The real beauty of consumer capitalism is that, so long as you’re willing to spend money, people have to be nice to you. They have to! You go into that bar or that shoe store, that Apple Store or that Sephora, and you lay down that thin slice of plastic, silver like the Lionheart’s ransom, and a freshly-scrubbed grad student in uniform will stand just outside your reach, smile, and ask, “What can I get for you today?” You might be the world’s biggest asshole at work, a terror or a phantom to your family, but you can buy courtesy at $49.99 a visit. And since, as philosophers from Jesus to Vonnegut have noted, kindness is the only currency that really matters in this world–the reassurance that you are part of the tribe, that your place is secure, that the world will be diminished by your loss–this eagerness to please is the perpetual motion machine that will keep retail, and therefore capitalism, going forever.
Considered in this light, the abject fury that mediocre customer service provokes makes so much more sense. The real miracle is that good customer service happens at all. If a stranger showed up at your office and started clamoring for your attention, how often, and for how long, could you summon the energy to be civil to them? And yet there’s an entire industry built around delivering niceness – not material goods, which Amazon has clearly established they can provide cheaper, but a kind word and a friendly face – because the demand is so achingly great.