The fact that our country is in the midst of a recession is old news. Since the housing bubble burst – effectively slamming the brakes on the consumption-driven frenzy we had worked ourselves into — you can hardly go anywhere without hearing more about how we, the consumers, are being adversely affected by Wall Street’s mistakes. Fair or not, we’ve learned to cope the best we can. Purse strings have been tightened, and budgets trimmed bare as we, perhaps not so patiently, weather the storm. There are a million reasons to be upset about our current economic situation. I, however, will choose to focus on one of the happier side effects: the rebirth of customer service.

A few years ago, when consumer spending was at its peak, many businesses were experiencing so much success that the focus shifted from “The customer is always right” to something more like “There must be some way to squeeze another buck out of this guy.” Obviously profit has always been the bottom line in business, but it’s safe to say that the emphasis during that period was not to win over customer loyalty with quality products and outstanding service, but rather to get ‘em in the door and get the money in the register. It’s hard to blame business owners for this — when people are lining up on their own, ready to buy, why would you waste any time trying to impress them? Equal blame can be placed on consumers who readily spent beyond their means, accepted lower quality products, and paid fees and surcharges without batting an eyelash. When money is flowing, it flows all too easily.

As we all know, this phase was not destined to last. When the economy faltered and the shockwave hit homes across America, suddenly it didn’t seem so very necessary to have all the newest toys. People realized that maybe those unused gym memberships weren’t worth the $75 a month being pulled from their bank accounts, and that maybe credit card balances racking up 20% interest should be paid down.  Bottom line, we all got a little more aware of where exactly our money was going, and started making smarter decisions about it.

Luckily for us all, knowledge and awareness are the best tools consumers have for insuring that we get what we deserve. Without the cushion of guaranteed customers and steadily climbing returns, businesses have been forced to get back to their roots and woo their clientele the old fashioned way, with high quality products and services. Once the pains of your wallet pinching begin to fade a bit, take a moment to look around and appreciate just how many businesses are competing to win you over. How many deals that were previously unheard of are now at your fingertips. People with money to spend are the new prettiest girl in school, and you should take your time and investigate all the options before choosing a prom date. Sick of waiting on hold to get customer service? Take your business elsewhere and the message will be delivered loud and clear. Any business, especially in the service industry, that hopes to remain viable should be devoting its attention to finding out what their customers want and how they can better deliver. The power, at least for now, is in our hands. Let’s just hope that we can use it wisely.