I’ll be blunt, customer service in the 21st century, pretty much sucks! Like small children, we have become a self absorbed society, and lost touch with the idea that the consumers of our product or service are ultimately responsible for our paychecks. In a word, our “BOSS”. But in a world filled with selfies, web addresses that begin with the word “MY…”, and an ever increasing use of unidirectional communication, i.e. texts, our focus has shifted from the true money makers. Large businesses, it seems, are more concerned than ever about taking in more than they give out. You can imagine the strain that would create on their relationship with the public. Where is the pride so many companies use to tout when it came to their customer follow up? Do we understand the public’s expectations of us? Do we care? Are we conceited, or have we just forgotten HOW to talk to customers?
The other day, an associate of mine commented on how great the customer service experience was with Amazon. To which, I replied how shameful it is that an “upstart” organization online, or over the phone can deliver better service than someone across the counter. It seems each year, dealing with a breathing body at the point of sale is becoming less, and less enjoyable. In fact, it’s more and more one directional. Do you hear that sucking sound too?
A month ago, I needed to get a new cellphone, so it was just a good time to change carriers altogether. I knew the headache I was in for, but felt assured someone at one of the world’s largest department store would be able to educate me as to the proper service that would fit my lifestyle. Typically, I go for the face to face transaction, though I am starting to rethink that. I looked at the in-store map for Plan A, and my entire State appeared to be covered in bright orange. That’s a good thing… I think. However, after waiting two days for “coverage to kick in” at my home, I took the product back to the store. I was informed though the coverage map was correct, it apparently just didn’t reach my home address, which, by the way, is in the geographic center said State. Really? Yes, they implied that the problem was somehow with me.
Undeterred, I switched to Plan B, however none of the four employees including a member of management could easily facilitate me in the switch since I was so newly in the system. Something about a vendor policy that would not allow them to manually fix the problem. Their solution; dial a toll-free number and hand ME the phone. Pathetic, but true. I first spoke to a man who explained the clerks earlier actions at the register deleted the phone number I had for the past decade, and he asked if I wanted him to see if he could retrieve it again. Obviously, my answer was “yes”. Why he even hesitated solving what was an apparent problem, I don’t know. Two hours later, after speaking to several voices, including Mary, who informed me she would need “two minutes of SILENCE” on my part while she typed in everything we discussed. Apparently, she was using pen and paper before. “Yes, Mary, I will grant you two minutes of silence”, I responded. Anything to get it over with. A college buddy of mine told me I should have done business with a company that specializes in cellphones. He’s right of course, but nonetheless, this mega corporation had forgotten what I was told the first day of business school; “If you cannot service the product you sell, don’t sell it”.
Corporations are at fault as much as individual employees. In the “me” generation of business, we tend to think once a product is out the door, or contract signed, we are done with our part of the sale. However, we need to wake up, grow up, and recognize the establishment of a business relationship that will carry on for several days, if not years. A distance transaction may go smoothly, because management has empowered their employees to make certain decisions. Of course, they are being closely monitored when there are electronic means being utilized. So, why are the counter clerks not empowered at the brick and motor storefront? Perhaps it’s a trust issue on part of the company which might not be able to eavesdrop on every conversation. More than likely, it just goes to poor training. It’s no doubt, the mega store was running scared during Amazon’s recent attempt at a “Christmas in July” promotion. It’s assurance. Even if they get it wrong, Amazon will fix it.
So, who are customer reps? Anyone who deals with potential customers on behalf of the business itself. Whether you are an independent contractor, sole proprietor, or just one cog in the spokes of a billion dollar machine, if your interaction has the ability to put a smile or frown on a clients face, you are a customer service representative. That being the case, you are the eyes and ears of business. You also have the power to effect whether that business thrives or dies. Oh, did I mention your actions effect your paycheck? Payroll departments tend to stop issuing checks when their companies go belly up.
Customer service is not easy. But neither is business itself. It never has been, which is why so many fail. Last century’s giant could very well fall to next year’s upstart which fills a void; delivering or surpassing customer expectations. A third-world country may surpass America in overall sales of widgets and thingamajigs! Though, it may not be too late if we train, empower, and promote a higher standard of customer satisfaction among those who have the ability to raise it. With a shift from “me, me, me”, to “the customer is always right” (remember that?), a business just might survive. We might make the process “suck” a little less. In fact, we could BREATHE new life into an organization that was almost on life support.