I, for one, am very fatigued to keep hearing about the sad state of Western economies, particularly in the US and UK. Frankly, ‘SHUT UP ALREADY’, is my current sentiment. Every single bit of this so-called financial crisis is your fault, our fault, and now it’s high time to take action or just lie down and take it.

First, look at the laughable level of customer service – in retail, wholesale, any ‘ale’. It stinks. From the High Street to Fifth Avenue, it’s clear that the twelve year olds who’ve been left to run shops could care less about me, my money, my time or whether or not I’ll come again. Remember that? ‘Come Again’, a standard greeting in retail, circa 1750-1975. You don’t see those signs anymore. No one cares.

Worse, workers are so poorly paid and poorly motivated that they’ll literally throw you out of the store fifteen minutes before closing. If the daily routine of ambivalence doesn’t get you, just try milling around a shop within the dreaded ‘fifteen minutes ‘til closing’. What at noon is a lack of care turns to pure scorn, and they’ll run as fast as they can to get away from you, while diverting eyes to their beloved floor. Minutes later, rent-a-boob security will come and ask you put down your selections and leave. Nice.

The other retail phenomenon I just don’t understand is the case of the mysterious opening hours. If I walked out, right now, to my shopping street there’d be dozens of mostly empty stores, with said ambivalent teenaged sales associates meandering about. Why open at 9am, complain about overhead, and wait ‘til the lunch rush – then, when customers actually do, in fact, show up, rush them out the door?

*Newsflash* the year is now 2009. People work all manner and varieties of shifts and hours. Many are working multiple part-time gigs. These ‘people’ can become ‘customers’ if you ‘cater’ to them. Such as opening your doors at 10, 11 even, and leaving them open until 7,8,9 even. Imagine that: stores that were open when people actually needed them. Shocking.

If retail doesn’t get you, business to business will. Recently, I had a 96 page book to put on press. Not the biggest job, not the smallest either. The first so-called ‘professional’ took the job, only to literally disappear when we asked for a proof print – standard in our industry (you don’t print 1000 books before seeing a proof, it just seems to help).

The second ‘professional’ spent as much time demanding payment, in full, up front, than servicing the job. I guess I should be exhuberent that he took my calls. And he is not an exception. Everyone nowadays, has hoodwinked the public into this new gambling fetish called ‘Direct Debit’ and ‘Direct Deposit’. I say no.

The game is simple: get the money up front and don’t ever, ever, be wrong or give any back – no matter how wrong you actually are. ‘They’ make money off the interest, and the fact that you, the customer (another outdated word), are now providing them, the vendor, with their accounting services – further boosting their profits. Glad I could be of service.

Want a side-splitter? Just try to deal with an energy/gas/electricity/phone or internet company. My recent move left me, although ‘promised’ within ten days, without broadband or a phone for six weeks. My transition electricity bill has been generated for or five times at last count, and has gone from 22.50 to 185.37 to now 68.85. I’ve sent in another query, we’ll see what comes up when they spin the roulette wheel.

The point? our decline of culture and economies in the US, UK and otherwise can be blamed on but one person: You. Me. We. Us. We’ve allowed ourselves to be cattle-driven by Wall-Street bond junkies and corporate customer cull out of control. We’ve been relegated to call centers where there should be a person to see face to face, and web sites where there should be someone to call.

So, I, for one, do not want to hear any more about how pitiful things are, the recession, bank executive woes or any of it. We’ve sat back and are continuing to allow this to happen.

And you know what? While they’re busy playing monkey games on the internet, avoiding customers and creating layer upon layer of fine-print to alienate any chance of progress, I prefer not to. Thank you Bartelby.

I have decided to run my business using a chequebook. If anyone doesn’t like it, they apparently don’t need me as a customer. I refuse to carry debit cards, and want nothing to do with direct debit. I’m fed up with making their lives better with my money. As far as customer service, I’ll never return to that book printer again. I’ve found two or three printing companies in Poland and the Czech Republic who are thrilled to have me as a customer, take my calls, and arrange reasonable payment terms. And no I’m not a traitor to the local economy – it betrayed me.

The raw truth: Eastern Europe, South America, China and Russia are standing poised and strong, and ready to compete. And my prediction is, they will, and they will win.For proof, just look at the so-called ‘Mexican problem’ in America or ‘Polish problem’ in the UK: they act as if they want to work and want to succeed. Buckle your seatbelts.

I have little sympathy, if any, for Brown’s Britain or Obama’s red, white and blue. If Gordon Brown wanted to ensure a win, and Obama wanted to boost his ratings, pass health care in one fell swoop and regain the confidence of the progressives – both would get together, and send troops to seize the banks we’ve bailed out. No more bonuses Mr Executive.

But pardon me, I’m thinking like a loathsome customer again.

Martin Belk – 10/11/09

Ps. In a total abandoning of all ONE editorial rules about advertorial, I’ll share a rare, shining, exceptional moment: EAT restaurant, Oxford Street, London. Last week. They smiled. They helped. They thanked. I had a place to sit and watch the people go by for as long as I wanted. Boy o’ boy did that sandwich taste better than anything I’d had in ages. I went back two days later. Go there.