The other day a friend of mine asked me for two examples of EXCELLENT customer service experiences that I had, for a project of his. Surely, among the hundreds of phone calls to and e-mail exchanges with customer service reps/sales agents/technical support personnel over the years, I could think of two encounters that would qualify as excellent. So I sat … and thought … and thought some more … and much to my dismay, I couldn’t. Not even ONE. But how could that be?
I was so distraught over this that I decided to analyze it a bit deeper. The answer could lie with any combination of the following:
- I am just an obnoxiously snobby person and nothing is ever good enough for me
- The quality of Customer Service has been steadily declining
- Customer expectations have been steadily rising
- I receive excellent service all the time but suffer from selective memory loss
Based on the fact that my friends and family characterize me as being rather patient and even-keeled, and judging on the amount of complaints I hear from others about the service they have received, I dare to say that number 1 is not the main reason as to why I was unable to come up with any excellent customer service experiences. Number 4 above would render this blog post moot, so let’s just assume that my memory serves me well enough for now. That leaves us with 2 and 3.
So, true or false: the quality of Customer Service has been steadily declining.
I don’t think anyone would deny that this is true. With globalization and the development of technologies such as IVR (Interactive Voice Response), you’d be lucky to get a live person to listen to you, much less one that is a native speaker of your language. Note I said a live person to “listen” to you, not to “help” you, because in most cases they are merely a live version of the IVR system – worse, perhaps, as they take longer pauses to process your response, and you can’t exactly curse out the poor chap on the phone for not understanding you.
This level of Customer Service is almost expected of large companies, but what about smaller companies? Small businesses have the perfect opportunity to shine in the Customer Service department, and yet in my personal experience, none have truly seized this opportunity. A case in point: I recently ordered some espresso accessories from an online merchant. Unfortunately, they shipped me the wrong items – OK, it happens, but they are a small company, surely it will be a simple thing to get this sorted out, right? Sadly, the answer was no. 6 days, 2 phone calls, 1 unfulfilled promise to call back, and 0 – that’s right, ZERO apologies later, I still do not have any assurances that they will correct the problem caused by their error. I am sure there are plenty of small companies out there that provide great customer service, but I have not had the privilege of doing business with them in recent years. So yes, Customer Service is going down the tubes, to put it nicely.
But what about the customers? Do we as consumers have unrealistic expectations?
It could be argued that with companies nowadays offering more, like free shipping both ways (Zappos.com) and returns accepted anytime (Nordstroms), consumers have become accustomed to expecting a lot more from their retailers. So is that the problem? If a company does not offer the moon and the stars, are they not considered providers of good customer service? To answer this question, I reflected on my first experience with Zappos.com, the online shoe and apparel retailer who is known for their Customer Service.
Back in 2007, I was in need of a pair of shoes. I found a pair I liked on Zappos.com, and decided to test out their 24-hour support line, low-price guarantee, and free overnight shipping. To my delight, I got all three. I even got an unexpected, if not cheesy, thank-you card from the girl who helped me on the phone. I admit, I was rather impressed (though, I could have done without the card). However, shortly thereafter , Zappos ended their price protection and free overnight shipping policies. Knowing deep down that these policies were unsustainable, I was still disappointed in the realization that what I experienced was merely a great get the word-out customer service policy. I did not include this encounter in my example of excellent Customer Service because I recognized that having impressive Customer Service policies does not necessarily equate to excellent Customer Service.
So yes, the state of Customer Service in this country is declining. And yes, we all have gotten used to some companies offering a lot of freebies, but I think to many, the issue is more than what costs are built in where for the sake of calling something “free”. It’s knowing that you are in capable hands, seeing someone going out the way to help you, the feeling of connectedness – something that is nearly impossible to experience these days in the Customer Service realm.
At least now I feel better knowing why I could not come up with one example of when I experienced excellent Customer Service. It’s not just me.