I can carp with the best of ‘em when it comes to lousy customer service. For most of my life, I’ve believed I’m entitled (yes, I used that word) to a decent experience when handing over a buck in exchange for a product or service. And when I don’t get it, man, do I see red. Just ask my wife.

Anyone else feel the days of being able to expect good customer service are over?

Some of my most appalling customer service experiences occurred in the last 18 months, from a simple visit to the garage to our company’s biggest vendors. Outright arrogance, promises made with no intention of fulfilling them and salesmen who suddenly go into exile when a problem arises. Customer-facing personnel who can’t answer the simplest of questions, who hide behind their caller ID or make pre-emptive phone transfers, and make statements (including blaming their computer, running down co-workers and sharing confidential internal policies) that’d make their employer gasp. That is, if companies haven’t given up and accepted a “new norm.”

If businesses are still expecting their people to provide good customer service, they sure aren’t inspecting it.

I was glad to see the Aug. 27 Forbes article, “Bad Customer Service Costs Businesses Billions of Dollars” by Shep Hyken, that hung a dollar number on bad service. (This article is required reading, click here). But then again, consumers and businesses are getting what they tolerate.

Farm equipment dealers will find themselves in a tight spot amid a perfect storm for new lows of service. Products are more complex while farmers expect technical help. Major OEMs have cut product training staff and hoping their dealers (already spread thin) can figure it out for themselves. And now a new federal labor law will result in employers forbidding some staff from answering calls or texts after hours, or worse, having to magically find more part-timers to step in.

Yup, customer service is in the toilet everywhere we look. But allowing this mindset to penetrate the ag industry is a BIG danger.

Farming is an innovation business, and progress comes from a willingness to embrace the new. Farmers will take on risk and run a new concept or machine and endure the trial and error — that is, if they can count on their dealer, manufacturer and the rest of the supply chain. You lose their confidence and then what? Farmers turn to the safety of the status quo, things stagnate and you lose sales.

Some will dismiss the Forbes piece by rationalizing that ag is somehow different, that your longtime customers’ last will and testament requires offspring to forever do business with you, or that they’re aren’t enough choices for one-half of your customers to actually leave. That kind of thinking makes you vulnerable.

Now that my therapeutic rant is over, I’ll applaud those equipment dealers who make their word bankable. Who invest in call centers and training. Who state their commitments to service for all to see. And who routinely survey customers and use it for correction and reinforcement — not just a masked marketing touchpoint.

“Every statistic and fact indicates that service gives any company a competitive advantage,” as stated in the Forbes article, “and the lack of it can be the demise of the business.”

The good news? Dealers who believe in service and support, and work hard to protect their reputation, can shine more than ever. It’s getting easier to stand out.

COLUMN UPDATE: And Now for the Good News …