Customer service seems to be an oxymoron today.
Too often when I come back from a shopping encounter, I feel as if I have been in a skirmish. I am agitated and riled. I want to rush to the window, throw it open and shout to my neighbors, ``I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it any more.”
It seems as if every other day I encounter uncaring customer-service representatives who, I swear, seem oblivious to solving my problems or, for that matter, even acknowledging my presence.
I’m a polite shopper: I say "please,” "thank you,” and I’m respectful.
I went into a convenience store the other day to buy a newspaper. When I went to the counter with my dollar bill, the woman muttered without looking up or greeting me, "Be right with ya.” Nearly two minutes went by while she continued to do some chore she apparently had started before I arrived.
I put down the paper and walked out. I didn’t make a scene; I voted with my feet. No sale. Her competitor down the street was going to get this sale, even if it was for just a dollar.
I don’t believe these employees are intentionally trying to tick me off or disrespect me. Instead, they are the thoughtless actions that come from a lack of training and understanding that the customer comes first. Without the customer, they don’t have a job. So whatever that oh-so-important task was that superseded taking care of the customer, it becomes irrelevant if they don’t have customers.
The next day, I was checking out at one of the local supermarkets in Whitehall Township where I had stopped by to pick up a few things for breakfast. The cashier was engaged in a spirited conversation with a bagger about a previous night’s date.
The cashier scanned my 10 items without so much as a "hello,” "how are you” or any other niceties. In truth, she didn’t even acknowledge that I, a valued customer, was standing in front of her. In the middle of a sentence about where she and her date had gone, she sandwiched in a number, which I was quick enough to pick up as the total of my bill. Along with an enthusiastic remark about how she had been asked out again by this dream date that she was swooning over, she managed a "sign this” as she pushed a credit-card receipt and pen my way.
There was no "thank you,” not even the ubiquitous "have a nice day.” Nothing. I walked away shaking my head. I wasn’t feeling very special.
When you call by phone to solve a problem, your first challenge is to make it through the gauntlet of prompts. When our daily newspaper stopped coming one day without notice, my wife, Marie, called the newspaper office to find out what happened. A customer-service representative told her we hadn’t paid an $11.97 bill. But we had. Marie gave the rep the information on the payment, and it appeared everything was OK.
But we never got a paper. A few days later, Marie called back and asked to speak to someone in the circulation department. She found out she was talking to a customer-service representative in the Philippines, who refused to connect her with the circulation department at the newspaper’s main office a couple of miles from our home. It wasn’t policy to do that, Marie was told.
It took persistence and plodding through three layers of bureaucracy to solve this relatively minor issue, but, finally, she was able to find someone who could undo whatever had been inputted incorrectly into the computer. By the time she was done, Marie was quaking with anger.
One of the main problems with poor customer service is that the reps are not empowered to solve issues. When reps are given authority to do whatever it takes to make the customer happy, customer-satisfaction rises exponentially.
Peter Drucker had it right when he wrote in his classic book "Management”: "There is no such thing as an irrational customer.”
Surveys show that more than 70 percent of complaining customers will return to a store or business if the problem is resolved in their favor. That number grows to 95 percent if the issue is resolved on the spot.
What infuriates me, and other customers, is when customer-service reps pass the buck by pointing fingers at a computer, a new employee or some internal and arcane policy.
Many customers just throw up their hands in disgust and resignation. Rather than duke it out, customers figure it’s easier to take their business elsewhere.
While service providers should have a keen eye when a customer is exasperated, most have the sensitivity of a block of ice, or, worse, just don’t care.
Alf Nucifora, a customer-service consultant, tells owners and general managers of businesses that they have become a nation of pussy-footers. "We’ve encouraged staff to behave like wimps,” Nucifora says. "It’s time to empower our employees to take a stand, to let them know that they can never do wrong by doing right for the customer.”
Perhaps more businesses should adopt Macy’s motto: "Never fail to astonish the customer.”
Bruce Frassinelli of Schnecksville is an adjunct instructor at Lehigh Carbon Community College.