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Is customer service dead?

By Justin Hubbard | Business, Resources | Nov 15, 2012

Doing business in the age of social media and online communities is not the same as it was some 20 plus years ago. It’s not enough to just have a great product or good customer service, you need great customer service and this could mean going back to the old ways.

Today I’m going to discuss with you the significance of getting personal with your business and why it’s more important than ever to ‘be friends’, so to speak, with your customers.

You may not realize it right away, but the principles I’m going to discuss with you here are the same principles that businesses used 40-50 years ago, when customer service was king.

 

The technological age

There are two parts of business that the technological age affects negatively; jobs and customer service. Most everything else is affected in a positive way by technology.

For the most part, customer service has gone out the window, especially with the largest companies. Wal-Mart, eBay, Paypal (owned by eBay), Best Buy, Kroger, and the list goes on and on. Many of these companies started out great, but now have monopolies in their industry and have completely lost touch with their customers. They forget that they got where they are because at one time, customer service was a big priority for them.

My grandfather told me a story a few years ago about customer service in the old days. He said: “You could walk into the local furniture store and you would be greeted at the door, many times by the owner themselves.” I thought, well owners are all behind the scenes these days. He went on to say: “The owner or sales person would ask you what you’re looking for, and if they didn’t have anything that fit what you wanted, they would recommend you to another business where you could find it.” That’s great, businesses helping businesses, something you very rarely see these days.

Customer service image via Shutterstock

Businesses these days are very much about their own success, because of this selfish thinking, customer service will never be what it used to be until businesses learn to work together again.

An example of this is the recent debacle between the NFL and referees. The refs weren’t getting pensions so they went on strike, then the NFL figured they would just bring in replacement refs until the regulars got over it. This created more problems than it solved and even cost the Green Bay Packers a game because the replacement refs weren’t qualified to make the right calls. 

When that happened and leading up to that, many fans were irate but the NFL didn’t care. As far as they were concerned, as long as it didn’t affect ticket sales and ratings were still up, it didn’t matter if the replacement refs were destroying the integrity of the NFL. Eventually they came to an agreement with the regular refs and the lockout was over, but it took a lot more work than it should have. So what does this have to do with customer service? The NFL was being selfish and not thinking about the fans or customers; the people that really sign their paychecks. The problem should have been solved right away and that’s what’s the fans wanted, but it would take money out of the owners’ pockets and that kind of thinking is customer service destruction by itself.

Not only do businesses need to learn to work together unselfishly, but the personal touch has to be brought back. There is very little human interaction, friendliness or genuine interest to make customers happy these days. It’s all about ratings and revenue and because companies are too lazy to provide great customer service in order to compete or just don’t care, they have to knock out the little guy or become a monopoly, taking away any choices for consumers.

Technology has helped greatly in killing the personal touch. With so much data that can be analyzed on the back-end, there’s very little need to interact with customers on a human level and still get a pretty accurate understanding of what they want.

Customer service

Customer service image via Shutterstock

Blogs and forums don’t do customer service any justice.  You cannot identify personality, tones, and so forth in order to interact with the customer on a personal level.

Instead all interactions are generalized and mostly selfish in these formats. The personal touch means you tailor your responses to your customer based on their needs. Forums, blogs, email and even online chat services can only really produce canned responses. Fortunately there is a way to use technology and still have that personal touch, and human interaction, we’ll get to that soon.

To sum it up, customer service is great when there’s a personal touch to it and for the most part, that’s non-existent these days.

 

The personal touch

So you understand that customer service stinks these days and that technology rather than helping has allowed us to take the cheap route; the worst route. You see that companies are living behind the scenes and getting as far away from the customer as possible. You want to offer that personal touch to your customers because canned responses are stupid and people don’t want to be generalized. You want to do all of these things but how do you do it? The answer is going to vary for each business, but the principle is to get as close to your customers as possible, and cut anything that gets in between you.

Here are some places to start:

1. Google Hangouts

This service is being used a lot for social interactions but I have yet to see anyone realize the implications something like Google Hangouts could have for customer service. Google Hangouts can really help in bringing back that personal touch, even though not completely because you still don’t have energy transfer between human beings. However, anything we can do to bring back great customer service with a personal touch is wonderful.

