Remember when good customer service gave you the impression that companies cared more about customer satisfaction than they did about profits and increasing shareholder value? That was a time when companies delivered customer service that left you with a warm feeling and a commitment to patronize those businesses. So, what happened? 

Over the last decade, customer service has seemingly evaporated. The current standard of customer service is harshly rebuked by those who remember how it felt to be valued as a customer. We also remember the notion that, “the customer is always right.” It was a time when customer service was the bedrock of a company’s brand. It created customer loyalty and differentiated companies from their competitors. Along with product quality, it was standard operating procedure and inextricably linked to a company’s reputation.

When did providing good customer service go out of fashion? Today, this seemingly historic practice is a fading memory because customers have become accustomed to subpar service. It is easy to blame the decline in customer service on the COVID-19 pandemic, which has become the scapegoat as the decay of business practices and social challenges continue to decline. Although the pandemic exacerbated many existing business and social challenges, customer service was already in a state of decline before the pandemic. Is this decline a matter of employee training? It begs the questions: are we developing employees and leaders who cannot exercise critical thinking, communicate effectively, and solve basic problems? Or, are we creating human robots who read a script, recite company policy, and have no autonomy to resolve simple problems?

The examples of poor customer service are too plentiful to enumerate, but consider a few examples: customers are directed to self-checkout registers without a full-service option; an inadequate number of service attendants is available to assist a long line of customers; waiting an inordinate amount of time to speak with a telephone service representative to resolve a 2- to 3-minute problem; or, when customer service is relegated to an offshore service department thousands of miles away with service representatives who are difficult to hear or understand and who do not have the autonomy to solve problems. What about the pre recorded message before a call is routed that states, “this call is being recorded for training purposes?” Really? These are not isolated incidents; rather, they are sadly commonplace. 

What is particularly disturbing is that customers are expected to consistently pay more for products and services, yet receive less. These customer service experiences are occurring during an era of ubiquitous technology. Historically, technology created efficiencies and increased productivity. However, the opposite appears to be true today when it relates to customer service. One can argue that the old system of customer service was more personable, more attentive to customers’ needs, and more solutions-oriented. Unfortunately, more human interaction and a personal touch are features that technology cannot replicate. Ask yourself:

• Would you rather communicate with an automated system or a live person? 

• Should we lower our customer service standards, or are we right to demand better?

• Is it possible to resurrect customer service or are we destined to say goodbye to this beloved concept? 

By: Russell Richard
Thought Leader, Public Speaker, Author

Houston, TX | Atlanta, GA | Monrovia, LI
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