with the spread of popular super markets in shopping centres throughout Australia. Isles packed with groceries and merchandise, shopping trolleys and checkouts, spelled the end of the personal customer service and home deliveries provided by a variety of small grocers, green grocers and other local merchants.

Shopkeepers in the 1940s and 1950s not only provided excellent personal service, but delivered your order to your door. For example, once a week my mother would make a list of the groceries she needed to replenish her food cupboard, then she would ring the local grocer and place her order. The grocer would advise her about brands available, specials and prices. He would total the cost of her order, which would be delivered in cardboard boxes, to our home that afternoon.

Other tradesmen who regularly delivered included the milkman, the baker, the ice man, the butcher, the green grocer, the farmer who delivered eggs and probably a few vendors I've forgotten. A few tradesmen continued deliveries through the 60's. The last regular one I can remember was Ernie Edwards on Magnetic Island who called daily, at least until the end of the 80's, with his truck piled with essentials like bread, newspaper, milk, fruit and vegetables etc.

These days, apart from the daily newspaper and mail from the post office, the only thing we get delivered regularly is junk mail. It used to be that service to customers was paramount to the success of a business. Now, it seems, business, particularly big business, has lost sight of customer service in its scramble for higher and higher profits.

Do you remember the days when your Bank gave you good personal customer service? That would have been in the days before banks and others like them paid millions to foreign CEOs to re-organise systems,sack staff and screw customers in the quest for higher profits. Cut service, sack staff and pile on charges the way we do it back home, seems to have been their strategy.

In the days when kids had a back yard to play in, everybody had a few fruit trees. Apart from our mango tree, we had a few citrus trees, orange, lemon, mandarin and grapefruit. Each year, a little old man would appear at the door and say to my wife, “Does your man want his trees pruned?” With her agreement, he would head for the back yard, take off his shirt, and set to work pruning the citrus trees. He was obviously very experienced at this type of work, and on the couple of times I saw him, I got the impression he thought that anyone who couldn't prune citrus trees wasn't much use. After he was paid his few dollars, he would disappear again, and we wouldn't set eyes on him for another year. He never said who he was and we never asked, he was just doing what he could do best to make some money, and minding his own business.

Men of that era often went around selling clothes props, sharpening knives, offering to fix things or do odd jobs. These days I suppose anyone offering to do that kind of work would be looked on with suspicion and sent on their way, but remember, 40 or 50 years ago there was no talk of stranger danger, no fear of terrorists, no one had ever heard of home invasion. Certainly there was crime, some of it quite shocking, but there wasn't the fear of being a victim of crime that seems to prevail today. The service offered by these odd job men was probably taken for granted, just as we probably take for granted the gardeners, dog washers and others who provide similar, though more organised customer service today.

While most Mums ran up shirts, shorts and dresses for their kids, and occasional frocks for themselves, they usually went to a dressmaker to have their good clothes made to measure, or rang a shop where they were known, to have some dresses sent home on approval for them to try on. Men's good clothes were usually tailor made. Buttons and clips were in. Zips and Velcro were unknown. My mother's dressmaker worked from her home in South Townsville. As a little boy, I can remember accompanying my mother on trips to the dressmaker. We used to walk down to the Eastern end of Flinders Street, to a jetty in front of the Harbour Board Office, where a man in a rowing boat would row people across to the Flying Squadron jetty at South Townsville. A trip to the dressmaker must have taken just about a whole morning. Apart from the ferry trip, it was quite a long walk, but people thought nothing of walking comparatively long distances to get where they wanted to go to get the service they required.

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