Last week, I needed to get a key copied. Since I had other shopping that could be completed at the local big box store, I decided to save time and complete all my errands at one place with my first stop being the counter with the key cutter. No one was present, so I walked to the front of the store hunting for store associates along the way. I finally found one in lawn and garden who promised to page the manager.

I headed to the back of the store, hoping to arrive at the same time as the manager, but the counter was still unoccupied. I waited patiently at first. Then, minor impatience brought the store paging phone to my attention.

It was sitting right there.

The buttons were labeled.

The Little “Miss-Chief” inside me began to dream up possible outcomes. Maybe I could page the manager myself or wish everyone an early Merry Christmas or announce a Blue Light Special in a store that never had Blue Light Specials.

Not quite gutsy enough to go through with it, I did the next best thing. First I Googled the store phone number, called the front desk, and was assured someone would be paged.

Then, while still waiting, I photographed the phone and admitted my temptation to my Facebook friends.

What surprised me was that this small admission set off a discussion about help in stores complete with personal anecdotes and possible antidotes for the problems of poor service.

The experience made me wonder about our expectations of others when it comes to service. When we’re the ones swiping the card or handing over the cash, we hang on tight to the maxim, “The customer’s always right!” Store personnel are there for one reason—to serve us.

From a business perspective that may be true, but from a human perspective, I had to wonder at the entitlement and frustration that bubbled up inside me as a result of slow or ineffective service. How does this attitude affect my ability to serve as a customer? Are all requirements and restrictions cast off for my schedule, my wants, my needs when I’m the one paying?

And then, I (metaphorically) put myself on the other side of the counter. Is service a one-way street? Or is there some way that a customer can “re-serve” an employee or business owner during a business transaction, even if it is evident that an employee is being lazy, or rude, or inefficient? Perhaps, service would improve if we became more focused on re-serving those who are serving us:

By quelling our impatience.

By building margin into our shopping schedule.

By being willing to come back later.

By biting our tongue on unnecessary admonishments.

By being direct but gracious about what we need.

By realizing the person on the other side of the counter may need served as well.

The manager finally arrived. She efficiently cut my key within a minute or so after apologizing because she’d been on break. I thanked her and headed off to my next stop—the long line at the pharmacy.

Another chance to re-serve…

At least I already had my key.