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Gena Bigler: Denim … the downfall of civility? Manners, like nice dress, going by the wayside

Denim has led to the downfall of civility.

At least it seems that way. Before the era of denim, it was common to dress up for such things as dinner or a plane trip. Today, however, it is entirely too common to see people out in public wearing even pajamas. When did this become acceptable? We have yoga pants and sweatpants, after all. Why on earth wear your pajamas out of the house?

It isn’t just clothing that has lost its social grace, common courtesy is becoming a rare find as well. Especially in the service industry, where shocking stories of rude behavior – and worse – explode across social media at breakneck speeds. From inappropriate comments written on sales receipts to wars over the tip jar, manners, like nice dress, are missing.

Maybe the time we spend communicating online and other forms of technology has blunted our compassion for each other. Perhaps we are so busy and so stressed that we have no energy left to be kind. Maybe we have grown so casual in our clothes and our interactions that politeness seems formal or antiquated.

The extreme popularity of Downton Abbey makes me wonder if we as a society are missing its grace and manners. While I am in no way encouraging a return to the class division of early England, there is a certain appeal to occasionally dressing for dinner and the unrestrained use of “please” and “thank you.”

Courtesy doesn’t just make human interactions more pleasant, it is part of the fabric that knits society together. And … we’d do well to remember it improves sales. Customer service can make a huge difference in return customers.

There is a gas station I frequent simply because the staff there is so incredibly nice. On the other hand, there is a restaurant whose food I love but that I have not dined at in over a year because the service was consistently bad. Good customer service must come from the top and requires vigilance. Everyone has a bad day now and then, but without return customers, there may be no tomorrow.

Beyond training staff well, a surprise visit might give you an honest look at what your customer sees. If the boss or manager treats the staff with respect and kindness, they are much more likely to share that level of civility with the customers. If staff is treated poorly, the customers will suffer and, in turn, so will the bottom line.

Most sales and service industries rely on word of mouth to reach a solid customer base. Unfortunately, bad news travels much faster and farther than good news. Social media is a-twitter with the bad rants of an Arizona restaurant. Good reviews of a restaurant over 1,000 miles away are much more scarce. However, I do still hear about the elegant tea service at Elmwood Inn, and that tea room has been closed for nine years. Good service makes an impression. Great service makes a long-lasting impression.

While I do frequently enjoy the comfort of denim, I make every effort to use please and thank you all the time. Casual clothing does not mandate a loss of civility. The golden rule still applies. Treat others as you wish to be treated.

And if you expect good service, be kind to your server. If you receive exceptional service, reward it well and let others know. You can tell a lot about a person by how they treat those who can do nothing for them. You can also tell a lot about a person by how they treat those in the service industry. Truly kind people are kind without reserve.

Let’s share some of the good. Let’s treat each other with kindness.

Gena Bigler is passionate about public service and credits her time serving nonprofits in AmeriCorps and Volunteers in Service to America (V.I.S.T.A.) with teaching her extreme budgeting and bargain shopping. Gena is now CFO of McNay Settlement Group and serves on the board of the Lactation Improvement Network of Kentucky (L.I.N.K.). Gena would be happy to hear from you at lgbigler@gmail.com.


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