Depending on a company’s size, products, number of locations
or years in business, you could be one in thirty million.
For many consumers, following the masses seems safer and
comes with the reassurance of buying into a reliable company,
given its popularity and size. Whether that automatically means
a company delivering top level customer service is up for
What makes a great company?
A great company from the consumer’s point of view should be
defined as one offering excellent products or services, giving
above average customer service and providing even better support
than its competitors. It’s a straightforward definition but oh
In reality life is moving so fast that customer service can be
perceived to be an afterthought to sales and profit,
conveniently sandwiched between product launch and product
In a world where instant gratification and big results rule the
playing field, we have all witnessed and experienced customer
service pushed aside for a higher profit margin.
Even companies who stood above the rest and prided themselves
on the belief that “The customer comes first” have fallen victim
to the philosophy of corporate giants, profitus maximus. Bigger,
faster, better may be better for the consumer but when it comes
to customer service nothing beats one on one service delivered
sincerely, swiftly and with a smile.
Those were the days
Do you ever wonder where good old customer service has gone?
Customer service that was around when the local drugstore
delivered my grandparents’ medications to their home. When you
knew everyone at your favourite stores, and they knew you. And
you didn’t have to sign your life away to buy or return a bad
product. When credit was credit – and cash passed through hands
at the end of every week on receipt of a handwritten record of
This was customer service shot through with a humanitarian
flavour, neighbourly concern, grounded in serving the customer
and it’s what people remember. Often, not what you did but how
you did it and how you made your customer feel. This alone is
the cornerstone of
Has it all changed due to population growth and corporate
buyouts? Is the family business now a myth, a legacy from
another era in which the
corporate world was made up of family affairs which intertwined
and occasionally interbred? Is modern life just too busy to care
about who the customers really are? I think not. It boils down
to profit margins versus customer relations.
Has the concept over-evolved?
Forward-thinking organisations have switched on to the concept
of internal customers as well as external customers. We’re all
customers - so who do I complain to? And doesn’t this make for a
rather artificial and contrived environment, colleagues who
sidestep real issues for fear of revealing a less than
satisfactory customer-friendly self?
The irony is astonishing – in our quest to become open,
customer-orientated individuals, we strip off a layer of
individuality, idiosyncrasy and become embodiments of the
treacle-toned automatons manning our phone lines.
Wait, there has to be a middle-ground. Let’s try an essay
The service of most companies today is all about the sale and
their visual image. Discuss.
I still come across companies who recognize my voice when I
call. But for the most part, I can’t remember talking to the
same salesperson or
customer support representative twice. And that most
disconnected example of personal service, the computer generated
Psychologists tell us that non verbal communication accounts
for a very high percentage of personal interaction which can be
pivotal in seeking advice, making purchases, building
relationships. Take this away, and you can be left guessing…
Large multinationals cite this cost-cutting change in customer
service as benefiting the end consumer. Banks have been in the
outsourcing their call centres to Asia and India where local
salaries are low, overheads are cheap and human resource
While it can be argued that these costs are passed on to
shareholders and customers of the bank and stimulate local
economy, it has had the rather foreseeable effect of alienating
and frustrating customers who find themselves speaking to a
remote body in all senses of the word. Unfamiliar not only with
their account and history, but also on many occasions, the very
language of communication.
Staff turnover and company restructuring may well account for
some of the fragmentation in customer service, not having the
same person twice, being passed from department to department
etc, but isn’t it just a teeny bit unrealistic to expect that
these days? It shouldn’t matter who deals with queries – the
important element is that queries, complaints, enquiries are
dealt with a manner befitting to good customer service.
Chicken and egg scenario
Many companies launch huge advertising campaigns for new
products and services after many months of demographic research,
product testing and market analysis. But some companies focus on
the campaigns and sales figures but neglect the sales and
It’s a little like all those revision and study schedules we
drew up as kids rather than dedicate ourselves to the actual
revision, the act of revising
work. Who can plead not guilty to that? For the record, mine
were actually impressive works of art, artistic schedules with
highlighting study slots, free time and of course, had to be
redone every few days. Far more absorbing than the graft itself.
And so it is in business…modern day organisations can often get
caught up in the research, testing, analysis and vast paperwork
product launches not to mention re-branding, new logos, changing
stationery, altering corporate structure and human resource
framework all so that a chocolate bar has a new name.
A bank switches its identity to lower case. It must be an
adrenaline-fuelled ride, the thrill of the chase, the excitement
of the launch… and the very much down to earth bump when the
first customer complains/queries/challenges about product X.
A sale is not something you pursue; it is something that happens
to you while you are immersed in serving your customer. Author
Unknown (but I wish I’d written this).
How much is spent on customer service training versus product or
Most organisations have a module on Customer Service – but it
can often be just that. Pages 30 – 45 within a huge file of
Customer Service doesn’t just begin with the purchase of a
product/service, it never stops.
The way forward
During our research, we found that many people we talked with
have many had issues and complaints reflecting the after sale
cost and lack of
product support. They find the purchased item has outstanding
features and looks great, claims to solve all your needs. So you
Consider the purchase of a computer. When you took it out of the
box, assembled it and start using it you find out the $399.99
sale price didn’t
include activation, support phone numbers, power cords, AC/DC
If you knew when you purchased a computer with in-home technical
support, that the support covers only two parts in your computer
encompasses only a few troubleshooting scenarios, would you
still buy it?
If on the box or warranty book, you were advised that purchasing
the product may lead to being placed on hold on numerous
(costly) occasions or that queries could take up to 45 minutes
to process, would you reconsider?
Perhaps we as the customer/consumer should be more diligent at
the point of purchase – checking what’s included with
warranties, what the small print offers, inclusions and
exceptions, etc. After all, there is plenty of competition these
days to enable us to make informed decisions.
See how the move away from personalised service is manifesting
itself on promotional literature or packaging. Customer Service?
Old-fashioned, and now replaced by Customer Support, Customer
Relations or on occasion handled by a call centre.
Here’s a thought.
When products are launched, why not make use of the research
behind the launch by translating it into training materials for
sales staff and customer representatives? Many companies deliver
ongoing training seminars and retreats to educate their
employees on company progress, status and product development.
How many operate similar training for customer service and how
best to meet, fulfil and exceed the consumers’ needs? Quick, run
with that idea – it’s a winning formula. Might even make some
Biggest question: Isn’t it really ‘customer helping’ rather than
customer service? And wouldn’t you deliver better service if you
thought of it that way?
About the Author
Katie Kirk is a freelance writer who specialises in writing
for websites. She is also the self proclaimed "annoying customer
who's always right!" You can contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.