There are certain opinions it is pretty safe to express at a party or around the water cooler, because you know that you’re unlikely to get much disagreement. It might be asserting that original flavour barbecue shapes are better than the ill-fated reinvention, or that The Princess Bride is one of the best movies of all time.
Okay, as strange as it might seem, it’s possible that people may not agree with me on those. But, one thing I have never heard anyone dispute is that customer service is not what it once was, and is perhaps even getting worse.
I’ve Done My Time
Now, before I go any further, I want to make one thing clear. I’m not one of those people who thinks everything was better in yesterday. And, I have done my time in customer service—from checkouts to waiting tables—so I know that customer service isn’t as easy as people assume.
It can actually be pretty tough! Too many people think that because they are spending money, they own you and can treat you however they want, or take out their personal frustrations on someone who just has to stand there are and smile and nod occasionally.
The Service Centre Cannot Hold
But, it seems pretty clear that—just as customers are probably getting worse—so is customer service. Whether it is the endless amounts of hold time only to be transferred to someone else or even hung up on, feeling like no one cares about selling you the right product or fixing your problems, lack of specialist knowledge or even just feeling like that no one cares any more, I’ve heard even the most good natured of people complaining more and more.
It’s easy, though, to blame the workers at the coal face, the people you deal with directly in the store or over the phone. And, yes, they have to take some responsibility for the bad experiences of customers, if it comes down to things in their control, or laziness and lack of effort. But, the reality is, a lot of it goes far beyond them, they are just the ones who have to deal with disgruntled customers.
Shifting the Blame
There are two real villains here. One is the relentless pursuit of profit by companies and corporations. If money can be saved by putting less staff on then why wouldn’t they do it? Someone at head office won’t get yelled at if there is only register open at the supermarket and a line a mile long.
If it is cheaper to outsource tech support overseas, or cut back on training, or pay low wages that only attract unskilled workers, why wouldn’t they? If selling a cheaper product that breaks down more often will bring in more money in repairs or replacements, why does it matter if people blame the teenager who sold it to them? They have to pay the CEO’s bonus, after a, or—more importantly these days—make a profit to pay the shareholders their dividends.
We have seen the enemy, and he is us
And that leads to the other villain—us. We expect to pay less and yet get more, and that is the fuel for the fire of corporate excess. We go to bookstores to browse and take advantage of staff’s recommendations then order the book from Amazon and wonder why bookstores are vanishing. We complain when a burger costs more than a fast food one half its size. But in the end, one way or another, we get what we pay for.
But, what can individuals do? Well, if we are working in customer service we can do the best job we can possibly do, and take pride in our job. But, it is as customers we can make the most difference, by putting something other than our own wallets first.
The Universal Language
We should be avoiding companies they pay staff less than they should or treat them as less than worthwhile, even it means paying more. We should—if we are fortunate enough to have the luxury—choose products that aren’t the result of sweatshops. We should rewards companies that have a conscience, or don’t pay sickening bonuses to CEOs while cutting jobs at the lower levels.
Most of all, we should keep sending the message that money is not more important than people, that profits or saving money, isn’t the be all and end all. And, even before we pull out our wallet, we can start with treating everyone we come into contact with—especially those providing us customer service—with a bit more kindness. After all, they are people too.
David Goodwin is the Editor of The Salvation Army’s magazine, War Cry. He is also a cricket tragic, and an unapologetic geek.
David Goodwin archive of articles may be viewed at https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/david-goodwin.html