My wife recently advised me that our 25-year-old home needed several minor plumbing repairs. I told her no problem; with my connections in the construction industry, I would call a plumber friend at a top area plumbing company and have one of the company's plumbers come by to take care of the repairs.

The result of my call to the plumbing company was a shock. I was told they don't do plumbing repairs. I said, "You are one of the biggest plumbing companies in our area and you don't do repairs?" The reply was that so many people have access to all the necessary plumbing parts today through the big box stores that it was no longer profitable for my friend to be in the plumbing repair business.

No more service plumbers? Are we HVAC service people far behind? I don't think so because I believe that we work hard to provide a value-added service.

Bag It Yourself

As I was thinking about this experience, a number of other recent experiences came to mind that make me wonder if service as we used to know it is nothing but a memory.

Recently, while leaving the grocery store, I passed a group of "check out yourself" consoles where the clerk had been eliminated. Wow, the friendly service of the neighborhood grocery clerk has been replaced by the beep of the scanner and a recorded message to "put the item in the bag." Where has the service gone?

Do you remember the "service" station where they filled your car with gas, checked the water and oil, and cleaned the windshield, etc.? Now, I swipe my card, pump my gas, wash my windshield, and usually get some gasoline on my hand removing the filler nozzle. Where has the service gone?

The Good Old Days

I remembered also about the good old days when you could call a company and actually speak to a live person. By the way, call me old fashioned, but if you ever call us (314-872-8070) your call will always be answered by a live person, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. But we are an exception. I know, because recently I made calls to three different companies to ask each a rather simple question.

To my chagrin, in all three instances I was treated to a menu of choices from which to select. Unfortunately, in all three cases, after listening carefully to my options, and in two cases having the options repeated, I never was given an option relating to the question I had. In two of the three instances, pressing "0" to try to reach a live person resulted in a re-cording letting me know I had pressed an invalid entry. Where has the service gone?

Airlines are going to charge you if they have to talk to you to sell you a ticket. Oh yes, you can save the charge if you do everything yourself on the Internet, but if they have to personally talk to you, they are going to charge you extra.

We can look at the situation two ways. We can say it is happening in every other industry; we must be next and just give up. Or, my choice, we can provide the very best service possible, knowing that we will stand out so much from the rest of the "service industry" that we will prosper with such positive differentiation.

By the way, I am still looking for a reputable plumber.

Guest columnist Butch Welsch operates Welsch Heating & Cooling in St. Louis. He can be reached by e-mail at

Publication date: 10/18/2004