I visited an Italian restaurant with my family this past weekend and we had an absolutely horrible experience with the waitress. So as not to get too much judgment from my readers on what I’m about to say, let me preface with the disclaimer that I’m typically a very good tipper. My minimum is 20% and if I’m disappointed in the service I still usually give around 15%. In this case, however, the service was so bad that I left leaving only some change, enough so they don’t think I simply forgot, basically issuing a statement of my utter distaste. I understand that waiters and waitresses work hard and deal with a lot of their patrons, but this was absolutely horrible. The whole experience got me thinking a bit more than I usually do about service and its effect on a business.
When I think of customer service, good customer service that is, I think of a company-wide environment in which there is a top-down culture in which everyone operates with the best interest of the customer, or client in mind. Does a customer-centric culture still exist in business today? If so, how does an organization achieve such a mindset amongst their people? If it does not exist, where did it go, and why? Is it even still important these days where a very large percentage of transactions are completed without any human touch from the sales side? Does anyone care anymore?
I care! I care because I like interacting with people, both as a seller and as a buyer. I care because I run a business that has competition and one of the best ways I can compete is to provide exceptional service. I care because the reputation of my company is important to me. But the real question I’m trying to find the answer to is do you care? Do people in general care?
Where is customer service today? I speak with a lot of people, both personally and professionally about this topic and many are under the impression that customer service is dead. We exist today in a fast-paced, tech-driven world where more emphasis is (seemingly) placed on speed and efficiency (and margins) as opposed to the days of yesterday where service was the key to a business’s success. Is customer service truly dead though? Does it matter the industry? Amazon is doing pretty well these days, right? I would argue that although their “support” via electronic methods is pretty good, their customer service is not. There is no human interaction between the consumer and the people who represent the goods. This is a case where convenience trumps service. People’s most valuable commodity (time, for those who do now know) is worth more to them than the human touch, I suppose. This is evident all over by the businesses who are being put out of business by Amazon, i.e. Toys R Us. We saw this happen with Home Depot some years back. Home Depot offered a convenience for Home Improvement that was not possible to match the mom and pop shops of yesterday. Their customer service isn’t the best either, in my opinion.
Let’s switch gears for a second. My wife shops (too often) for shoes at an online retailer called Zappos. Arguably, footwear is a pretty competitive industry… but my wife shops almost nowhere else for this commodity, for her or our kids! Why? Zappos is a case study in the highest grade of customer service. (Read more about Zappos here) It is easy to get a live person on the phone and no matter who you speak with, they care! The organization has also empowered the employees to make snap-decisions to take care of the customer; no escalation to a supervisor is necessary. Oh, and they’re also convenient…. A value-add!
I’m curious to hear what you think of this topic and of your experiences. Do you care about customer service or is convenience more important? Have you had an amazing customer service experience? A terrible one? What do you encounter most often?