Last week the Voice from the Bullpen, asked the question, “What’s happened to customer service in today’s world of business?” It seems we have gone far away from personal contact, be it in stores, restaurants, and other places of business, or on the phone, when calling to ask a question from a business which has a service or merchandise we may be interested in purchasing. In the latter scenario, we almost always are deemed, or doomed, to get the never popular automated operator, uttering the never popular greeting, “Please listen to the following menu.”
As we shop today, often in the “Big Box” stores, we find ourselves having to walk through half, maybe more, of the store to find someone who can lead you to what you came to find, or to answer a question we have about an item that can help us fix a problem at home. Then, if we do decide to purchase something, we are often made to self-checkout and bag our own products. Often, I’ve encountered one checkout line with up to a half dozen people waiting, but self-checkouts are readily available, and employees try to direct us to use those. So in effect, the business gets the customer to do the work they used to do, but customers aren’t being paid to do their work, or at least having prices reduced on items they are purchasing. And if we take one of those self-checkouts, God forbid, we get an item that doesn’t scan properly, then we have to find someone to take care of that for us, and even in those situations, we get someone who doesn’t know how to fix it, or can’t answer our problem, or has to go on the PA and ask for a price check, or something else.
Remember the good old days when you didn’t have to pump your gas, and you got your windshield cleaned and oil checked to boot? Remember getting a glass of water as soon as you sat down in a restaurant? Whatever happened to receiving a bit more respectful greeting in a restaurant by your server, like, “Good evening, folks, how are you tonight,” instead of the extremely informal, “Wassup, guys? How we doing?” As I’ve aged, I have a tough time hearing my wife and I being addressed as “guys” as if we were the same age as persons addressing us. Remember taste samples in Bakeries and delis?
How many have gone to a business in person, and have had to wait until the person greeting you, is finished with their text or personal call before asking if they could help you? What happened to buying a ticket for something and getting a ticket instead of going through a twenty minute or more online process where, after they take your money, they say they’ll send you an e mail and you don’t receive it, so you call and they keep you on the phone while they send it to you, not once, but twice, before telling you you’re in the system and just have to come at your reserved time and you’ll get in. You paid all that money and you end up doing 75% of the work. It happened to me at a place that promotes levity and honors people who make/have made you laugh, but it didn’t work in the ticket process. Who remembers tangible, in-hand tickets instead of having to rely on mobile devices that could die before you can get through the ticket scanners, or you may be in an area where service is not available right then.
With respects to William Shakespeare and his claim that “The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath,” I have to say, in my mind, that is no longer a completely valid statement. The quality of mercy has been strained to the brink of disappearance in many situations today, as has also happened to the quality of customer service. The quality of customer service, in many businesses, has decreased considerably over time, making that quality near extinction. It’ll only get worse when more becomes automated, and it will happen. It’s sad we’ve had to accept less over time, yet pay more.
A saying I’ve often used in teaching and coaching is, “Pride is a personal commitment. It’s an attitude which separates excellence from mediocrity.” Maybe accepting more than mediocrity, setting the bar higher instead of lowering it to make things easier, will bring us back closer to excellence.