Is Customer Service a Lost Art?

Is there an art to customer service?  Does it exist in today’s world?  How do you, as an individual, define good customer service? As an organization, what would you tell your staff are the criteria used to demonstrate outstanding customer service? What would your customers say about their experience with you?

What is Good Customer Service?

We all know that good customer service is crucial, but when we get down to defining what it is, not everyone is on the same page.  To some, good customer service means solving a problem and offering solutions, usually in a timely manner.  To others it might mean a willingness to give the customer anything they want, almost without consideration to the reasonableness of the request.  Others might say it is meeting the customer’s expectations by being competent, polite, friendly, and professional.

There is no right or wrong.  The factors that influence customer service vary between industries, customer expectations based on industry standards, the particular situation (i.e., is there a problem that needs to be handled or are you creating an experience for them?) and so many other factors. So while good customer service may not be so easy to define, bad customer service isn’t quite so difficult.

Defining Bad Customer Service

I’m taking a leap here and I’m betting that most customers not only will recognize bad customer service when it happens, they could define it.

What would you include as poor customer service?

  • Being put on hold for an indefinite period of time.  This would include even before you get to a live person to talk about your problem or once you connect.  It covers live chats as well.  Yesterday as an example I was on a live chat with someone who three times I had to ask if they were still there.  They simply went dark and I didn’t know if they were checking something out, ignoring me or what.
  • Telling them ‘company policy says’.  Do you think they care about some company policy, they don’t.
  • Making the customer wrong.  I’m not suggesting customers can’t be wrong, they clearly can be asking for something that is out of line or unrealistic.  Telling them they are wrong, however you say it is bad form.  And it’s likely to enrage the customer.
  • Telling them you’ll get back to them and don’t or not when you say you will.  Nothing irritates people more than being told “I’ll get back to you” and then no one does.
  • Being rude, unfriendly, sounding angry or using inappropriate language.  Everyone has bad days and personal problems.  You have to put those behind you when you are dealing with customers.  Even if the customer right before was a jerk you can’t let that carry over to the next interaction.

Clearly this is not a complete list…it’s just to get you thinking.

Is Customer Service a Lost Art?

When you think of companies you would mention as having outstanding customer service which comes to mind?  Amazon and American Express immediately come to mind for me.  I order often from Amazon and guess why?  They do what they say they are doing to do (deliver on time), they have almost everything I need (and tell me if something is out of stock and expected delivery date), their prices are amazingly reasonable and whenever I have had a problem they simply fix it…no questions asked, no fuss, no haggling, it’s just easy.  It’s the same experience I have with American Express.

So when I have a need to purchase something where do I go first? Amazon of course because I know if I ever have a problem they handle it.

Compare this to a recent experience I had when I purchased a new refrigerator.  They told me I needed a water line installed for the ice maker.  I had one so I figured I was good to go.  The day of delivery they came and said that what I had was not sufficient and they would have to reschedule.  I had them measure to make sure it would fit in the space, which they verified it would.  Ten days later they call and say they are on their way and will be there within 30 minutes.  I empty the refrigerator and freezer.  Two hours later they haven’t shown up.  I call and get someone who tells me there were traffic problems and then they went to lunch but now they are on their way.  Meanwhile I have food sitting out and melting all over my counters.

They finally show up and tell me it won’t fit in the space, and have to leave.  Wait I say, the other guys said no problem…and they were from your company.  What did they say to me? Not my problem and I can’t help it they were wrong.  When I questioned them some more the one delivery guy got down-right nasty with me and said this was my problem not theirs and I screwed up etc. etc.  The refrigerator eventually did get delivered and do you think I will ever buy from them again?

I have tons more examples of horrible customer service experiences and a few with excellent experience.  It’s unfortunate that we have come to assume we won’t have a good experience and we have to fight for everything because in my opinion great customer service is a lost art.  The new normal is mediocre customer service mixed in with bad customer service.

As you consider your organization how would you rate yourself with customer service?  From the person who answers the phones or greets people when they arrive to your customer service department (if you have one) and everyone in between, what is the experience customers have with you?  Do people associate you with an Amazon or Comcast/Time Warner experience?  It’s your choice, what do you want to do about it?