A practical way to use Google Hangouts to give a personal touch is to use it like a customer service desk that’s readily available on your website. Take out that Live Chat button and put in your customer service desk. This way you can see your customer and they can see you, personalities and tones can be identified and you can tailor your service to them.

While Google Hangouts won’t solve the whole problem, it will definitely help and your customers will appreciate you for giving them that human interaction, showing that you care.

Customer service

Customer service image via Shutterstock

2. Canned messages

Get rid of those canned messages, nobody likes being treated like they’re just another number.

It’s understandable that once you reach a certain size or get very busy, personalized approaches become increasingly difficult but it’s completely worth it. Your customer will praise you and rave about the service they receive and if nothing else, you won’t receive negative feedback since people are more apt to talk about the bad than the good.

3. Automated systems

These automated systems definitely have their place but it’s not in customer service.

Automated phone systems, email auto-responders and so on are all the same as canned messages and again, nobody likes being treated like just another number. Regardless of your reason for needing automated systems, they are completely destructive to your customer service and this is not just my opinion, rather it is a complaint that’s spread out all over the internet. Do a Google search and you will find that there are countless blog posts and forum threads dedicated to hating on and getting rid of automated systems as they pertain to customer service.

 

Conclusion

The past has a lot to teach us. The attitudes and approaches we had to each other back in the day don’t have to be a thing of the past. If we can re-tailor our high-tech world to deliver the same kind of human engagement that our grandparents expected as a matter of course, our businesses will thrive, our communities grow, and our working lives will be happier.

Technology has done a lot to outsource and automate, but if used correctly, could be a force for positive business relationships instead.

 

When was the last time you received truly exceptional customer service? How did it make you feel about the company? Did it involve any human interaction? Let us know in the comments.

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  • http://twitter.com/sebastiangreen Sebastian Green

    Totally agree that technology has taken the personal aspect away. You email a company and you get an automated response right back. Then you hear nothing from a human. Its annoying and as you say, businesses need to stop hiding behind the technology screen.

    However, I think there is a way technology can be used to help bring the personal touch back. One example is when someone sends a company an e-mail the auto response should be worded nicely.

    “Thank you for you message. [Staff member name] has received it and will be in touch personally with you very soon.”

    Give it that personal touch and also honor what it says. If it sat will be in touch very soon, make sure its soon. Not 2 weeks time.

    Technology can & should be used to enhance and the personal touch. Businesses just need to think about it a bit more.

    As for selfish monopoly companies – Its too late for certain industries. Some are too big and have no competition so there is nowhere else for customers to go. I don’t think they will ever change.

  • http://www.facebook.com/goinaer.liomi Goinaer Liomi

    correct–customer service is all but dead. eventually it will come home to roost. many online businesses purposely put up a firewall to prevent customer from actually speaking with a rep.
    is there anything more worthless or insulting to your customers that to ask them to search thru reams of FAQs? Thanks but no thanks.

  • Frank Waive

    I don’t think customer service is dead at all, its only evolved and just like everything else on our planet, it would keep evolving.
    Technology has also not taken the personal aspects away, it has upgraded it! Businesses with quality customer care chat systems are highly rated by customers.
    As a Web Developer, Most of my clients i only see via skype and other chat systems. With avenues like this, i wouldn’t say the personal touch/aspect is none existent, some business know how to take advantage of technology others become a bully through it!

  • http://www.facebook.com/shephyken Shep Hyken

    Customer service will never be dead, but it is definitely changing. Used to be the customer experience was all about service. Now it’s about interactions, engagement,
    gamefication, and value added experiences. And people call that part of service. I don’t disagree. However, with everything that technology has to offer, the basics are still there.

  • Jessy Thames

    Customer support service will never be put to an end until any of the business survives. Engaging with customers requirement is the most important one, literally, a stepping stone for the business success. Inspite it adds the value of trust for the concern.

    So, it will never be possible running a business to higher levels without the customer service. Though you can’t handle up with the tasks, there are even many outsourcing partners who take care of your business. Having a customer support service upgrades any business, at all time.

  • http://twitter.com/eliteflyers_com ELITEFLYERS.COM

    We believe customer service all comes down to the golden rule. “Treat others as you wish to be treated”. We maintain a high level of customer service by just sticking to the basics.