Is customer service dead?

By Justin Hubbard Posted Nov. 15, 2012 Reading time: 5 minutes

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.



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.