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Interesting Customer Service Trends – Good or Bad?

Over the weekend I began to think about the trends in Customer Service and I started to feel a little uneasy about some of my realizations. So today I felt the need to write about Customer Service and I would really like to see your thoughts on these trends. So be sure to leave me a comment below after you read this Trend Update. Okay, first let me say that in my opinion Customer Service is a Critical Business Function. An excellent customer service mindset can create a company – Zappo’s; it differentiate one company from another – Apple vs Microsoft after the first Apple Stores were opened; and finally, you can create Customer Loyalty due to the way situations are handled – Nordstroms who is very proud of their level of customer service and only have One Rule for New Employees…
Welcome to Nordstrom We’re glad to have you with our Company. Our number one goal is to provide outstanding customer service. Set both your personal and professional goals high. We have great confidence in your ability to achieve them. Nordstrom Rules: Rule #1: Use best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules. Please feel free to ask your department manager, store manager, or division general manager any question at any time.
Now Nordstrom has a brilliant idea – simple the rules, trust their people, train their people in customer service and make use of Good Judgment – which I assume contains a heavy dose of “common sense.” While these companies are doing well (with the possible exception of the current APPLE) there are some trends growing in the “me -too” world of corporate business. These trends are…

Current Trends in Customer Service

  • Replace People with Machines This one started with company phone systems as receptionist and operators were eliminated or downsized out. Now customers must deal with an automated answering system which does have “A Person” to connect to – only queues within departments (which are usually understaffed – but that is another story) Banks are moving faster to Automated Teller Machines with empty teller windows in bank branches growing at rapid rates. Another area of note is several companies offer NO phone numbers, and direct you to a website for you to use their contact system without knowing any email of an actual person. Even the replies from a real person does have their real email address – just some department number with the #theircompany.com  – GEEZ! how does a real person deal with NO people to talk to about their issue? “Send me an email” – oh please!
  • Charge Customers for Personal Touch This one is relatively new yet growing faster. If you want to talk to a real person, you have to pay for this. That’s right. The computer and software industry is big into this effort. So their equipment or software is broke, you have to pay an up front fee for the ability to discuss how to fix this issue with a real person. I have a couple of critical software programs in our business and if we are not paying a fee – we have no access to the people who know how to fix it.
  • Charge Customers for Fast Service Now this almost makes sense since a speedier response rate gets out of the standard or routine effort by your company. However,if you are in business and whatever is broke is critical to your business functioning at a high level then the game changes. I recently ran into this problem with Apple and their “Genius Bar” people. Our main customer contact person’s hard drive kicked the bucket due to electrical storms one weekend. Then at the “Genius Bar” I was told I only had the basic Applecare  program and this problem required them shipping the computer somewhere else to be fixed (never mind they have a tech person working behind a locked door in plain site!) Then I was advised if I wanted it the next day, I could upgrade my Applecare contract could move to the front of the service line and get the over night or one day service. This upgrade was almost as much as the low end computers they were selling at the time. So, I went with Plan B (I know I spent money – and I did get an asset for it rather than an intangible hope it is fixed right feeling) so I could have my key person’s computer up so she could actually work on projects. Spare computer anyone?  🙂
  • Make All Situations the Common Response With the automated services a new customer service nightmare has been created. The all problems are the same attitude of these companies customer service policies. Seems this companies enjoy the FAQ approach to customer service. FAQ is short for Frequently Answered Questions. Now the questions are going mainstream into – this is how you fix your problem assuming you know what your problem actually is to start with. I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly of FAQ pages during the past year. Some are only text with no diagrams, pictures or specifications to assist you – the UGLY. Then there are customer friendly statements of possible issues, symptoms or problem descriptions which then lead to another poorly written solution without pictures, diagrams or specifications (like the size of the screwdriver needed for critical screws) and we are supposed to figure it out – BAD. Finally, there are the systems with excellent “how-to” videos advising you of all the issues and things to watch for while working on this problem – the GOOD.
  • Un-bundling of Customer Service from Product or Service The un-bundling of customer service is the most frustrating issue to deal with in my opinion. Here is an example everyone can relate to – the airline industry and baggage. Really? How many people travel with no bags? Not many for sure. Yet, the airline industry decided to create a new revenue stream by charging for the bags to travel. How much has this cost their customers? Delta Airlines just announced their bag fees topped a billion dollars. Serious dollars for sure, yet should baggage be charged a separate fee for a person to travel? Un-bundling is not a bad thing on the surface as many people would prefer to pick and choose the service level or add-on’s they want. In this case, there is a choice or option with a pay as you go concept. The airlines are taking advantage of their customers since in order to travel, they need a bag with clothes and other personal items as few people can go to another location, buy new clothes for the week and then leave them at the hotel. Really! Bad trend in my opinion. Yet, the lack of competition allows this behavior with no options – yet.
The reason I’m writing about these trends is to get you to think about your organization and how the customer service function is working for you. Could it be improved using either technology or people. High touch and caring requires some people to make those touches. With the right philosophies and development, customer service people could make a competitive advantage for you. Easy of doing business is a factor increasing in value for customers today. How easy is it for your customers to deal with your company? Answer this question and you can win more often.
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Voss Graham

CEO / Sr Business Advisor at InnerActive Consulting Group Inc
Voss Graham is an Organizational Architect with 30+ years of experience designing sustainable business growth for organizations of all sizes. Creating the Strategic Focus with the Executive Leadership Teams, he uses Systems & Process to ensure the Drivers for Business Growth are Executed at the Highest Levels. Voss is available as a Speaker for your conferences or company meetings - contact him at 901-757-4434 or use the LinkedIn or Facebook direct messages.

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Voss Graham

Voss Graham is an Organizational Architect with 30+ years of experience designing sustainable business growth for organizations of all sizes. Creating the Strategic Focus with the Executive Leadership Teams, he uses Systems & Process to ensure the Drivers for Business Growth are Executed at the Highest Levels. Voss is available as a Speaker for your conferences or company meetings - contact him at 901-757-4434 or use the LinkedIn or Facebook direct messages.