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Jul 23

What Ever Happened to Good Customer Service?

Good customer service is becoming harder to come by.  Further, the whole perception of what ‘good’ customer service means in the first place has been in steady decline.  What has happened?

Good Customer Service?

Me Receiving Excellent Customer Service on the Telephone

Me Receiving Excellent Customer Service on the Telephone

In short, good customer service means that you have met the needs of your customer.  Excellent customer service entails first anticipating and then exceeding the needs of your customer.  This high level of service can lead to positive reviews and referrals, which in turn, can lead to more business, more happy customers, and ultimately more profits.  It’s a classic win-win situation.

Bad Customer Service?

Just to put the whole idea of what constitutes bad customer service into perspective, remember that the overall standards of customer have been in decline for years.  What might be considered bad service today, might very well have been grounds for dismissal twenty years ago.  As such, we are discussing customer service in view of very low historical standards.

Bad customer service, then, happens when already lowered overall customer expectations are not met.  One of the key problems with poor customer service for a business is that negative word of mouth spreads like the bubonic plague.  It is substantially more difficult to regain a former good service reputation than it is to put in the effort to build a positive reputation in the first place.

Why All the Bad Customer Service?

Rise of the Big Box Stores … Goodbye Mom-and-Pop

I think a big part of the problem here is that larger big box stores have forced many traditional mom-and-pop owner-operated businesses out of business.  These smaller stores simply cannot compete on their price level.  This is sad because it has destroyed the livelihoods of many families that ran these businesses (sometimes for many generations).  It has also meant that the high level of customer service that could often be found at these businesses has gone as well.  Family–operated businesses have always had an inherent interest in providing superior service to their customers because their very ability to put food on their tables relied upon it. 

The Disenfranchised Employee

To a large degree, business owners want their businesses to be successful and to make them money.  Walmart, for example, is owned by the Walton family and its other shareholders.  These stakeholders make more money if Walmart makes more money.

The individual who works at Walmart making minimum wage gets paid minimum wage regardless of how profitable Walmart is.  This employee has no direct monetary incentive to work harder than anyone else who works there.  Of course there are many exceptional employees at Walmart and elsewhere who do provide excellent customer service on a regular basis, but their motivation is not a monetary one.  These people are driven by other reasons and they are truly the most valuable component of any business.

Focus on ‘Profitability’

I put profitability between apostrophes here because the usual focus for a shareholder owned public company is on immediate, short-term profitability.  Politicians and CEOs tend to work in re-election mode most of the time.  They often focus on immediate and visible results.  The problem with this mindset, however, is that short-term gains are often bought at the expense of longer-term costs like loss of customers and ‘badwill’ word-of-mouth that can really stack up against any company’s profitability in the long-term.

A company that focuses on short-term savings by paying low wages, reducing training budgets, running bare bones customer service departments, and perhaps most importantly, not aligning employee interests with its own, is working counterproductively.  My feeling is that companies that focus on aligning these interests best are the ones that will enhance long-term growth and profitability.

Conclusion

Good customer service is rare indeed.  It used to be much more common.  The rise of the box store, disenfranchised employees who are paid minimum wage and who have little or no incentive to go above and beyond, and the focus of short-term profits by large companies have been some of the contributing factors that have pushed customer service standards into a downward spiral.

If and when you do receive good customer service, it feels really terrific.  You feel like you have been treated fairly and that someone has made an effort to meet your needs.  You feel like going back.  Enjoy these moments of service excellence, and let the person who just helped you know how much you appreciate their knowledge and the efforts they made on your behalf.  In all likelihood, you will receive the same excellent service when you go back next time.

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Author: Jason Milburn Google

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