Tough economic times have a way of returning companies to fundamental business principles — and one of the most basic is customer service. In the public mind, it’s time customer service got some renewed attention, and anyone with a business administration degree would agree.
A recent Consumer Reports study found that 65 percent of Americans now describe themselves as “tremendously annoyed” by “rude salespeople,” with nearly as many respondents reporting that poor service had actually driven them to walk out of a store at least once in the past year.
And it’s not just brick-and-mortar stores that are aggravating people.
According to Consumer Reports Senior Project Editor Tod Marks, “There’s a feeling on the part of Americans that companies are deliberately making it difficult for them by burying phone numbers, sidestepping calls and steering customers to online FAQs instead of live human beings.”
In fact, such customer frustration seems to be reaching a critical mass, prompting more and more companies to reverse outsourcing trends and bring customer-service call networks (and jobs) back to American shores.
Theory and Practice
Business experts remind us that customer service goes beyond actions directly related to retail sales. As the The Times 100 puts it:
“Customer service includes all aspects of a customer’s experience in dealing with an organization [and represents] an overall description of the desired relationship between the producer and the customer… If an oil company assumed that the function of its retail network was simply to sell petrol and lubricants it would quickly lose business to competitors. Its real function is to supply a ‘customer service’ [in this case] the service of enjoyable, trouble-free motoring.”
In short, customer service is a mentality, and businesses that exude that mentality have a decided advantage over competitors that don’t.
Like so many other facets of business, the advent of the Internet and social media is changing the face of customer service. Companies now communicate with clients and consumers in so many new arenas: email, SMS texting, websites and blogs, Twitter and Facebook. Plus, customers can quickly rate and spread word of their interactions online at sites like Yelp and even YouTube.
Moreover, it’s estimated that when they receive “average” customer service, only 16 percent of customers will recommend a company to others. However, that number jumps to 84 percent when customers perceive their experience as “great.” Knowing this, many companies now seek to instill a sense of customer service in employees at every level, whether or not they directly serve the public.
With customer service now such a hot topic, it’s probably a good time for career-minded individuals to reacquaint themselves with the basics. Next they should practice these basics in all workplace interactions – with peers, supervisors and, most of all, clients.
It’s a surefire way to prosper, both professionally and personally.