Is Customer Service Dead?

The other day, a friend told me that she’d been looking for a certified Life Coach, someone to help her sort through some of the challenges she faced in her life. She hadn’t had good luck.

The first person she called didn’t call her back. She left another message. Again, nothing. She gave up.

The next lead sounded promising. She found, she believed, a person with the right credentials and style. And since she saw this guy on some morning gab-fest, she felt confident that she was in good hands. Turns out, when she kept her appointment, she wasn’t talking to the author or the guru but rather a telemarketer who immediately tried to up-sell her on other services.

The search continued. This time she shunned the multimillionaire, celebrity talk show hosts and instead took a personal referral from a friend. Her optimism returned. Only to have it dashed when the person who called her at the appointed hour read a ten minute sales pitch about “the program”, the benefits of “the program”, the expectations from “the program”, and of course, the cost of “the program.” Never once did the “Life Coach” ask about her expectations, her needs, or her history. It was a monologue, and fortunately for my friend, she had no interest. I’m glad she passed on that one, too. I’m not sure if I could have found the compound where “the program” conducted their brainwashing activities.

Let’s recap. One never returned her phone calls, one wanted to sell her on future services, and another would have had my friend selling carnations at the airport.

It leads one to wonder: Is customer service dead?

Maybe I’m an optimist, but I don’t believe that service is dead. I think it went on life support when more and more companies trimmed the fat, aka, service operations. Philosophies go first; behaviors follow.

So what can you do if you own a business or choose to act as an intrapreneur in a large company?

 

Listen to me. I’m your customer. I pay your bills. Return my calls and treat me like someone who matters. Because if you don’t act like I matter to you, I will find someone who treats me like I matter. And then I will tell everyone to NOT do business with you.

Deliver on A before talking about B through Z. Sales outfits use software for customer service reps to prompt them to say after a customer orders a particular product over the phone, “Well, (insert customer name here), since you’re ordering (insert product name here), you might also like (insert additional product here).” I want to say, “I would probably like that, too. Is it free? No? Well then, no. Tell you what, let me see how (the product I ordered) works for me, and then let’s see what happens, okay?” In an age when service has taken on the twist of over-promising and under-delivering, perhaps it’s in everyone’s interest if company owners and intrapreneurs focus on the basics. A loyal customer relationship isn’t developed on promises; it’s built on delivery.

Ditch the script/Open your heart. Years ago, I worked for a health insurance company. Part of my job involved monitoring both positive and negative customer feedback and calls. While listening to a customer call, I was shocked to hear this type of exchange:

Caller: Hi. I’m not sure what I need to do here. My husband is in the ER. He just had a heart attack. And I don’t know…

CSR: Can I please have your name and group identification number, ma’am?

Scripts encourage compliance to words and actions that may be antithetical to the way a warm, caring, authentic, compassionate human being would act in a given situation. So we taught CSRs to listen with their hearts and to respond in the moment instead of following a “When this/Do that” checklist designed to maximize efficiencies. And our customer retention, satisfaction, and loyalty scores soared…as did our profits.

Take service off life support. Talk to your employees, coworkers and bosses about what it means to provide true service. And remember that it’s we little people with a few greenbacks who can make or break your organization.

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