It was a decade of lousy music, bad haircuts and crummy politicians. But the worst legacy of the 1980s may have been the experience of being a customer.

Remember the days of the take-it-or-leave-it interest rates, monopolies (“we’ll install your phone service on a weekday between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. and someone must be at home to meet the service representative”) and no exchange/no return policies. That was the ’80s. But the hens eventually came home to roost thanks to a brutal ’90s recession and competition from smart, responsive corporations that realized treating the customer as king or queen wins hearts, minds, loyalty and, most importantly, repeat business.

A recent television commercial for IBM eServices was a humorous reminder of those bad, old times, where two chic-looking French-speaking sales clerks in a fancy retail establishment haughtily discuss the trivialities of their lives while ignoring the pleas of a patron seeking assistance. As the customer politely but meekly interrupts to ask, in poorly articulated French, for assistance, the clerks give a contemptuous glare, then return to their conversation. That moment pretty much epitomizes the customer experience of the ’80s.

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