THE DEATH OF CUSTOMER SERVICE
Customer service passed away quietly last night. It succumbed to a long illness. The wake is at the next quarterly meeting, and the funeral will follow shortly. Each year companies worldwide struggle for sales growth and profit, yet a conservative estimate of their loss from poor customer service comes in at a staggering $338.5 B a year.
Customer service has been ailing for some time now. Excellent customer service is seriously lacking in most places we spend our money. Think about it – can you recall a recent experience where the customer service was really bad? Sure you can. Think of other places you have spent your hard earned paycheck: grocery store, bank, restaurant, a fast food chain, a department store, a gas station, a hotel, an airline, an online merchant and the list could go on. How many of these had poor to average service? Probably most of them. How many really stood out and had outstanding service? Very likely, it was only a few. Here are four reasons customer service silently passed away.
Lack of Civility
Research by Rasmussen Reports say that nearly 80% of adults believe that people have poorer manners than 20-30 years ago. There tends to be more road rage, swearing in public, poor examples by public personalities, and violence on TV. Dress codes have collapsed, and people don’t seem to care about their public appearance. The general perception by most adults is that people are less civil than in days past. An article in the Minneapolis Sunday paper in the magazine section talked about the decline in manners and the accompanying picture on the cover showed a bunch of pigs. Overall, people tend to be ruder today in their relationships with others and are simply harder to deal with. It is easy to see how this translates into a lack of needed customer service skills for their jobs.
Employee’s are Commodities
Research by Gallup, Aon Hewitt and others show that worldwide nearly 9 of 10 employees are disengaged. Simply put, this means that they tend to have little or no loyalty to their company. This is actually not surprising considering that employees get axed in huge numbers during tough times, their pay increases are slight and their benefits are steadily being reduced or taken away entirely. Many companies treat employees as commodities, not as valuable partners. Most employees don’t get the training and support they need to deliver superior customer service. Company leaders have little loyalty to their employees, and in return employees have little loyalty to them and their customers. The research consensus demonstrates the connection between employee loyalty and customer loyalty, but most leaders aren’t paying attention. With so many disenfranchised employees, is it any wonder that customer service suffered?
The Public: Numb but Not Dumb
While customers vote with their pocket books, customers have become accustomed to poor service. Few companies stand out. Mediocre service is rampant. Customers don’t necessarily demand more. Walmart is a classic example. They are consistently rated poor in service in all their business segments, but are one of the biggest companies in the world. (In the beginning under Sam Walton, they were rated much better. See the ACSI ratings.) Harry Beckwith, who wrote Selling the Invisible, declared “Service in this country (US) is so bad that you can offer above-average service and still stink.”
Technology brings many business benefits and will continue to do so. However, it enables one major customer service disadvantage, and that is the loss of personal interaction. Automated and internet services tend to decrease customer service. Service technology loses the human touch-the empathy and compassion that is vital to creating loyal customer relationships. With more technology, customers become numbers not people. With the analytics of business intelligence, customers are less valued and have become like prey to the hawk. Customers aren’t supported or cared for but are the hunted. Much of the new technology really is a cost saving ploy. It is often promoted as a tool to give better service, but is actually deployed to reduce body count on the company payroll.
Maybe the real issue is that too many business leaders don’t value delivering better service; and don’t buy into the bottom-line benefits. So most organizations do just enough to get by. The American Customer Satisfaction Institute (ACSI) at the Ross Business School at the University of Michigan rates some 240 companies across 34 industries on a monthly basis. The airline industry has a 67 average which is awful. The average rating for all companies is 76.8 which is a C average. This means only two of ten companies have a significant level of highly satisfied customers. Those few companies with excellent ratings have discovered that excellent service is really their leading product that drives everything else. (See my post on this: 5 Cultural Habits of Customer Focused Companies.)
The Customers 2020 report says the customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator in the future. Those organizations that adapt will survive and thrive. Company leaders beware! Consumer discontent is a sleeping giant. It will only take so much, and its wrath can go viral today in minutes. As more companies begin to ail painfully, customer service must be resurrected as it becomes more important than ever. It will only happen if company leaders decide to put their customer service effort on life support, and to invest heavily in bringing it back to health.
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