Name or number? How much do you feel you count in today’s fast-moving, production-line world of business? A face or a human barcode? Are you one in a million?
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 debate.
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 so misplaced.
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 development.
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 transactions.
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 customer service.
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 each others’
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 question.
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 operator.
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 spotlight for
outsourcing their call centres to Asia and India where local salaries are low, overheads are cheap and human resource plentiful.
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 aftercare aspects.
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 different colours
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 associated with
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 name advertising?
Most organisations have a module on Customer Service – but it can often be just that. Pages 30 – 45 within a huge file of training modules.
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 think.
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 adapters.
If you knew when you purchased a computer with in-home technical support, that the support covers only two parts in your computer and 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 bucks.
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.