‘The Death of Customer Service’

Came across an interesting blog post with the same title as my header here,  written by Rick Conlow, leadership expert and CEO/co-founder of Minneapolis-based WCW Partners. He believes telephone operatorcustomer service has been ailing for some time now and employers need to put the function on “life support” and “invest heavily in bringing it back to health” before it fells you at your knees.

Customer service, he writes, “passed away quietly [and] the wake is at the next quarterly meeting, and the funeral will follow shortly.” Each year, he writes, “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 billion a year.”

He sums up the problem pretty convincingly:

“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 the top four reasons why Conlow thinks customer service is essentially dead, as itemized in this release about his blog post:

1.    A Lack of Civility — People have accepted poor manners and have become used to rude behavior. “The general perception by most adults is that people are less civil than in days past,” Conlow says.
2.    Employees Treated as Commodities — “Many companies treat employees as commodities,” he contends, “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.”
3.    Public Accustomed to Poor Service — The public’s expectations have become lower as mediocre service has become rampant. Conlow points out that many big companies with poor customer-service ratings still thrive.
4.    An Increase in Technology — The increase in technology today means a decrease in personal interaction. “Service technology loses the human touch — the empathy and compassion that is vital to creating loyal customer relationships,” he says.

Conlow warns that “consumer discontent is a sleeping giant. It will only take so much, and its wrath can go viral today in minutes.” He also says customer service is becoming more important than ever, and companies need to put more effort into improving it.

Such as? Well … a leadership mind change, for one. As he describes:

“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 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 10 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.”

Conlow cites a Customers 2020 report saying the customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator in the future. Those organizations that adapt will survive and thrive, he says. Then he issues this warning:

“As more companies begin to ail painfully, customer service must be resurrected as it becomes more important than ever.”

So … better customer-service training, perhaps? More money in the customer-service-training pot? Conlow’s take: By all means.

Maybe this news analysis we posted in June gets to a better solution for today’s workforce (which now includes many younger workers, and they’re only going to increase). Invest in the things these workers believe in, including corporate-social-responsibility initiatives, and watch your customer-service ratings climb.

Share your CSR visions and values with them, make sure they reflect some of what these younger workers are passionate about, encourage them to connect with like-minded customers on the same issues … and, that story indicates, you really can right this customer-service ship.

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