Why Service Can Really Stink

Lesson number: 

A while back I read an article in Business Week Magazine written by Diane Brady titled "Why Service Stinks." Speaking from my own experiences as a business leader and an individual who invested 37 years attempting to give "EXCELLENT SERVICE" to my clients, I happen to be one of the most frustrated consumers on Earth. In this lesson, we will reflect on why service can really stink, and why there may be hope on the horizon to reverse this trend.

Some of my frustrations include: computer phones with long ridiculous menus; sitting on hold forever; repeated transfers as I explain and re-explain my situation to several representatives who let you speak for five minutes before telling you they can't help you; rules and regulations that inhibit company reps from making decisions to solve my problems; no humans to talk to at all; or "oops" getting cut off and have to start all over again. While this may seem to be a lengthy list, there's just not enough time to explain all of my frustrations.

Diane Brady's article delves into many examples of large corporations who deliberately give lousy service to all but their most profitable top tier customers. Thanks to modern technology, companies can amass a mountain of data about your purchases, returns, attitudes and level of profitability. Their snazzy computer phone prompts you to put your account number in to identify yourself. It automatically knows exactly how much business and profit you generate and how much it costs to answer your phone call. Your call is then routed to the level of service they seem to think you deserve. Your account number even prompts their computer to decide whether you are worthy to get a human to speak to at all. At best, large companies only intend to reward VERY PROFITABLE customers with courteous service as they make life miserable for low profit customers who they believe want nothing but the cheapest price available.

Obviously, in this situation, not only does the low-profit customer receive lousy service, but the company itself creates a lousy reputation for itself in the marketplace. Once a customer begins to feel like he or she is not important to the company, it's off to the competition. And once the customer is gone, they're probably gone forever. At least that's how I feel. I rarely return to do business with companies who treat me like a nuisance unless they are a monopoly like Comcast or Microsoft and you can't avoid using their products and services.

Technology is wonderful. It allows us to serve our customers more efficiently. But the key word here is "serve." When considering adopting new technologies, make sure that your customers are not hung out to dry. It's very hard to give the impression that a customer is valuable if they have to deal with a computer generated answering system. Let the rest of your business be as technologically advanced as Bill Gates' home, but for the sake of your reputation, have PEOPLE deal with your customers in a timely fashion with the authority to solve their problems. This strategy always paid off handsomely for my companies and it will do so for yours as well.

When I call a company, it's because I have a legitimate problem. I don't make these calls because I'm lonely or have nothing better to do. It's usually a billing error that needs to be corrected. And because I value my time as a precious asset, I detest wasting it with incompetence and nonsense. I don't want to talk to a computer. I don't want to feel like I'm a nuisance by having to explain that I speak English and then having to type in my account number. If you really look at where most of the above problems reside, it is in the large and entrenched corporations. These companies have special "licenses" to operate in your area. There is nothing wrong with a large corporation per se, but the ones that have you going around in a whirlwind, fall into the category of the entrenched companies, who have little or no competition, and who really have no reason to care how they make you feel. They are just interested in how much revenue and profits can be generated from tens of millions of locked in customers.

Happily, as the Internet keeps growing and developing and the marketplace in which we can do business keeps expanding, our services will begin to improve. Smaller companies are more innovative and will go out of their way for their clients. At least until the giants buy them out to get rid of them. At the moment there are no regulators on the Internet and there are no licenses to operate. Until a couple of years ago, there weren't even any sales taxes to deal with. There's also plenty of competition and lots of customer feedback for the whole world to see. Your reputation is paramount and poor reviews and customer feedback can lead to a quick death sentence.

Are there scams, liars, and cheats? Yes, and as long as man roams the Earth, these will exist. However competition to serve you better is fierce on the Internet and the consumer always wins when there's lots of competition. My hope is that we are fast approaching an era where the "license" to give lousy service will no longer be prevalent and we can reverse a much needed trend. Maybe companies will start "Loving their Customers again!