Why Companies Don’t Improve Customer Service?


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There’s a great cacophony of nonsense about a lot of things related to customer service particular by self-proclaimed experts with large followings on Twitter. While these folks are good at self-promotion one has to wonder what qualifies them to provide advice or insight about why companies do what they do, and why the don’t do better. Their comments are indeed perplexing.

First up, two people who go very mad a me when, after they yelled that companies should be providing WOW level customer serivce, I asked:

At first they couldn’t understand the question. Then they suggested “it should be “on the company”. Then they got real mad when I asked a few more challenging questions about whether customer service was cost free to businesses.

Clear that these people have NO understanding of where customer service fits in to business and business survival. Amazing in that this is not rocket science but really basic stuff that one should know and think about even if one isn’t involved in running a business.

Next up is a series of comments on a blog called the Upsell, which purports to examine customer service. The name is unfortunate, sadly since upselling is not really a function of being interested in the customer but being more interested in one’s own wallet but be that as it may.

Kate Nasser, who is often considered a good thinking expert on customer service suggests that call centers need to empower their staff, and is applauded for the suggestion. In fact giving staff the ability to make decisions to resolve problems on the spot IS important, and it’s not surprising that people who look for facile and glib solutions agree. And I agree. Except that it’s not that simple. I have written elsewhere on the challenges of creating an empowered workforce, and you just don’t “decide” to do it. You need the right people, the right training AND you need to retain your staff. Even empowerment costs money.

It’s amusing to see, later in the conversation a couple of other quotes, again facile and superficial.

Stephen cites Nordstroms as follows:

another story was about a woman came shopping at Nordstrom’s for pants; they didn’t have her size. But the clerk knew that the Macy’s across the street had the same brand (but at a higher price), so he went over, bought the pants, and sold them to the woman for the Nordstrom price.

Nasser adds:

To answer your question (what stops other companies from doing it) — Desire to be safe. People make decisions and for a leader to do something as radical as Nordstrom’s did, s/he risks the current position and future reputation. The old saying is “People initiate change when the fear/risk of changing is LESS than the fear/risk of staying the same.”

Sigh. First, let’s give companies and managers some credit here and stop looking to pin the tail for poor customer service on them. They aren’t afraid. It’ s not because there’s a desire to be safe. They aren’t stupid. In fact, it would be idiotic to try to do replicate Nordstroms.

The reasons why customer service is so poor have to do with money. It is costly to provide customer service, because you have to inculcate the proper values in staff, pay them enough to create loyalty to the company, hire properly, and a number of other factors that cost time and money.

The argument on the part of the customer service fanatics is that it pays. But you’ll note that very few of these people actually are in positions of power in companies. It’s a myth that better customer service pays onto the bottom line. It is also true that customer service is PART of the profit equation, but it’s not nearly the whole story.

Customer satisfaction, service levels, expectations of what is good and not good, etc, are so diverse and complex that generalizations are not possible. Then even vary from region to region, and between urban and rural settings. As a result most companies that seek to WOW customers will not improve their bottom lines.

Companies know that. Tin horn consultants and self-appointed customer service critics who know nothing about business do not know that, and that’s why they are impotent and destructive.

If you’d like to tune to to a codswallop of nonsense and supeficial bromides about customer service turn in to the Twitter chat that uses the hashtag #custserv. See if you can pick out the people who know about business and those who are self-promoting and embarrasing themselves with their lack of business acument.

And, something to think about until the next epistle on customer service. If customer service is such a fast road to profit, why is that that most companies in a sector are equally bad and/or have equally poor reputations (e.g. Dell, HP, Gateway) and why is it that a number of companies have made lots of money but CUTTING back on customer service and marketing on price? (Costco, various NoFrills companies).

And, why is it that companies flourish in urban areas where friendliness is often absent in customer interactions (New York, Montreal)?

Folks, the answer to why customers don’t improve customer service is money. It costs, and the returns are usually limited.

And, the subject is complex. If the experts you listen to are preaching rather than explaining the intricacies enjoy the entertainment, but don’t drink the self-promotional coolaid.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Robert Bacal
Robert began his career as an educator and trainer at the age of twenty (which is over 30 years ago!), as a teaching assistant at Concordia University. Since then he as trained teachers for the college and high school level, taught at several universities and trained thousands of employees and managers in customer service, conflict management and performance appraisal and performance management skills.


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