Who hasn’t noticed a decline in customer service, where the customer is made to feel like the enemy? What has caused it? Is there a remedy, or will we just have to live with incompetent and surly customer service employees?
Also, have you wondered, “How much of an impact has the internet had on customer service?”
Those questions worry two friends of this column, both business professors. Lyle Sussman PhD, Professor Emeritus at the University of Louisville, Kentucky, and David Schein, PhD, Associate Dean & Director of Graduate Programs at University of St. Thomas-Houston.
We recently had a Zoom chat. I think that you will likely agree with their findings and explanation of how things got to be so bad and what we, as individuals, might be able to do about it.
Are Things Worse Today Than 20 Years Ago?
Sussman: Is customer service really worse today than ten, twenty years ago, or, does it just seem that way because of social media - Yelp and Google Reviews, for example. Before social media, we would tell our friends and neighbors about a poor experience and perhaps not return to that restaurant or vendor, but today the internet allows people to express their dissatisfaction to millions more in real time.
Many Fortune 500 companies know they are delivering an unacceptable level of customer service and do a cost/benefit analysis to justify keeping their customers on hold:
— Going through prompt after prompt–push one if you are upset;
— Push two if you are really upset!
However, small business cannot afford to treat their customers badly, for they realize the loss of a few can lead them down the road to going broke. So, it is important to recognize the enormous difference in the importance of customer service to mega-corporations and the mom and pops of America.
Schein: Publically traded companies–Comcast, Spectrum, Dell Computer, AT&T, and Microsoft among many others--spend millions on Artificial Intelligence software that takes the place of USA-based customer service employees. They do not care if they lose customers, as long as it saves them money on overhead.
Sussman: They have people trained to deal with upset customers and can easily absorb those who drop their service. That is factored into the software. But a small, family-run business that loses a customer suffers a real loss.
Merger Mania Has Harmed Our Ability to Compete
Schein: The1999 Exxon and Mobil merger, cost of 16,000 jobs and damaged what made America great, and that is the ability to compete.
Allowing giant corporations to merge unrestrained is bad for the country. Just look at T-Mobile and Sprint who walked back promises they made to the Federal Trade Commission about how the consumer will benefit from their merger.
Dennis, just guess how many people are predicted to lose their jobs from the T-Mobil and Sprint merger? It is over 30,000! We did not build the Great American Economy with giant mergers threatening jobs just to give us the current level of customer service we are experiencing.
Most of us are frustrated. Just try to talk with a person and you get someone who has no authority, or may not speak English clearly. With a monopoly they make it harder and harder to fix problems.
More of us are having poor experiences than good, today. We have allowed companies to merge into organizations that are disconnected from the rest of society.
What’s Needed To Help Restore Fairness?
Both Sussman and Schein agree that the American public has become an abuse victim at the hands of some of the largest corporations on the planet and that the Federal Government needs to once again step in and protect the consumer as it did in the late 1800's to early 1900's with anti-trust legislation.
Schein: The Federal Trade Commission needs to deal with blatantly false advertising claims that we hear, for example, from some “Home Warranty Companies” who claim to repair or replace your appliances if they fail only to refuse the paying policyholder, claiming that their system is too old!
Sussman: Just ask yourself why internet connectivity in the US is among the slowest in the world, and yet we pay some of the highest monthly rates!
Both business professors agree that there are two things we as individuals can do which might have some impact:
(1) Look to local providers instead of merely buying on line if possible, and;
(2) When you do experience unacceptable customer service from a large company, go on line and look up their CEO. Send a certified letter outlining your experience and state what relief you are asking.
“When we personally get involved,” both Sussman and Schein firmly believe, “we are part of the solution and not merely posting a complaint.”