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A few weeks ago, I called Dell Pro-Support for help with my Latitude laptop. Instead of a US-based Pro-Support tech answering, the call went to India and a Dell representative with English skills so poor it would have made for a great Saturday Night Live skit. I finally got him to transfer me to the US, but seriously wondered if this guy was the new voice of tech support. And that scared me.

Something has happened to customer service that we have all experienced. Instead of competent, caring people taking our calls, we spend hours pressing one, then two, then hearing a recorded message, and being ignored. It is as if real people have been removed from the world of customer service, to be replaced with apps, bots, chats - all wanting us to give up and go away.

I brought this experience to the attention of Dell management. They had no explanation for how I landed at an Indian call center, believing it to have been a phone glitch.

Going from High Touch to Low Touch is Harming American Business

“Of course, the phone glitch wasn’t the real issue,” commented both Dr. Lyle Sussman, former Chairman and Professor of Management, College of Business, University of Louisville and Dr. David Schein, an attorney and Associate Professor at the Cameron School of Business of the University of St. Thomas in Houston.

Sussman observes:

“How could Dell permit their Indian call center to have such an incompetent representative? Taking calls from the US obviously requires a fluency in English. How many other customers did he frustrate to the point of losing future business?”

As I learned, one of the reasons for today’s often horrible customer service is a term that most people have not heard of, “going from high touch to low touch.”

High Touch Business - The Way It Used to Be (And Might Yet!)

“In a business that is ‘high touch’ customers deal with a real person through the entire sales and service process. That’s the way American business operated before the internet made it possible to purchase almost anything without human involvement or ‘low touch,’ Sussman explains.

Schein is deeply bothered by the business environment “That actively keeps the customer from being heard, with the assumption today that high tech, AI (Artificial Intelligence) and algorithms will solve customer service issues. In fact, it creates more problems.

“Companies are more concerned with collecting ‘Big Data’ which is as much information as possible about their customers, and the result is that any focus on individual customer service, ‘Small Data,’ is often lost. Why? Because it is a cost.”

What Consumers Need to Do - What Business Must Understand

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I asked, “Is there a way to get back to where American business was before the internet?”

Schein set out these suggestions:

(1) Work with local people. Talk to your neighbors for buying suggestions. Join NextDoor.com where members ask each other for local service-provider recommendations.

(2) Be a diligent shopper. Go to local vendors who are tied to your community and who still have knowledgeable salespeople. There still are mom and pop appliance dealers, local banks and credit unions who will know you by name if you take the time to go in. Online banking not only has risks of being hacked, but a business relationship with a banker will never be built that way.

(3) If you cannot understand that overseas person on the phone, go back into the system and do not be afraid to ramp it up! State politely, yet firmly, “I need to talk with a manager.” Almost always the supervisors are in the States.

(4) When transferred to customer service US, be honest and explain that you received unacceptable assistance. “I expect somebody who is responsible and can communicate. You need to provide me with competent help.”

(5) Go on to your own social media. Explain–briefly–what happened, be factual, and state that you would love to hear from anyone with a similar experience. Companies search social media for these kinds of comments.

(6) Remember that saving money by buying online can have its own, very significant cost.

Business Winds Up Being the Loser

So, what is the impact of lousy customer service on American business? Sussman wraps it up this way:

“Products attract customers; but poor service will drive them away. Study after study demonstrates that exceptional service boosts the bottom line. Loyal customers are less expensive to retain. They spend more and will recommend your product to others after a great experience.

“It should not be a matter of just gathering ‘Big Data,’ on customers, but thinking, “Our customers are real people and deserve customer service from real people who care.’

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Dennis Beaver Practices law in Bakersfield and welcomes comments and questions from readers, which may be faxed to (661) 323-7993, or e-mailed to Lagombeaver1@gmail.com. And be sure to visit dennisbeaver.com.

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