What Happened to Customer Service?

Ok, so this might be a bit of a rant, but bear with me. Being in sales, customer service is always at the forefront of my mind. I try and take note of exceptional customer service and sales techniques when interacting with other companies, whether for personal or business purposes. Conversely, I also recognize when words or actions are such that they are a poor representation of their company, therefore making sure that we do not make the same mistakes when representing ours. Recently, more than ever before, I have noticed customer service completely falling by the wayside. Friendly associates have been replaced by angry, unfriendly individuals whose only possible response seems to be “no.” It’s no wonder that online retailers such as Amazon have grown at such a rapid pace.

There are 2 things that I believe are contributing factors to a decline in profits and such explosive growth in online retailing:

  1. Terrible Customer Service. I am blown away by companies whose go to phrase is, “I’m sorry, there is nothing we can do.” Well guess what, if you can’t do something, your competitor can, and her business is just across the street. The problem here is quite simple: companies have commoditized products and forgotten what “sales” is altogether. Sales associates have been replaced by individuals who lack the knowledge and depth to adequately match a customer’s needs with a product or service that sufficiently meets those needs. So the result is a poorly paid hourly employee who does not care about their work or customer service. They don’t care because management largely does not care, but instead is solely focused on providing the lowest cost so as to, hopefully, increase the amount of sales.
  2. Price Matching. Businesses that rely heavily on price matching end up giving away their profit. Here is a recent example: I was shopping in Office Depot for a Bluetooth headset and asked an associate for help. He was extremely knowledgeable and helpful and had me sold on the product. After I said that I would take it, he added, “If you can find a better price online we will match it.” So…I quickly scanned the barcode with the Amazon app on my phone and found the same device online for 20% less, and they matched the price! I can’t help but laugh here because price was NOT a deciding factor in making this decision! In this case, they literally gave away the profit!

So here is where it all comes together. Because many companies have such horrible service and place no value on treating customers with dignity and respect, customers head over to their competitors to purchase the products/services. All of a sudden, the company with terrible customer service wakes up one day and realizes that sales are declining. Upper management gets together and pontificates; they reason that sales are slumping because customers are being driven by price, therefore they must reduce the price of their products or at least match the price of the competitor in order to stay in business and compete, so they do. Once they start matching prices there is no profit or margins left over to pay the sales associates in the form of commission (which incentivizes people to work HARD), so they cut that. Once they remove the financial incentive for the employees, the staff realizes that “just showing up” will adequately get the job done; after all, who cares if they sell 1 TV or 100, it makes no difference in their paycheck.

Research shows that customers who have a great customer service experience tell 3 – 4 people while customers who have had a bad experience will tell upwards of 10 people. Play those numbers forward and what you have is bad customer service leading to a decrease in sales. I believe that customer service has become one of the only differentiators in business, and is THE only differentiator in the long run. Focus on providing the highest level of customer service, ensure repeat and new business, and reap the rewards.

– Written by Aaron Getty