Why good service is hard to find

May 1 2013 by Ellen Roseman

Superlative service is still around. But sloppy service has become the norm.
How often are you treated with respect when you call a company or you shop in a large chain store?
How often are your problems resolved quickly and easily without a fight?
When I asked for comments on why customer service is going downhill, here's what you said.
Bottom-line thinking: Companies focus on short-term results, not long-term value creation.
"Customer service is a mirror of that focus," says Lloyd Davidson.
"If you're a store manager who may lose his job if results for this quarter don't reach a target, you don't staff the customer returns desk or replace bad products or fire the salesperson who turns in the highest sales but keeps having complaints.
"The benefits of that kind of customer service won't arrive in time to save your job."
No courtesy: Employees working at the checkout desk rarely give you a greeting or thank you for your purchase.
"If they say anything, it's 'there you go' as they hand me the change, " says Jack Coulas.
"Some of these clerks don't want the job, which is apparent from their poor treatment of customers. They should keep in mind the job requirements, which don't include rudeness."
No patience: Employees working in customer service on the telephone need to have patience with incoming calls.
"Interruptions and long-suffering sighs are not what we want to hear, " says Alma Durkin.
She recently got a Roomba vacuuming robot as a gift and couldn't figure out how to operate it.
"When I called their support line, my first surprise was the beautifully clear voice of the helper. It makes a big difference when you can hear instructions."
Lack of training: Companies don't emphasize soft skills, such as really listening to customers and trying to help them.
A customer's experience of bad service often revolves around the individual delivering it.
"Employees also need to get regular, concrete rewards for good service, " says corporate trainer Barbara Mathews.
"They should be trained to remember the best customer service they ever received and get into the practice of demonstrating these same helpful qualities in their own day-to-day behaviour on the job."
Low salaries: It's difficult to find good retail and call centre staff, since the pay is low and demands continue to increase.
"I've witnessed several incidents of appalling behaviour by customers who feel they've been wronged, " says Liz Stewardson.
"As a result, the burnout rate in front-line customer service is high.
"Retail hours of operation demand larger staff complements, and finding employees who are willing to take pride in the company brand is hard when employers are paying minimum wage."
Call centres: Most customer service is now conducted by telephone or email. You're dealing with a call centre, staffed by high-turnover contract employees who know little about company operations.
"These customer service reps have very little latitude to exercise discretion, " says Frank Feeley.
"They're measured on the number of calls they handle per shift - see how antsy they get when you keep them on the line too long - and not on the number of satisfied customers.
"Often, they're not there to help you, but to quote chapter and verse as to why your situation falls outside the normal rules."
Managers too busy: When you're frustrated dealing with call centre staff, you can ask to speak with someone who has the power to make decisions. But the manager is never around. Why not?
"Most reps are instructed to handle the call and not to bother the manager, " says Sharon Hooker, who has first-hand experience with customer service in her work at a large telecommunications company.
"That's because 9 times out of 10, the manager is in a meeting, trying to come up with ideas to improve customer service. How ironic."
Power imbalance: Companies have become so powerful they can ignore signals from customers. Remember the uproar when commercials were introduced in movie theatres?
"People booed loudly for almost a year and exhibitors ignored them, " says Ray Conlogue. "Finally, we all gave up.
"I think this serves as a metaphor for how the marketplace now functions: by bullying the customer.
"Just try getting Home Depot to put you through to the paint department without making you listen to several minutes of their jingles first."
Complacency: Companies think they can get away with poor service - and often they do - which allows them to continue ignoring complaints.
"Many companies have very poor customer service and seem to think that's okay, " says Mary Smith.
"Until more people stand up to them, things will stay the same."

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