Over the past few years, I have become increasingly disturbed at the steady deterioration of customer service in American businesses. I was brought up to believe that good customer service was not only the goal of a successful business, but the path to profitability. I am afraid that the deterioration in customer service foretells the decline of American businesses from a global standpoint.
I place the blame for America’s deterioration of customer service on the business owners and upper management who have reduced customer service resources. The pendulum has swung too far towards the desire to use technological advancements in place of human manpower in order to increase earnings. Indeed, I feel too much emphasis is presently being placed upon short-term corporate earnings to what I believe will be the long-term detriment of American businesses.
There is a point at which the marginal decrease in customer service is greater than the marginal increase in earnings due to the use of technology. In other words, one more dollar of earnings at the expense of three dollars of customer service is a poor business decision.
Cold and indifferent modern services
National firms used to try to keep a local presence along with at least an appearance of providing personal service. It seems that any company with an 800 number now has an automated tele-receptionist. These cold and technological advancements offer more menus and side dishes than a five-star restaurant.
Gone are the days of a warm handshake and a personal introduction; eye contact and common social courtesies. Instead, we now have automated telephone answering systems, endless computer menus that never quite get us where we want to go; customer service reps that are not allowed to give their names and only identify themselves by a number, and the discourtesy of being abandoned on hold for five or ten minutes at a time.
An art form
Customer service is also an art form. It begins with the attitude of upper management. It filters through the entire business organization; each employee telegraphing management’s true intentions regarding customer service or lip service.
Not only must upper management and business owners be willing to commit their organization and resources toward customer service, this art form must be supported financially – even at the expense of the almighty bottom line.
I have made a personal commitment to my clients to provide the highest level of customer service; our goal is to provide more personalized customer service than you expect. I accept that I will never challenge Warren Buffet in terms of wealth; but I expect never to be challenged in terms of customer service. Below are a few of the mistakes I have seen and the commitments I make to you as my client.
CUSTOMER SERVICE MISTAKE #1 – IMPERSONAL TELEPHONE ANSWERING MACHINES:
Our telephones will always be answered by a human being. While we embrace technological changes, we will not use them to the detriment of customer service levels. We have started to use voice mail boxes.
I believe that clients would prefer to leave a long detailed message in my private mail box than to give a long detailed written message to the receptionist. This is an example of how technology can be embraced and actually improve customer service.
CUSTOMER SERVICE MISTAKE #2 – EMPLOYEE PRODUCTIVITY MEASURED AT THE EXPENSE OF PERSONAL SERVICE:
I commit that I will encourage my employees to cultivate personal service – whether by taking extra time on your financial situation, or just shooting the breeze in the lobby. This is also a measure of their true productivity.
I commit that you will always receive a handshake and eye contact when you enter my office.
I commit that all of my employees will be trained to practice good listening skills and good fact-finding skills.
CUSTOMER SERVICE MISTAKE #3 – NO ONE HAS AUTHORITY TO MAKE DECISIONS:
I commit that I will allow my staff to make problem-resolving decisions on many issues. This will reduce the time it takes to get results and allow you to move onto your next project.
CUSTOMER SERVICE MISTAKE #4 – LACK OF FOLLOW THROUGH AND RESPONSIVENESS:
I commit that we will return all client telephone calls within the next eight business hours. We may not be able to complete our research or analysis that quickly, but we will extend the courtesy of returning your call with a time frame for completion of your request.
CUSTOMER SERVICE MISTAKE #5 – VIEWING CLIENTS AS NUMBERS:
I commit that we will never forget that your financial goals and objectives are not merely numbers; they are your dreams and aspirations. I long ago realized that my clients do not care about their money as much as they care about how their money can help them to enrich their lives and the lives of their families.
To understand these goals, we need to know and understand you. The opportunity to build long-term relationships is actually one of our blessings.
Sooner or later, a price will be paid. The American consumer is paying that price now in reduced customer service. The American businessman will pay the price later when these consumers shop abroad.