Press 1 to be ignored in English
By Lisa Earle McLeod www.forgetperfect.com
Is customer service in America dead, or is it just sleeping? Or perhaps it’s moved to India and it’s hiding behind a voice mail menu? I doubt I’m the only one who’s noticed that the days when an oil-checking, window-wiping attendant pumped your gas and a smiley man in a nice white uniform delivered milk to your door are long gone. These days, every time you turn around you’re reminded, yet again, that you are nothing more than an inconvenient drone who does not merit personal attention of any sort. Your wants and needs are totally irrelevant and your personal comfort is of no concern to anyone at all. And your time is in fact worth nothing, as evidenced by the countless hours you are sentenced to spend on hold, in line or re-explaining your problem to a person who is completely incapable of solving it and who will not even be able to repeat it to the next non-caring person they pass you off to, who will begin the conversation by asking you once again for the account number that you already punched in on the previous seven menu selections. Or maybe that’s just me. However, as much as I, and many members of my family, love to grumble about our nation’s heinous decline in customer service skills, I’ve noticed an odd paradox. While the majority of organizations are getting steadily worse, there are a few standouts that are now actually delivering better service than the guys down at the Esso station ever did. The cell phone companies and the airlines can’t seem to provide the basic services you pay them for; yet organizations like Nordstrom’s and Apple Computer provide such stellar personal attention that you’d rather visit them than your in-laws. Customer service guru Chip Bell, author of “Customer Loyalty Guaranteed: Create, Lead, and Sustain Remarkable Customer Service,” believes that part of the problem is personnel choices. He says, “People think: Let’s take whoever can fog a mirror and put them out in front.” Which might explain why you continue to get chicken nuggets despite ordering a fried pie. Bell – a consultant and keynote speaker (www.ChipBell.com) who also wrote “Service Magic” and “Knock Your Socks Off Service” – suggests that one of the reasons consumers are so doggone picky is that we know what it feels like to be treated well. “When a company makes the customer go ‘wow’ it changes their perception,” he says. So if the guys at my local QuikTrip know my name and call out a greeting to me every time I stop by, I’m going to be annoyed that the people at the Dairy Queen can’t seem to muster the same enthusiasm. Bell often tells organizations that their competition isn’t the guy down the road selling the same stuff, it’s Disney; meaning that once a service-deprived schmuck like me experiences the magic of Mickey’s white glove treatment there’s no going back. But it’s not like CEOs wake up and say, “What can I do to make sure that every experience with my company is completely exasperating?” More likely it’s, “How can we make more money this year?” And therein lies the real problem. Voice mail is cheaper than live people, idiots are cheaper than professionals and ignoring me is cheaper than waiting on me. So what’s a weary consumer to do? Cold fury and getting yourself bumped far enough up the ladder to speak with someone who would rather solve your problem than have their boss hear about it works for me. Because at the end of day, or at the end of the voice mail menu, the only real power we have is the power of our money. Well, that and the occasional high-pitched scream.
Lisa Earle McLeod is a nationally recognized speaker and the author of “Forget Perfect” and “Finding Grace When You Can’t Even Find Clean Underwear.” Contact her or join her interactive blog at www.ForgetPerfect.com. .
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