Be Our Guest

lumiereI called my auto dealer to book a time for a regular maintenance on my car and their voicemail system kicked in: “Our associates are busy serving other guests…,” it told me.

Guests?

The curious thing, here, is that while universities long ago started corporatizing and classifying their students as “paying customers” — a change in institutional mentality that many of us lament a great deal — businesses are playing the same game, except they do it for reverse reasons. For whereas universities presumably do it so students and parents feel they’re “getting their money’s worth,” what with government support declining and tuition rising, businesses likely do it so that customers forget that they’re paying for a service, and thus that they are involved in a transaction that comes with entailments for both sides, and so don’t worry anymore about “getting their money’s worth.”

The comfy couches and the coffee and the “complimentary wifi” that many of us have now come to expect at car dealers and elsewhere doesn’t really come for free, now does it?

But it’s in their interest for us to think it does — for us to feel like a guest when we’re actually footing the bill for the whole show, thereby paying for the luxury of being hosted.

For then, if they do it correctly, we’ll thank them for charging us a fee and they’ll get to say “You’re welcome” to us after we pay it.

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